Few U.S. diplomats had the breadth, depth or length of service of Richard Holbrooke, who wrote part of the Pentagon Papers, was the architect of the 1995 Bosnia peace accords and served as President Barack Obama's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Holbrooke's unexpected death Monday at 69, following surgery for a tear in his aorta, marked the end of a storied career. He served through defining eras in U.S. diplomacy, witnessing the end of European colonialism and the Cold War and the rise of international terrorism as the greatest threat to America.
Calling Holbrooke "a true giant of American foreign policy," Obama paid homage to his crisis expert as "a truly unique figure who will be remembered for his tireless diplomacy, love of country and pursuit of peace." Holbrooke deserves credit for much of the hard-won progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the president said.
Holbrooke served under every Democratic president since John F. Kennedy. He brought a lion's appetite for difficult work, from Indochina and the Pacific to Europe, Africa and, in his last incarnation, South Asia.
Supremely self-confident, brash and instantly dismissive of critics, Holbrooke entered the foreign service in the early 1960s at the height of what critics called the State Department's "pale, male and Yale" phase.