“He is simply one of the giants of American foreign policy,” President Obama said of him on Monday. Upon the news of the sudden death of Richard Holbrooke on December 13th, 2010, an elaborate state funeral was quickly arranged, carried out and reported. Attending Holbrooke’s funeral were such figures as Madeline Albright, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and General James Jones, who made sure to swiftly give their respects in public statements.
Holbrooke had been rushed to the hospital after collapsing during a meeting with Secretary of State Clinton. He underwent emergency surgery that lasted almost 24 hours to repair the torn aorta in his heart. This was ultimately unsuccessful, and soon the news broke that Holbrooke had died at the age of 69. Immediately after his death his praises were sung by the country’s most powerful, and the entire deal seems signed, sealed and quietly buried.
There is one issue nagging at the heart and minds of the American people however: exactly who was Richard Holbrooke?
This is a question that faces us all at the moment. Western media praises him. Everyone in power from Bill Clinton to Afghan President Hamid Karzai has spoken of this man like he hung the moon. Underneath all the high-falutin’ praises there certainly must be more to see and learn about this mysterious figure.
The reality is that “Richard C. Holbrooke, the long-time US diplomat […] was a bully and a liar for the most rapacious and militaristic power in the world, a man steeped in the commission and cover-up of bloody crimes. He devoted his life to defending the worldwide interests of American corporations and banks, and became personally wealthy as a consequence” (1).
“On December 13, New York Times writer Robert McFadden headlined, ‘Strong American Voice in Diplomacy and Crisis,’ saying: ‘Mr. Holbrooke was hospitalized on (December 10) after becoming ill. (After two major surgeries), he remained in very critical condition until his death….A brilliant, sometimes abrasive infighter, he used a formidable arsenal of facts, bluffs, whispers, implied threats and, when necessary, pyrotechnic fits of anger to press his positions.’ For good reason, he was nicknamed ’The Bulldozer’” (2).
This is the same Richard Holbrooke who was Obama’s special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan up until his death. The press says Holbrooke’s main claim to fame is brokering the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995, which allegedly ended the Bosnian War in the former Yugoslavia. As we shall see, the facts are that this “peace” was brokered at gun point, and it is sheer nonsense for a man who did so much for imperialism to be called an agent of peace. Indeed, looking back at the life of Richard Holbrooke, it becomes clear it was the life of a gangster and a criminal, a career and an existence that could be mapped by merely connecting the dots between case after case of U.S.-sponsored terrorism and war.
“A junior foreign service officer in the early stages of the Vietnam War, Holbrooke rose rapidly to leading positions, and served in every Democratic administration since John F. Kennedy’s. He had close connections with the Republican foreign policy establishment as well, including Henry Kissinger and Holbrooke’s colleague from Vietnam, John Negroponte, US ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush. Holbrooke was stationed in the Mekong Delta as a 22-year-old civil affairs officer in charge of an entire province with 600,000 people. He was one of the cabal of young, energetic and ruthless operatives, dubbed ‘The Best and the Brightest’ by author David Halberstam, who spearheaded the American effort in Vietnam. His initial position was as a field officer for the US Agency for International Development, which placed US officials as overlords in Vietnamese villages and towns, supervising the operations of the stooge government of South Vietnam. The US had established this puppet regime in an effort to thwart the Vietnamese nationalist movement that defeated the French colonialists in the first Vietnam War, between 1946 and 1954.
Holbrooke was an operative in the protracted effort to break the connection between the insurgents and the peasantry, which included, in a long series of failures, locating US officials in villages (the Pacification Program), removing the population from their villages to larger aggregations (‘strategic hamlets’), and the systematic assassination of suspected NLF cadres (the Phoenix Program). More than 20,000 Vietnamese were tortured and executed in the last-named campaign, one of the great unpunished war crimes of the twentieth century. Those educated in this school for mass murder included a who’s who of later top US diplomats, most of them in Democratic administrations. These included Holbrooke, Negroponte, future Clinton National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, future Clinton Defense Secretary Les Aspin, Frank Wisner, a future top State Department official in both the Carter and Clinton administrations, and Peter Tarnoff, Clinton’s deputy secretary of state.
