Richard Holbrooke, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told a standing-room-only crowd at Luce Hall yesterday that America’s current strategy toward Afghanistan falls critically short of stabilizing the war-torn land.

“The military victory is only as good as the peace that follows,” Holbrooke said.

Holbrooke, who negotiated the historic Dayton Peace Accords ending the war in Bosnia in 1995, delivered a speech called “Seven Months After 9/11: The Present Situation.” The speech, a George Herbert Walker Jr. Lecture in International Studies, was sponsored by the Yale Center for International and Area Studies.

Known as “Mr. Mission Impossible” for his tact in diplomacy, Holbrooke said that defeating the Taliban, a “motley mob of militia and mullahs,” was not difficult, but stabilizing Afghanistan presents a great challenge.

“In Afghanistan, we are in serious danger of losing the peace,” Holbrooke said.

Holbrooke, who served as U.N. ambassador from 1999 to 2001, called the Bush administration’s decision to restrict peacekeeping forces to the city of Kabul “completely inexplicable” in the wake of Afghan interim President Hamid Karzai’s plea for expanded peacekeeping efforts.

He also spoke about Iraq, saying the single greatest mistake the United States has made in the last quarter century was to not “finish off” Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War. He added that the United States is experiencing the effects of that decision and must act in a responsible manner in its actions toward him.

“One thing we cannot afford to do after going after Saddam is to fail. That would be catastrophic,” Holbrooke said.

Holbrooke called the decade between the collapse of the Soviet Union and Sept. 11 an interwar period, with America expressing little interest in international affairs. He added that after the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York, the United States has awakened to the challenges that lie on the international stage.

“We are in for a long, protracted period of engagement in the world,” Holbrooke said. “It’s important that we understand that we have a vested interest in foreign affairs.”

The former ambassador said he is strongly convinced that greatest U.S. strength is its people, whose “honesty, candor and open criticism” will ultimately defeat al Qaeda.

Holbrooke also devoted a considerable portion of his lecture to what he sees to be “the other great war,” the fight against the spread of AIDS. He said that of all the problems faced in the world today, AIDS is the most critical, for it represents the worst health crisis in the last 600 to 700 years.

“It saps the political, economic and social fabric of countries,” Holbrooke said.

Holbrooke said that while countries like Thailand and Brazil show decreasing rates of infection, others like India, China, Russia and Botswana all have soaring rates.

“It is destroying these countries, and we have to do more about it,” he said. “The disease must be de-stigmatized.”