Three strong personalities at the State Department provide a measure of optimism that U.S. leadership and peaceful intent will once again but put to productive use. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in representing the U.S. abroad. Joining Clinton are George J. Mitchell as special envoy to Arab-Israeli affairs, and Richard C. Holbrooke, who will...

PRESIDENT Obama’s appointment of three strong advocates for diplomacy signals his intent to promote the interests of the United States by engaging and influencing foreign governments. How refreshing.

The practice of diplomacy — a willingness to engage in negotiations, respect treaties and participate in gritty, potentially fruitless face-to-face talks — — was virtually abandoned by the Bush administration. The State Department was unapologetically elbowed aside by the civilian cowboys at the Pentagon and the White House.

The United States is living with the results. The rest of the world was not impressed by the Bush administration’s imperious attitude. International respect and cooperation rolled down hill.

Obama began the rebuilding process Thursday when he assigned key portfolios to two veteran diplomats, who will join Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in representing the U.S. abroad.

George J. Mitchell, a former Senate majority leader, will be special envoy to Arab-Israeli affairs, and Richard C. Holbrooke will head diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Two of America’s best and most successful emissaries have received two of the toughest, most solution-resistant problems.

The turmoil and bloodshed in Gaza have heightened the profile of the Middle East in recent weeks, but the region has festered for years without serious attention from U.S. policymakers. Mitchell’s skills and tenacity brokered a deal in Northern Ireland, an area whose troubles were assumed to defy solution.

Holbrooke also prevailed at the negotiating table. He was central to the 1995 Dayton peace accords, which ended the war in Bosnia.

Obama’s investment of time and talent does not guarantee success in resolving stubborn, lethal global problems. Absolutely no progress is guaranteed without trying to make a difference. Diplomacy as a tool gathered dust.

Three strong personalities at the State Department inspire optimism that U.S. leadership, peaceful intent and integrity will once again be put to productive use.