“We are still in the process of digging our way into the debris,” Mr. Holbrooke said in an interview. “We’ve inherited an extraordinarily dysfunctional situation in which the very objectives have to be reviewed.” Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton chose Mr. Holbrooke because of his ability to twist arms as well as hold hands, work closely with the military and improvise inventive solutions to what others write off as insoluble problems. But no one yet knows how his often pyrotechnical style — he whispers, but also pesters, bluffs, threatens, stages fits and publicizes — will work in an administration that prizes low-key competence or in a region that is dangerously unstable.
“Richard C. Holbrooke is the diplomatic equivalent of a hydrogen bomb,” said Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state and a friend.
Return to Washington
Already, Mr. Holbrooke’s return to Washington has caused tremors. His arrival at the State Department has rattled colleagues who remember him as someone who cultivates the powerful and tramples those with less to offer. Others worry about his assiduous courtship of the news media. Judging from interviews with several officials, there seems to be confusion about whether the American Embassies in Pakistan and Afghanistan will be controlled by Mr. Holbrooke or the regular State Department overseers.
And even friends acknowledge that Mr. Holbrooke is intently focused on his own legend. (Many people have personal trainers; Mr. Holbrooke has a personal archivist.)
For now, Mr. Holbrooke is both raising expectations and lowering them. He is talking about Afpak — Washington shorthand for his assignment — as his last and toughest mission. But along with the rest of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy staff, he is also trying to redefine success in the region, shifting away from former President Bush’s grand, transformative goals and toward something more achievable....