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I didn’t mention in last night’s item on the passing of Richard Holbrooke that the Washington Post had reported his last words as “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan,” for a couple of reasons. One, the meaning was somewhat ambiguous — like Alex Massie, I wondered if the “You” in that sentence was Pakistan (the Post story had him saying this to his Pakistani doctor). Two, something about the story felt off; there have been plenty of cases of too-good-to-check apocryphal famous last word creeping into newspaper accounts, and I wondered if we might soon learn that there was more to the story, rendering moot any commentary on what Holbrooke’s parting words might have meant.
It turns out my instinct was correct. The Post now reports that Holbrooke was joking:
But on Tuesday a fuller account of the tone and contents of his remarks emerged.
As Dr. Jehan El-Bayoumi was attending to Holbrooke in the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital, she told him to relax and asked what she could do to comfort him, according to an aide who was present. Holbrooke, who was in severe pain, said jokingly that it was hard to relax because he had to worry about the difficult situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
El-Bayoumi, an Egyptian-American internist who is Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s physician, replied that she would worry for him. Holbrooke responded by telling her to end the war, the aide said.
The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.
It’s hard not to wonder whether the Post’s reporting might have been a bit more diligent if instead of joking about ending the war Holbrooke had joked about, say, making sure Obama doesn’t withdraw too precipitously.