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biography of ambassador richard holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke began his diplomatic career as a foreign service officer in Vietnam during the early years of the U.S. involvement there. Holbrooke participated in a pacification program in the Mekong Delta, which attempted to bolster support for the South Vietnamese regime. He later was a staff assistant to the U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam.

In 1966 he returned to the U.S. and served as an advisor on Vietnam to President Johnson and was the junior member of the American delegation to the Paris peace talks in 1968. Holbrooke recalls that he did not question the objectives of the U.S. intervention in Vietnam at the time but he did question the methods employed. These methods, he believed, culminated in a military quagmire and the eventual U.S. military defeat. In his interview with FRONTLINE, he said, "The bombing [of North Vietnam] ... increasingly ... didn't make much sense. ... I came to the conclusion ... that either we shouldn't be doing it, or we should be doing it more effectively."

In the intervening years, Holbrooke has shuttled back and forth between private sector and government positions. He was the Managing Editor of Foreign Policy, a quarterly journal, as well as a contributing editor to Newsweek magazine during the 1970s. During the 1980s he became a successful consultant and investment banker. However, between those two careers he spent approximately four years (1977-81) as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs during the Carter Administration, and has held a variety of paid and unpaid positions in the Clinton Administration, including U.S. Ambassador to Germany (1993-94), Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs (1994-96), and Chief U.S. Envoy to the former Yugoslavia (1995 onward).

holbrooke in the oval officeIt was through his involvement in the wars in Yugoslavia that Holbrooke achieved his greatest fame, successfully negotiating the Dayton Peace Accords which ended the Bosnia war. Before and during the negotiation, Holbrooke advocated "bombs for peace," or the selective, limited application of U.S. military power to convince hostile parties to agree to a settlement. The bombing did contribute to forcing the Bosnian Serbs to the negotiating table. However, Holbrooke notes the irony of his journey from one who was deeply distrustful of using limited military force to achieve a diplomatic settlement in Vietnam to one who has advocated exactly that tactic in Bosnia and, most recently, Kosovo.

Holbrooke currently is President Clinton's nominee to be the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

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