Clinton Brings On New Troubleshooter

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday announced a replacement for the late Richard Holbrooke, the troubleshooter who oversaw U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Clinton wanted to fill the job because she liked the way Holbrooke brought together experts across the government to work on a critical area of foreign policy. But some experts wonder why she's farming out this and other important tasks to envoys, while others say it makes sense given the recent dramatic developments throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

And as Mr. Coll mentioned, Secretary Clinton spoke yesterday on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan and urged Taliban fighters to split from al-Qaida, saying that they face a stark choice. She did not mention the direct talks with the Taliban that Mr. Coll just told us about but did say diplomacy plays an increasing role in Afghanistan and Pakistan and announced a new envoy to fill the shoes of the late Richard Holbrooke who ran U.S. policy in the region.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton said that along with the military campaign against al-Qaida and the Taliban and ongoing U.S. development efforts, the U.S. is preparing for what she calls a diplomatic surge.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): Now, of course, we had always envisioned Richard Holbrooke leading this effort. He was an architect of our integrated military civilian diplomatic strategy and we feel his loss so keenly.

KELEMEN: She did find someone to take his place, though: Marc Grossman, a veteran diplomat who had once worked with Holbrooke. Clinton says he'll hit the ground running and he has a big job ahead.

Ms. CLINTON: Just before the protests began in Tunisia and Egypt, I warned that the region's foundations were sinking into the sand. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, conflict is blasting the foundations apart brick by brick. Reconciliation and reform offer another way.

KELEMEN: Her reliance on envoys - not just Grossman but also Middle East Envoy George Mitchell - has surprised some foreign policy watchers, including Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation.

Mr. STEVE CLEMONS (Executive Vice President, New America Foundation): It moves the spotlight to someone else. It makes it look like Marc Grossman's package of things or George Mitchell's as opposed to Hillary Clinton's. I think that we're moving into an era though - and this is why I've been a bit surprised by the Marc Grossman appointment - that Hillary Clinton wants to move in and have more ownership of these big issues.

KELEMEN: Clemons says she's spent much of the first two years on the job trying to wrestle the State Department back into relevance and to elevate issues that she cares about.

Mr. CLEMONS: I think that her objective is to raise the weight, the throw weight if you will, of women's rights, of interconnectivity in foreign affairs, of concerns about development as a national security issue.

KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton makes a point of visiting with students, businesspeople and activists on nearly every foreign trip she takes. She set up a special office on social media and the Internet and gave her second major speech on that issue just this past week.

Carnegie Endowment Visiting Scholar David Rothkopf, who contributes to Foreign Policy magazine, says what's happening now in Egypt shows that Clinton was ahead of the curve.

Mr. DAVID ROTHKOPF (Visiting Scholar, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Contributor, Foreign Policy Magazine): A lot of other people poo-poohed and said, no, this is playing at the margin. Well, guess what? Not only is not playing at the margin, it's become absolutely central to the most important issues that the United States is facing and it shows that she really came in with a real kind of vision and sensitivity to how the business of diplomacy was changing in a way that I think has served the president very well.

KELEMEN: It's a good thing, he argues, that she has envoys working day-to-day issues and trying to cut across bureaucratic lines in Washington.

Mr. ROTHKOPF: She is going to spend as much of her time dealing with political transition across the Middle East as she does dealing with the issues she thought she was going to deal with when she came into office.

KELEMEN: The turmoil in the Middle East is going to test all of her diplomatic skills as she tries to convince leaders in the region that it's in their interest to reform.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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