In the aftermath of Richard Holbrooke's death, his last words have revived debate about the war effort in Afghanistan. According to The Washington Post, as doctors were preparing the longtime U.S. diplomat for surgery, he said, "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan." The State Department has supplied more context: Apparently, a physician had asked Holbrooke, who was in considerable pain, what she could do to comfort him, prompting him to make the remark in jest. Still, critics of the Obama administration's Afghanistan policies say Holbrooke, who was top U.S. envoy in the region, was sending a message. (Watch an MSNBC discussion about Holbrooke's last words.) Pundits weigh in:
Holbrooke believed the U.S. had to keep trying: Holbrooke was "obviously joking, trying to ease the mood," says Joe Klein in Time. He knew "there was no 'end' to the conflict" in Afghanistan and Pakistan, only the hope we could transition from "perpetual war to something resembling stability." When he died, he evidently "was not optimistic that such a path could be found — but he was entirely committed to, indeed obsessed with, trying to find it."
"Holbrooke's last words, take three"
Joking or not, Holbrooke's frustration was real: Maybe the State Department is right, and Holbrooke's last words were just "brave banter in the face of pain," says Tim Fernholz in The American Prospect. But "it was clear" Holbrooke wanted to replicate his success in the Bosnian conflict, "ending a brutal, messy war with a brutal, messy reconciliation." Instead, he "died frustrated with a series of basic truths, including this one: Without a better government in Afghanistan, no amount of counter-insurgency will succeed."
"Holbrooke's exit strategy"
This episode reflects our fast-moving times: "It used to takes decades for legends about the supposed last words of famous people to seep into the culture and morph through constant repetition," says Robert Mackey in The New York Times. But in the Internet Age, it took less than 24 hours for the myth of Holbrooke's final remarks to be created and dispelled. Still, "the debate about the war in Afghanistan, and Mr. Holbrooke’s attempts to end it, will, of course, continue long after this mistaken anecdote is forgotten."
"Revisiting Holbrooke's last remarks"