Other voices

Senate must move to confirm U.S. ambassadors

July 23, 2014 

Sacramento Bee editorial

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 African nations, or in dozens of other countries.

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. 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 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. 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 in embassies and consulates in Jamaica, the Philippines, Lebanon, Morocco, Malaysia, Algeria and Gabon. Obama nominated him June 30, 2013.

No fewer than 23 ambassadorial nominees have had their confirmation pending in the Senate for more than 200 days; 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 short-sighted. 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 kidnapped 200 girls in Nigeria for daring to attend school.

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. Secretary of State John Kerry noted that members of Congress called for action to hinder Boko Haram, but that there are no ambassadors in 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 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.

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