On Friday, January 14, 2011, I had the privilege to attend a memorial to the late Richard C. Holbrooke at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. The invitation was primarily for Special Envoy of H.H. the Dalai Lama, Kasur Lodi Gyari, but since he was not in station I was deputed.
Kennedy Center is the premier center for performing arts in the American capital and even normally one is likely to rub shoulders with VIPs when attending events there. But then this was a special event and the security screening before we could enter the Opera House, where it was held, was as much of an indication. Standing in line for the screening there was a former Assistant Secretary of State behind me. I greeted him and one of his first words was, “Have you been following the events in Tunisia?” I told him I knew about the turmoil and the resignation of the Foreign Minister. He corrected me saying it was the President who had fled. As we were speaking there was prominent media personality Ben Bradlee being subjected to a physical screening before me. China scholar Orville Schell was in another line.
After crossing the security screening gate, there was a former ambassador to China, who continues to maintain an interest in Tibet. When I greeted him, he asked, “Where is Lodi?” I explained the situation and he said he was about to go on an overseas trip and would like to meet him on his return.
After I had taken my seat, I looked around. There was former Secretary of State Madeliene Albright seating a few rows ahead. Near her was Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg standing and in full conversation with someone. There was David Phillips, a friend of Richard Holbrooke and who is also much interested in Tibet. We greeted each other. He inquired whether “Lodi” was coming. I explained. I saw President Asif Zardari proceeding to his seat. I said to the gentleman seating next to me, “That is the President of Pakistan.” He wondered, “Is Karzai here?” referring to the Afghan President.
I saw the Ambassador of Mongolia being led to his seat.
On the stage were Richard Holbrooke’s widow Kati Marton, his sons Anthony and David Holbrooke, his stepdaughter Elizabeth Jennings, President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Bill Clinton, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, NSC senior director Samantha Power, former State Department official Strobe Talbott, Amb. Frank Wisner, and James Johnson and Leslie Gelb, who were friends of the late Ambassador. They all recalled the full life that Richard Holbrooke lived.
Following the event, we were asked to be seated as the dignitaries left. I could see Vice President Joe Biden going towards the door. Presidential Advisor Valerie Jarrett was getting up from her seat (I think it was her). I met an Ambassador of a European country that has long interest in Tibet as I walked out.
Later reading the Foreign Policy blog, I learnt that “Some of the other attendees in the audience included Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, State Department policy planning chief Anne Marie Slaughter, Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, USAID administrator Rajiv Shah, NSC senior director Derek Chollet, NSC senior director Doug Lute, Rep. Jane Harman, Madeleine Albright, Zalmay Khalilzad, Robert Rubin, Abdullah Abdullah, Marcus Brauchli…”
The blogger, Josh Rogin, wrote, “The crowd at the packed Opera House turned into what one State Department veteran called “a who’s who of the diplomatic corps.” Three heads of state, over a dozen foreign ministers, and hundreds more familiar faces from around the foreign policy community were in attendance at the event.”
Now why am I dropping these names here when it is obvious from the nature of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s life that a wide range of international personalities were connected with him? My reason is that all these eminent personalities witnessed the special connection that the Holbrooke family had with Tibet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The “photo album” that began the program saw one of the family with His Holiness. Kati Marton referred to the “cause” of “Tibet” as one of those that Holbrooke was involved with. The sons also referred to a trip to Tibet and a photo of the family with His Holiness displayed in their home while highlighting the life of their father.
Not to politicize the situation, but I am sure if not the Chinese Ambassador, at least a senior diplomat of the Chinese Embassy, would have been attending the event. I have no doubt that this Chinese diplomat would have got the message.
…And President Hu Jintao is coming to town next week.