Our View: Senate inaction on nominees for ambassador hampers U.S. foreign policy

07/13/2014 6:02 PM

07/13/2014 6:03 PM

Who cares about Namibia? It’s so far away. Or Sierra Leone, or Cameroon, or Niger, or Lesotho. Evidently, not the U.S. Senate, at least not Republicans, who have decided the U.S. doesn’t need ambassadors in those nations, or in dozens of others around the world.

In one of the latest manifestations of the nation’s gridlocked capital, more than 40 individuals nominated by President Barack Obama to be ambassadors are waiting for Senate confirmation, and waiting, and waiting. That means a fourth of the 169 nations where the U.S. has embassies have no ambassador.

Like presidents before him, Obama adheres to the tradition of appointing campaign donors to some ambassadorial posts. Presidents, no matter their affiliation, reward political friends. Obama, for example, nominated Noah Mamet to serve in Argentina. Mamet is intelligent and polished, and also a major Los Angeles-area bundler of campaign donations for Democratic presidential and congressional candidates.

But many more nominees are career foreign service officers, who have spent decades in far-flung posts representing U.S. interests, and received the honor of being nominated based on merit. Thomas Daughton, Obama’s nominee for Namibia, is one such diplomat.

A graduate of Amherst College and the University of Virginia Law School, Daughton has been in the foreign service since 1989. He served in embassies and consulates in Jamaica, the Philippines, Lebanon, Morocco, Malaysia and Algeria, among other countries. Obama nominated him on June 30, 2013, nearly 380 days ago.

Another is John Hoover, nominated to serve in Sierra Leone. He, too, is a career diplomat, who started his career in 1988, and has served in Uganda, Kenya, Swaziland and in Asia. His nomination has been stalled 370 days.

Senate confirmation has been pending for more than 200 days for no fewer than 23 ambassadorial nominees; 16 were nominated more than 300 days ago.

Roughly a fourth of African nations have no U.S. ambassador, which is especially shabby given that Obama is scheduled to host more than 40 African leaders next month in Washington. It’s also shortsighted.

Africa is a region where piracy threatens international shipping, where the terrorist organization Boko Haram is active, having kidnapped 200 girls in Nigeria for daring to attend school. And a great many U.S. companies have interests there.

Lately, Secretary of State John Kerry has been protesting the lack of action by the Senate. Ambassadors serve as this nation’s eyes and ears, are America’s face for foreign governments, and interpret those nations for our leaders.

In a statement last week, Kerry noted that members of Congress called for action to hinder Boko Haram, but lamented that there are no ambassadors in two neighboring countries, Cameroon and Niger, where victims could be held captive. He also cited the flow of children from Central America to the United States, saying: “Our hand would be stronger in daily diplomacy if we had an ambassador in Guatemala, one of the key sources of children sent on this dangerous journey.”

Part of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s obstructionism can be traced to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision last year to limit filibusters.

It also speaks to a lack of urgency about foreign affairs and the GOP’s general refusal to cooperate with the Obama administration.

Democrats and Republicans always have fought over domestic policy, and always will. Certainly, they should debate treaties, and matters of war and peace. But when the issue turns to international relations, they really ought to give this petty partisanship a rest.

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