Holbrooke moved up quickly from field officer to become a staff assistant at the US Embassy in Saigon, and then in 1966 joined the White House staff of President Lyndon Johnson, working for Robert Komer, known as ‘Blowtorch Bob’ for his role as chief of the Phoenix Program. Later he moved to the State Department, working as part of the team that drafted the Pentagon Papers, the secret history of US-Vietnam relations leaked to the press by Daniel Ellsberg” (1).
Richard C. Holbrooke was a man who spent his life shuffling back and forth between the State Department and Wall Street. He was a loyal soldier of the Washington clique, a diplomat who was a living embodiment of the mindset of liberal capitalism and fittingly propped up by huge sums of money. Despite being a Democrat on paper, he fawned over fellow warhawk Paul Wolfowitz:
“In an unguarded moment just before the 2000 election, Richard Holbrooke opened a foreign policy speech with a fawning tribute to his host, Paul Wolfowitz, who was then the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington” (3).
He even went so far as to say, “recent activities illustrate something that’s very important about American foreign policy in an election year, and that is the degree to which there are still common themes between the parties” (3).
Holbrooke worked as a campaign advisor for Jimmy Carter and worked for the Carter Administration from 1977–1981. On March 31, 1977, Holbrooke became Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. He was the youngest person to ever hold that position. Under Carter, Holbrooke became the best friend of the American imperialists and the Chinese bourgeoisie. When the capitalist Deng Xiaoping became head of the Communist Party of China, Holbrooke was instrumental in continuing the Nixon/Kissinger policy of close relations with the People’s Republic of China. As a result of the efforts of Holbrooke and others, the United States normalized relations with the Chinese government in December 1978 and supported its aggressive invasion of Vietnam in 1979. Indonesia, Suharto & East Timor
Perhaps the most scandalous event of Holbrooke’s career occurred in August 1977, when he traveled to Indonesia to meet with Suharto. Suharto was a five-star general who had gained power through a violent coup in 1966 and whose forces were at the time conducting a genocide campaign in East Timor, which had been going on for two years when Holbrooke visited. During the coup, Suharto had also overseen the slaughter of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), which with three million members was the largest in the world outside China.
After Suharto assumed control over Indonesia, hundreds of thousands of PKI members and alleged civilian affiliates were immediately arrested and executed. State terror soon followed for decades. Overall, well over a million people would be killed under Suharto’s autocratic rule of Indonesia. In the East Timor genocide alone, 200,000 out of a population of 700,000 would be killed. Despite this, the United States under Carter and Clinton supported him as an anti-communist leader in the Cold War.
Richard Holbrooke got his hands dirty soon enough after the meeting:
“It was Carter’s appointee to the Department of State’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Richard Holbrooke, who authorized additional arms shipments to Indonesia during this supposed blockade. Many scholars have noted that this was the period when the Indonesian suppression of the Timorese reached genocidal levels” (3).
Professor Benedict Anderson, in a testimony before Congress, said in February 1978:
“If we are curious as to why the Indonesians never felt the force of the U.S. government’s ‘anguish,’ the answer is quite simple. In flat contradiction to express statements by General Fish, Mr. Oakley and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Richard Holbrooke, at least four separate offers of military equipment were made to the Indonesian government during the January-June 1976 ‘administrative suspension.’ This equipment consisted mainly of supplies and parts for OV-10 Broncos, Vietnam War era planes designed for counterinsurgency operations against adversaries without effective anti-aircraft weapons, and wholly useless for defending Indonesia from a foreign enemy. The policy of supplying the Indonesian regime with Broncos, as well as other counterinsurgency-related equipment has continued without substantial change from the Ford through the present Carter administrations” (3).
Hoolbrooke went along with the U.S. government in having a positive image of Suharto. Referring to Wolofwitz, Holbrooke once remarked that “Paul and I have been in frequent touch to make sure that we keep [East Timor] out of the presidential campaign, where it would do no good to American or Indonesian interests.”
Holbrooke also said “The situation in East Timor is one of the number of very important concerns of the United States in Indonesia. Indonesia, with a population of 150 million people, is the fifth largest nation in the world, is a moderate member of the Non-Aligned Movement, is an important oil producer — which plays a moderate role within OPEC — and occupies a strategic position astride the sea lanes between the Pacific and Indian Oceans … We highly value our cooperative relationship with Indonesia” (4).
