Richard Holbrooke’s Dying Words a Joke, Says Obama Administration

Richard Holbrook, US Special Representative on Pakistan and Afghanistan died on Tuesday morning.

Richard Holbrooke's Dying Words a Joke, Says Obama Administration

According to reports, Holbrooke’s dying words were “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.” But don’t worry about it—he was just messing around, according to the Obama Administration.

The Huffington Post reports today that State Department spokesman PJ Crowley suggested this afternoon that Holbrooke’s dying words “were part of a jovial back-and-forth with the medical staff.” Specifically, Crowley said:

“At one point, the medical team said, ‘You’ve got to relax,’ And Richard said, ‘I can’t relax, I’m worrying about Afghanistan and Pakistan.’ After some additional exchanges … finally [Holbrooke’s doctor] said, ‘Tell you what, we’ll try to fix this challenge while you’re in surgery.’ And [Holbrooke] said, ‘Yeah, see if you can take care of that,’ including ending the war.”

“See if you can take care of that” does depart distinctly—in tone as well as substance—from an earlier report that his last words, reportedly to his surgeon, were “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.”

As has been widely pointed out, Holbrooke’s position was always supportive of the president’s commitment to the war in Afghanistan and believed the war could be won, and that the US presence there would not be a permanent occupation.

If Holbrooke did indeed experience some kind of deathbed epiphany that caused him to reverse his position on the Afghanistan war, the White House would certainly have motivation to downplay it. Indeed, Crowley said the fact that his last words were about Afghanistan “just showed how he was singularly focused on pursuing and advancing the process and the policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan to bring them to a successful conclusion.”

“See if you can take care of that” versus “you’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.” There’s quite a gulf between the two. Hanging in the balance is the pressure to honor a dying man’s last wish—and not just any man, but the man who was most responsible for the diplomatic terrain of our Afghan operation.

It’s a sensitive spot for the Obama Administration—acknowledge the man’s last words and you expose a foreign war as misguided; downplay them, and, well…you’re calling a dying man’s last words a joke.

And maybe they were—who knows. Either way, it’s a quagmire. Quagmires seem to abound for the president these days, but Obama is not the first president to find himself stuck in one.