Career diplomats: collateral damage from ‘nuclear option’

State Department (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
State Department
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The Pacific island nation of Palau will commemorate the 70th anniversary in September of the Battle of Peleliu, scene of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. The battle ended with nearly 10,000 Marines and soldiers killed or wounded.

Island tourism promoters are touting the planned ceremony, saying it will feature the country’s president and the U.S. ambassador. One problem: as of now, there is no U.S. ambassador.

The nominee, Amy Jane Hyatt, a 28-year career Foreign Service officer who was first nominated nearly a year ago, is still awaiting confirmation by the Senate.

Her nomination, like that of 18 other career diplomats on the Senate floor, is merely collateral damage in the partisan battle over nominations that intensified after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid triggered the “nuclear option” and limited the ability of minority Republicans to block nominees by filibuster.

The career nominees at the Senate have waited about 250 days so far on average, even though they are nonpartisan and their hostage value is thus pretty close to nil. The only things damaged by this situation are  the country’s national security, its economic well-being, it’s ability to get solid trade, food  and energy deals and its capacity to spread U.S. human rights and other values.

Nine of those career folks stranded on the Senate floor are nominated to serve in mineral-  and energy-rich Africa. It’s obviously hard to lead there (either from behind or from front) when trained diplomats aren’t in place. In contrast, does anyone think the Chinese are not fully staffed there, locking up deals for raw materials, oil, food and such? Yet one of five U.S. ambassadorial posts in Africa are empty.

Fighting over political appointees is one thing. But at this rate people might start thinking this country is on a path from indispensable nation to failed state.  Perhaps too late to go back to the old days when most career diplomats approved without dissent in committee were confirmed in groups by unanimous consent.

Rational order would suffice.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
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