July 12, 2014

EDITORIAL: Senate Republicans need to leave behind petty politics and confirm U.S. ambassadors

Who cares about Namibia? It's so far away. Or Sierra Leone, or Cameroon, or Niger?

Who cares about Namibia? It's so far away. Or Sierra Leone, or Cameroon, or Niger?

Evidently, not the U.S. Senate, at least not Republicans, who have decided the U.S. doesn't need ambassadors in those African nations, or in dozens of other countries around the world.

In one of the latest manifestations of the nation's dysfunctional capital, more than 40 individuals nominated by President Barack Obama to be ambassadors are waiting  for Senate confirmation, and waiting, and waiting. That means nearly 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 party affiliation, reward their political friends.

Obama, for example, nominated Noah Mamet to serve in Argentina. Mamet is intelligent and polished, and also is a major Los Angeles-area bundler of campaign donations for Democratic 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.

They are individuals such as Thomas Daughton, Obama's nominee for Namibia.

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

No fewer than 23 ambassadorial nominees have had confirmations pending in the Senate for more than 200 days; 16 for more than 300 days.

Roughly a fourth of African nations have no U.S. ambassador. This is shortsighted. Many U.S. companies have interests in Africa. Africa also is a region where piracy threatens international shipping, and where the terrorist organization Boko Haram is active, having kidnapped 200 girls in Nigeria.

Lately, Secretary of State John Kerry has been protesting inaction by the Senate, for good reason. Ambassadors serve as this nation's eyes and ears, are the face of this nation 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 he 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. But 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. Certainly, they should debate treaties, and matters of war and peace. But when the issue turns to international relations, they really ought to give their petty partisanship a rest.


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