Richard Holbrooke: America's "Diplomatic Life-Saver"

Richard Holbrooke never walked away from a global hot spot which defied easy solution -- he thrived on the hard, gritty diplomatic challenges that, to put it bluntly, either led to war or peace.

Much has been written about his diplomatic triumphs...the Dayton Accords; his imaginative skills that set the stage for normalization of relations with China; his unyielding determination to lead America safely out of the Afghanistan war.

Dick truly deserves every accolade accorded him upon his untimely death.

Not since the era of the great diplomatic "Wise Men" of the Cold War era (Acheson, Bohlen, Harriman, Kennan, Lovett and McCloy) has our nation (not to mention so many Europeans, Africans and others caught in conflicts that Dick mediated) benefited so greatly from a statesman who was a unique, one-of-a- kind diplomatic warrior like Dick.

Few diplomats of his era tasted war and conflict as Dick did. He came close all too often to losing his own life on the battlefield. He narrowly escaped injury in Bosnia; was shot at in the Congo, and risked his life every time he left the relatively secure confines of Kabul to marshal the candidates for peace that could be converted to see a better world through his sparkling blue eyes.

Knowing Dick as well as I did I am absolutely certain of one thing that above anything else is paramount to his legacy.

Nothing drove Dick harder and nothing mattered more to him day or night than the knowledge that if he succeeded in whatever diplomatic task lay before him, he would be saving lives, including the lives of Americans caught in harm's way.

The art and skill of peacemaking was, to Dick, the best way to save lives -- that is what mattered to Dick...every second, every minute, or every day that failed to yield a ceasefire meant more lives would be lost.

Just look at the other side of his considerable record of accomplishments -- his humanitarian devotion to great causes -- to appreciate why he deserves to be remembered so.

You see, Dick began his government service as the U.S. Peace Corp Director in Morocco -- a fact hardly known among the many more famous achievements of his career. When I was U.S. ambassador to Morocco, Dick, his wife Kati and their children returned to Morocco to go on a sentimental journey that took him to the most inaccessible villages in the Kingdom, where he regaled his family at each place he lived with tales of the resourcefulness and skills he learned as a Peace Corp worker to help the poorest of the poor.

Later in life, following his service as America's ambassador to the United Nations, Dick could have taken a much deserved breather. Instead, he devoted his private career between 2000 and 2008 leading the Global Business Coalition to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria -- the most important worldwide organization of private-sector donors combating these afflictions in partnership with the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations.

His devotion to humanitarian causes took him far and wide, as a leader of the International Crisis Group and Refugees International, among just a few noble causes he embraced when not officially serving the nation.

To Dick, all that really mattered was saving lives, whether on the battlefield, in a hospital, or in a village. And if there were those who at times misunderstood why he was so driven, they need only understand that Dick deeply cared to be, first and foremost, a "diplomatic life-saver" in every sense of that phrase. I was honored to call him my friend.