Holbrooke left politics for a few years, although apparently not to recover from supporting genocide in Indonesia, but rather to serve Wall Street in between diplomatic careers, acting as a vice chairman in the firm Credit Suisse First Boston and as managing director for Lehman Brothers. …By the Company He Keeps
It is perhaps a most fittingly ironic sign of Holbrooke’s true legacy that on the day when the headline “Kosovar leader says people lost ‘a friend’ in Holbrooke” [Click here] appeared, so did one saying “Kosovo PM is head of human organ and arms ring, Council of Europe reports” [Click here]. This is followed by the gruesome caption “Two-year inquiry accuses Albanian ‘mafia-like’ crime network of killing Serb prisoners for their kidneys.”
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim “the Snake” Thaçi, a former KLA (UÇK) guerrilla, was among the first to admire Holbrooke publically. In the years since the Yugoslav Wars, Thaçi, a beloved friend of NATO and Israel, has made his drug smuggling and Balkan mafia ties well-known, not that they were exactly a mystery before, during or after the war. He was supposedly not only involved with organized crime but was apparently a “boss” figure, perhaps even a leader, of the powerful criminal network that holds sway over the Kosovo government. It is quite odd that this accusation of war crimes and is “breaking news,” since this story about the Thaçi’s involvement in organ trafficking broke over two years ago. The FBI, the European Union and the Council of Europe are now repeating these same charges.
Richard Holbrooke, it turns out, was one of the masterminds behind the Yugoslav Wars. The existence of “independent” Kosovo comes as the result of U.S. imperialism allowing the UN to occupy the territory and local former guerrilla leaders to establish a privatized mafia state for smuggling weapons and drugs in the Balkans.
From 1993 to 1994, Holbrooke served as U.S. Ambassador to Germany. After 1989, a united Germany tried to re-colonize Yugoslavia (Slovenia and Croatia were both colonized by Germany under the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Nazis) and establish itself as a strong economy and a formidable imperialist power within Europe. The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (which Holbrooke also had a hand in, as we shall see) had as their predecessor the NATO interventions in Yugoslavia, another “liberation” mission.
Before the Yugoslav Wars broke out in earnest, Germany pushed to offer recognition, weapons and diplomatic relations to nationalist and separatist forces within Yugoslavia. The German intelligence service, the BND, was active in training reactionary and neo-Ustaše former Croatian Nazis. Other secret intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, also played their role in training various other movements, as did larger external powers such as the U.S., Britain, Russia, Turkey and Italy. Middle Eastern and European countries, and NATO as well, all backed differing warring nationalist factions in the conflict. The highlight of Holbrooke’s diplomatic career would come in the 1990’s during this violent breakup of the country.
During his service in Germany, Holbrooke was a heavy promoter of a more powerful NATO and military intervention in Bosnia. Holbrooke served as a Chairman on The American Academy in Berlin along with Henry Kissinger and Richard von Weizsäcker. Bloody conflicts were triggered with imperialist aid throughout the whole of Yugoslavia, starting with Slovenia, Croatia and by 1992, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Soon enough, in 1995, Richard Holbrooke would become a semi-household name for being the chief architect of the Dayton Peace Accords, which the West has claimed ended the Bosnian War. Since then, he has been celebrated in the mainstream media as helping to end the bloody civil war. In fact, the Yugoslav Wars took place amid the rise of nationalism and the imperialist economic and social pressure on the dominating Yugoslav bourgeoisie, in which Holbrooke himself had no small role.
In the context of a violent ethnic conflict, Richard Holbrooke oversaw the illegal smuggling of enormous shipments of weapons to Bosnia using mammoth C-130 American military planes, despite a supposed international arms embargo. These shipments included small arms, anti-tank weapons, ammunition and explosives. During the Clinton administration this was compared with Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal. Soon the newly-independent states in Yugoslavia became a haven for foreign capital.
Holbrooke also encouraged Croatian President Franjo Tudjman to embark on the bloody “Operation Storm” in August 1995, which cost thousands of lives, drove hundreds of thousands of ethnic Serbs from the region and was carried out with intelligence, training and planning from “retired” US military advisors.
In his 1998 memoir of the Yugoslav Wars, To End a War, he claimed that the United States and NATO were late in responding to alleged atrocities by the Bosnian Serbs. Yet, ironically, according to recently-indicted former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić, Holbrooke personally offered him immunity from persecution for war crimes if he disappeared. A recent study by Purdue University shows he may be right as others have come forward and backed his claims.
