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More Special Envoys in the Works

By Al Kamen
The economic downturn has spiked unemployment for just about everyone. But not for a small group of "special" people. We're hearing plans are afoot at the State Department to have a string of "special envoys" appointed to handle top priority trouble areas around the world.

In addition to plans to have former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke become a special envoy for India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, it appears we're going to have a special envoy focusing on Arab-Israeli matters, perhaps retired veteran diplomat Daniel Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt and now at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

There's also talk that Christopher Hill, now assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, would become special but keep plugging away on the North Korean nukes problem. And Dennis Ross, a close Obama adviser, long-time diplomat and President Clinton's former special envoy to the Middle East, could be special envoy to Iran with maybe a broader portfolio of the Middle East in general.

All these special people are causing a bit of agita amongst the other senior diplomatic types. Special envoys, ambassadors at large, personal representatives and the like are not a new phenomenon amongst the pinstriped set. But the other diplomats assigned to related duties know they have to make some adjustments to work with them.

It's easiest for career folks when the envoy is chosen more for star power or personal connections rather than actual knowledge of the issues. It's a little trickier when, as in the examples mentioned above, the envoys know or, nightmare of nightmares, think they know, what they're doing.

So what do the assistant secretaries generally do when these interlopers pop in? "They clean up after the special envoys," one career diplomat quipped.

By Web Politics Editor  |  December 12, 2008; 11:32 AM ET
Categories:  Cast of Characters  
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