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Who Is James Dobbins?

With little comment from conservative media, President Obama last week appointed James Dobbins as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the high-profile job long occupied by the late Richard Holbrooke.

Dobbins is a prominent exponent of the idea that America can live with a nuclear Iran, as well as an opponent of the use of military force against Iran's nuclear program under any conditions. Whatever the White House might be thinking, the appointment sent a signal to Iran that the military option is pure bluff.

"Obama's AfPak envoy may embrace Iran" is the lead of today's Asia Times Online under the byline of MK Bhadrakumar, a former Indian ambassador to Turkey. Writes Bhadrakumar:

The probability is that the United States President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry got around to reading the congressional testimony titled "Negotiating with Iran" given by Ambassador James Dobbins on the Hill on November 7, 2007, while deciding to name him as the new U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The appointment seems odd, the former Indian diplomat explains, because:

Dobbins has been an inveterate critic of Obama's plan to reduce the US military footprint in Afghanistan. He voiced enthusiastic support for the counterinsurgency strategy [COIN] carried out by General David Petraeus and was sharply critical that the COIN was reduced to mere counterterrorist operation.

One wonders if the Republican establishment declined to object to Dobbins' appointment because of his COIN credentials.

But there's an explanation for Obama's selection, Bhadrakumar adds:

Dobbins' real credentials lie quite somewhere else than on the kinetic battlefield. Kerry made this clear while announcing the appointment. He said, "He [Dobbins] has deep and longstanding relationships in the region, ... Jim will continue building on diplomatic efforts to bring the conflict to a peaceful conclusion, actively engaging with states in the region and the international community."

Secretary Kerry was referring, evidently, to Dobbins' "deep and longstanding relationship" with Iran.