Karadžić claimed “a senior American official pledged that he would never be standing there. […] The official, Richard C. Holbrooke, now  a special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Obama administration, has repeatedly denied promising Mr. Karadzic immunity from prosecution in exchange for abandoning power after the Bosnian war.
But the rumor persists, and different versions have recently emerged that line up with Mr. Karadzic’s assertion, including a new historical study of the Yugoslav wars published by Purdue University in Indiana.
Charles W. Ingrao, the study’s co-editor, said that three senior State Department officials, one of them retired, and several other people with knowledge of Mr. Holbrooke’s activities told him that Mr. Holbrooke assured Mr. Karadzic in July 1996 that he would not be pursued by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague if he left politics” (6). In fact, the report even mentions a written agreement between the two.
This brings us back to the case of occupied Kosova (called “Kosovo” these days, especially since the 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia) and the infamous Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi. What exactly connects Mr. Thaçi to Richard Holbrooke, aside from the few snapshots and the remark to the press we mentioned earlier? Well, it just so happens that back in 1998-1999, Richard Holbrooke served as a special presidential envoy for Clinton in Kosovo during the Kosovo War, giving special support to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA or UÇK in Albanian), an illegal radical Albanian nationalist organization the U.S. classed as a terrorist group. Holbrooke was called “the KLA’s Godfather” and recruited many mujahideen mercenaries from the Middle East and Central Asia to fight with the KLA. Mr. Thaçi was one of the leaders of the KLA and was wanted for bomb attacks by Interpol. In 1999 a war broke out between the KLA and Yugoslav Federal Army. NATO air forces launched a war of aggression and bombed Yugoslavia, ostensibly to deter Serb ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians. In reality, it was the Yugoslav government’s hesitancy to embrace economic reform.
“The trigger for the US-led bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 was, according to the standard western version of history, the failure of the Serbian delegation to sign up to the Rambouillet peace agreement. But that holds little more water than the tale that has Iraq responsible for last year’s invasion by not cooperating with weapons inspectors” (5).
In March 1999, Richard Holbrooke himself delivered the ultimatum to Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević about the imminent NATO bombing campaign. The 78-day bombardment of Yugoslavia consisted of 79,000 tons of bombs and over 10,000 cruise missiles and cluster bombs as well as depleted uranium. Infrastructure was targeted, and many civilian structures as well. The bombings displaced one million people, killed 2,000 and injured over 4,000 more. Only 15 tanks were destroyed, but 372 industrial centers were hit, leaving hundreds of thousands jobless. In all of this, not one privately-owned business or building was bombed. Afterwards, Kosovo declared independence and was immediately recognized by the United States. Regarding Holbrooke’s “Peace treaty” which would have allegedly prevented the Kosovo War, it was not actually a plan for peace but rather a legalized occupation of the whole of Yugoslavia:
“[T]he Rambouillet process cannot be considered a negotiation under any normal definition of the word: A bunch of lawyers at the State Department write up a 90-page document and then push it in front of the parties and say: ‘Sign it. And if you (one of the parties) sign it and he (the other party) doesn’t then we’ll bomb him.’ And of course, when they said that, Secretary Albright and the State Department knew that one of the parties would not, and could not, sign the agreement. Why? Because — as has received far too little attention from our supposedly inquisitive media — it provided for NATO occupation of not just Kosovo but of all of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) under Paragraph 8 of Appendix B: ‘8. NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access through out the FRY [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia], including associated air space and territorial waters. This shall include, but not be limited to, the right of bivouac, maneuver, billet, and utilization of any areas or facilities as required for support, training, and operations’” (7).
On January 2001, Holbrooke was quoted as saying: “Saddam Hussein’s activities continue to be unacceptable and, in my view, dangerous to the region and, indeed, to the world, not only because he possesses the potential for weapons of mass destruction but because of the very nature of his regime. His willingness to be cruel internally is not unique in the world, but the combination of that and his willingness to export his problems makes him a clear and present danger at all times.” Even until his death, Holbrooke continued to call for a deployment of more U.S. troops in Iraq. Conclusion
When looking at all of this, the answer to our previous question becomes quite clear. Who was Richard Holbrooke? Richard Holbrooke was a monster and a war criminal complicit in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people for the sake of profit.