Holbrooke’s Last Words, Take Two

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The initial Washington Post report that Richard Holbrooke’s final words to a Pakistani surgeon were, “You’ve got to stop this war,” felt like a stark message to the wider world: That only serious and honest Pakistani cooperation–specifically by means of flushing Taliban and al Qaeda fighters out of their sanctuaries along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, something Admiral Mike Mullen is discussing yet again in Islamabad today–could bring the Afghanistan conflict to an end. (I also imagine that the line did not go over well in the Pakistani government, which is sensitive about being blamed for its neighbor’s troubles.)

But now the State Department has provided important new detail and context to what Holbrooke said. And a rather different picture emerges:

There was a, you know, lengthy exchange with Ambassador Holbrooke and the medical team, probably reflecting Richard’s relentless pursuit of the policy that he had — he had helped to craft and was charged by the president and the secretary with carrying out.

At one point, the medical team said, “You’ve got to relax.”

And Richard said, “I can’t relax. I’m worried about Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

And then after some additional exchanges, you know, the medical team finally — finally said, “Well, tell you what; we’ll try to fix this challenge while you’re undergoing surgery.”

And he said, “Yeah, see if you can take care of that, including ending the war.”

And as this new Washington Post account explains, the line about ending the war wasn’t even spoken to the Pakistani surgeon.

The parting words of a man who was never at a loss for them seem to have demonstrated a combination of humor and dedication to his mission. But it appears he intended no profound message about Pakistan’s role in the conflict, even if he likely believed something very close to what he was initially reported to have said.