Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is visiting two places this week - Pakistan and the Middle East - where high-profile special envoys named by President Obama have run into brick walls.
But it's far from certain that Secretary Clinton will be able to make any more headway than the two big guns dispatched by Mr. Obama right out of the blocks of his presidency - Richard Holbrooke for the Afghanistan-Pakistan portfolio, and George Mitchell for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Nonetheless, Clinton's trip is shining a light on the performances of two of America's best-known go-to diplomats, as well as on Obama's broad use of special envoys and so-called czars.
For many diplomats and diplomatic experts, Clinton's trip is above all a reminder that, when it comes to foreign policy, the secretary of State is in charge - a seemingly obvious notion that was cast into doubt in some circles when Messrs. Holbrooke and Mitchell were named in January.
Clinton's trip also underscores the limits of the special envoy, especially in the eyes of the leaders whom US officials work with in each region.
"This administration has identified two regions of the world that require 24/7 attention, and for that Secretary Clinton has the assistance of two extraordinarily capable diplomats," says Karl Inderfurth, director of the Graduate Program in International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington.
"But at the end of the day it's her responsibility, and that's what this trip acknowledges," he adds. "It's if she weren't visiting these regions that the message would be wrong and questions about the administration's handling of these critical issues would come up."
Still, the questions have come up. When the United States recently ran into an intense public outcry in Pakistan over the terms of a hefty new aid package, it was Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts who visited the country and smoothed the ruffled feathers of Pakistani leaders. And it was Senator Kerry, not Holbrooke, who spent hours in Kabul convincing Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept a runoff in the disputed August presidential election. …