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Public Statements

Honoring Ambassador Richard Holbrooke

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, today the Senate has been asked to concur with our colleagues in the House and approve a resolution honoring our friend and a great public servant, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who passed away on Monday.

We remember Richard not just as one of America's most distinguished and accomplished statesmen, but as a man who--from Vietnam to his last mission in Afghanistan--really was a warrior for peace. It is fitting that we honor him by approving this resolution.

Richard was an incredible combination of the best qualities of the human spirit--a serious thinker who embraced relentless action; a tough-as-nails negotiator who commanded an enormous and infectious sense of humor; and perhaps above all, a diplomat who knew firsthand just how difficult and frustrating engagement could be, but in his life's legacy reminded all of us just how much engagement could accomplish.

Richard's passing is almost incomprehensible, not just because it was so sudden, but because I cannot imagine Richard Holbrooke in anything but a state of perpetual motion. He was always working. Always hard-charging in the best sense of the word--he had an immense presence--and a brilliance matched only by his perseverance and his passion. He once complained that the bureaucracy in Washington all too often saw suffering around the world as an abstraction. He took Hannah Arendt's famous phrase and flipped it around, saying that sometimes our biggest battles were against the ``evils of banality.''

Well, Richard waged--and won--his share of battles against banality and inertia. He was always a man on a mission, the toughest mission, and that mission was waging peace through never-quit diplomacy--and Richard's life's work saved more lives in more places than we can measure. He simply got up every day knowing that--even in difficult circumstances where history's verdict is yet to be handed down--every ounce of energy and every drop of sweat held the promise of making things better for people.

Yes, Richard had an outsized personality, and it was one that he himself could joke about, even relish. He earned the nickname ``The Bulldozer'' for a reason. But Richard did not push people away. He drew people to him. He was incredibly appreciative of those who worked with him and was unfailingly loyal to them. I remember last January, when Richard came to the Foreign Relations Committee to testify on the war in Afghanistan, he stopped the hearing to introduce his top staff--some 16 people. More than just colleagues, they were his partners. He knew their families and he knew the names of their children. At the State Department he didn't just create an office for Afghanistan and Pakistan, he built a family.

His staff returned his affection and loyalty many times over. Foggy Bottom is filled with men and women inspired and mentored by Richard. Ever since Richard fell ill last Friday morning, dozens of friends and family and staff gathered in the lobby of George Washington Hospital to show their support and wait for news of his condition. When I stopped by on Sunday night, I couldn't help but be moved by the love and the concern. And when news of his passing spread, people began spontaneously gathering at the hospital. And then--something that Richard would have understood and appreciated--they went out together and shared stories about him.

It was impossible to know Richard and not come away with ``Holbrooke stories.'' Certainly I have my share. Our public careers were intertwined in so many ways, from Vietnam to my Presidential campaign to the conflict in Afghanistan. There were long conference calls, impromptu policy debates when we found ourselves on the same shuttle to LaGuardia, stories shared about our children and lessons learned about being modern Dads, and wonderful wine-filled dinners where we came up with brilliant plans for peace that didn't always seem so brilliant--if they were remembered at all--in the light of day. Richard always made it fun because it is a pleasure to be in the company of someone who loved the job they were doing for the country they loved. And make no mistake--just shy of 70, with a back-breaking schedule--Richard Holbrooke loved what he was doing.

And so, wherever chaos and violence threatened American interests and human lives for nearly a half century, wherever there was a need for courage and insight, Richard Holbrooke showed up for duty. He spent his formative years as a young Foreign Service officer in Vietnam, where he worked in the Mekong Delta and then on the staffs of two American ambassadors, Maxwell Taylor and Henry Cabot Lodge. Given the storied expanse of his career, people sometimes forget that Richard wrote a volume of the ``Pentagon Papers,'' the seminal work that helped turn the course of the Vietnam war. And as with all of us who served in Vietnam, Richard's experience there informed his every judgment, and left him with the conviction that time spent working even against long odds to see that peace and diplomacy prevailed over war and violence, was time well-invested for the most powerful of nations and the most determined of diplomats.

He was a pragmatist devoted to principle. He believed that the United States could help people around the world at the same time as we defended our interests. Richard once wrote about a meeting he attended in the Situation Room in 1979, when he was Assistant Secretary for East Asia and the Pacific. The South China Sea was being flooded with tens of thousands of refugees from Vietnam. They were fleeing the regime there, looking for safe haven somewhere else. But most of them were not making it. Instead, they were drowning.

The Seventh Fleet was nearby and could divert to rescue them. But there were those in our government who did not want the Navy to be distracted from its other missions. And besides, what would we do with the refugees? And wouldn't our actions just encourage more people to set sail in rickety boats in an attempt to find freedom? Back and forth the debate went. Ultimately, Vice President Mondale made the decision: America would not stand idly by while people drowned. Richard wrote this: ``At this time and distance it may be hard to conceive that the decision, so clearly right, was almost not made. There are people who are alive today because of Mondale's decision; of very few actions by a government official can such a thing be said.''

Well, we can certainly say that--and more--of Richard Holbrooke. Earlier this week, we marked the 15th anniversary of what was perhaps his greatest legacy. On December 14, 1995, the Dayton Peace Accords brought an end to a 3 1/2 year war in Bosnia that had claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions. It is a war that would have inflicted far more misery if Richard had not tirelessly shuttled between the Serbs and the Croats and the Bosnians. He laid the groundwork for the peace talks. And then, over 20 days, he charmed, he cajoled, and ultimately he convinced the three principal leaders to end a war. In the years since, ``Dayton'' has become a byword for the kind of aggressive diplomacy that Richard practiced. At Dayton, Richard Holbrooke brought himself and the Nation he represented great honor.

We loved that energy, we loved that resolve--that is who Richard was, and he died giving everything he had to one last difficult mission for the country he loved. It is almost a bittersweet bookend that a career of public service that began trying to save a war gone wrong, now ends with a valiant effort to keep another war from going wrong. Over the last 2 years, he and I worked closely together on our policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His honesty could be bracing, and I loved that about him. He was always solution-seeking--and always so committed to the mission that he never hesitated to leverage the skills of those around him because it was success he sought, not spotlights.

Through this resolution, we acknowledge his extraordinary public service and we extend our heartfelt sympathy to his family, especially his extraordinary wife Kati; Richard's two sons, David and Anthony; his stepchildren Elizabeth and Chris Jennings; and his daughter-in-law Sarah. We are reminded how much richer all of our lives have been thanks to the intelligence, humor, and warmth that Richard brought to every day of his life. And we mourn your loss with you.

I will miss working with Richard Holbrooke. And I will remember something he said last year about his enduring faith in America despite the many trials we now face. He said, ``I still believe in the possibility of the United States ..... persevering against any challenge.'' It is difficult to imagine wrestling with the challenges of Afghanistan and Pakistan without him, but we are all sustained by the decades-long example Richard set making the possibility of American perseverance more of a reality. And for that our Nation will always be grateful.

Mr. BROWN of Ohio. Mr. President, I thank Ambassador Holbrooke for the Dayton Accords, held in Dayton, OH, in which Ambassador Holbrooke played such a key roll in bringing forward.

I ask unanimous consent that the concurrent resolution and preamble be agreed to en bloc; the motions to reconsider be laid on the table en bloc; and that any statements relating to the concurrent resolution be printed in the Record.


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