No, I’m not talking about buildings.  I’m talking about the 65 people Obama has nominated to be Ambassadors around the world that are awaiting confirmation by the U.S. Senate.  Think about it - sixty-five nations around the world that have no official head of the U.S. diplomatic mission.  Sixty-five countries – there are only 195 countries in the world so that means that fully ONE-THIRD of the nations in the world await an Ambassador from the United States.  And don’t think that these vacancies are limited to Lichtenstein or Lesotho and Burundi, countries that one could dismiss as tracking relatively low on the list of America’s top international interests. (Apologies to Lichtenstein. Lesotho and Burundi. No disrespect intended.)  Eleven of our Embassies in Africa are vacant where the Ebola virus threatens to kill thousands more people and where the West African offshoots of Al Qaeda are active.  Nine in Eastern Europe are vacant.  Hasn’t the Ukraine been in the news lately?  Trouble in the Middle East as ISIS runs amok? But we have no ambassadors to the UAE, Bahrain and Turkey.

The average time it takes for the full Senate to do its job is a mere 237 days once a nominee clears the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  237 days?  I can get three crops of vegetables out of my backyard over the same period.  One could say that even without a sitting Ambassador the mission of our Embassies still continues.  Based on my experience working with the State Department for a couple of decades, that’s true.  On the other hand, I can’t tell you how many times we halted work while we awaited an Ambassador’s decision.  This was particularly the case in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Why are there so many Ambassador positions awaiting approval by the Senate and why are they taking so long?  If you guessed partisan politics, you win!  Ever since the Senate Democrats changed the “super majority” rule Republicans have fought back by delaying approval of Obama’s nominees.  And not only for diplomatic positions.  And didn’t Republicans vow to make Obama a one-term President? Yes, they did.  But apparently they haven’t noticed that this IS his second term. 

As the Middle East continues to slide towards something that at the very least is frightening as all hell, as the Ebola virus continues on it’s merry way across West Africa, as China continues to broaden its reach in Asia, Senate Republicans seem to believe that it matters not whether we have our top diplomatic representative working and living in nations around the world to promote U.S. interests.  Maybe, maybe not.  But one unmistakable consequence of this situation is how poorly it reflects on the ability of the United States of America to fully partake in international diplomacy and how ridiculous it must appear to other nations who are able to field their representatives but we cannot. 

Do Senate Republicans believe that some of Obama’s nominees are unqualified?  (As if this is some newly emergent trend in diplomatic nominations.)  Do they think that some of Obama’s nominations are quid-pro-quos for campaign contributions? (Surely a revolutionary event in the world of naming U.S. Ambassadors!)  Fine.  Then leave them aside for further examination but at least move on the others.  International relations is not an arena that the U.S. can afford to be looked upon as so dysfunctional that we cannot even deploy a full complement of our representatives to do the work of protecting and promoting our vital interests. 

Just my thoughts for the day. 

Excepts and heavy reliance on David Ignatius’ Washington Post piece of 3 September 2014. 


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