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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Envoys Extraordinaire

These are not the best of times for Barack Obama’s once vaulted special envoys:  George Mitchell, who nobody has heard from for months, has finally had the good grace to resign. Richard Holbrooke, adding insult to mortal injury, never lived to see his country’s brief moment of triumph, nor is he around to take the Pakistanis to Coventry, something he almost certainly would have relished doing.

Holbrooke’s successor, Marc Grossman, is a fine diplomat. He’s about as good as the US can get these days. Whether he can master and produce Holbrooke’s dream of a web of leverage and influence in order to put a good face on the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the achievement of something resembling a stable balance of power in Central and South Asia remains to be seen, however.

Even if he does pull that off, it may not matter as much as placating domestic opinion back home. In truth, most Americans really aren’t so angry with Pakistan, tending to pity it more than hating it. But this could change by events, or if enough members of the US Congress sense a strong electoral issue. Therefore, and in spite of the decline and fall of the presidential envoy, it would seem that President Obama still needs a big name for this country and its many problems.

Talleyrand nominates General Colin L. Powell, USA (retired). He gets on famously well with Pakistani generals and, judging by his public appearances, still seems keen to serve his country. Unlike his hero, General George Marshall, he was not, alas, named Secretary of Defense, but a mission of this sort could be attractive to him. More to the point, it could help stave off – or at least deflect, as special envoys are meant to do – an almost certain series of crises with Pakistan down the road.

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