Most Read: Opinions

direct signup
Right Turn
Posted at 04:47 PM ET, 06/14/2011

Will State Dept. nominee get through the Senate?

Last month Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy reported:

Former State Department counselor Wendy Sherman, a long time confidant of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has emerged as the “leading candidate” to replace Bill Burns as the third-highest ranking official in Foggy Bottom, according to two State Department officials.

Sherman, currently the vice chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group, was counselor to Secretary of State Madeline Albright, where she also held the role of North Korean policy coordinator. She served as assistant secretary of State for legislative affairs from 1993 to 1996 under Secretary of State Warren Christopher. She is also chair of the board of directors of Oxfam America and serves on the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Policy Board.

Sherman would fill a position usually occupied by a career foreign service person, which makes some sense since William Burns, a career fso, is going into the No. 2 slot that is usually reserved for political appointees. Rogin tells us “the Sherman appointment is not a 100 percent done deal, but very close.” But perhaps the White House has underestimated the degree of opposition she might generate, perhaps even a Senate “hold” that would block her nomination.

The first hurdle she’ll have to clear is on North Korea. She was a key player, at then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s side in negotiating the North Korea deal that is generally regarded as a farce and a failure. Former State Department senior adviser Christian Whiton e-mails me :

She was on the 7th floor [of the State Department] coaching as Counselor when Albright went to Pyongyang at end of Clinton presidency, which was actually meant as a lead-up for a visit by Clinton himself, (thankfully it didn’t happen). A full believer in the notion that we can buy North Korea’s arsenal from them, even though Kim [Jong Il] is in competition with the late Arafat for selling the same thing over and over without delivering.

Journalist Claudia Rosett, who covered foreign policy at the time, tells me, “Among panderers to the North Korean regime, she earned herself a place in the group portrait that used to hang on the wall of the KEDO [a joint venture by the United States, China and North and South Korea] consortium office in New York which was in charge of giving Kim Jong Il free food, fuel and nuclear reactors.” She continued, “Wendy Sherman was part of the Clinton team that brought us some of the worst appeasement of N Korea, at the point where it was clear that North Korea was cheating on the already grossly misconceived Carter-Clinton 1994 Agreed Framework nuclear freeze deal.” Rosett and other analysts agree that the ill-fated agreement actually helped Kim maintain his grip on power as he helped Syria build a nuclear plant, starved and brutalized his own people and lobbed missiles.

And yes, Sherman was along on the stomach-turning trip to Pyongyang when Albright yucked it up with her hosts. Who can forget the NBC News report by Andrea Mitchell that concluded, “As Albright and Kim say goodbye at a farewell dinner, she tells him to call anytime; he asks her for her e-mail address. And her gift to this reclusive leader? An autographed Michael Jordan basketball. Clearly, say U.S. officials, Kim, an avid basketball fan is a lot less isolated than his people. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Pyongyang, North Korea.”

So to recap, as Rosett wrote in 2004:

Even back in the 1990s, U.S. intelligence was already estimating that Kim had a bomb or two, or at least the makings thereof. That was during the Clinton era, in which Jimmy Carter pioneered the practice of unofficial trips to arrange nuclear “peace” deals with Pyongyang, and came prancing home as father of the 1994 Agreed Framework. The way that worked was, the U.S. and its allies paid nuclear extortion in the form of food and fuel for Pyongyang, propped up Kim’s regime, and began building him $4.6 billion worth of nuclear reactors.

In return, Kim lied and cheated on his promise to give up nuclear weapons; launched a program to enrich uranium for more bomb fuel; built, tested and sold missiles; and along the way starved to death some two million of his fellow North Koreans. When confronted by the Bush administration in late 2002 about his nuclear cheating, Kim’s regime bragged about it, pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, announced it would go into overtime producing yet more bombs, and for good measure had a spokesman proclaim last March that “North Korean missiles can reach any part of the United States of America.”

And yes, the Bush administration was nearly as bad. But does Sherman acknowledge the huge failure of policy that she promoted? Does she still think talking and bargaining with North Korea is the way to go?

At least in 2001 Sherman was still cheering for “diplomacy.” In an eye-popping op-ed in the New York Times she wrote:

After a series of negotiations that led to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s visit to Pyongyang in October 2000, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il, appears ready to make landmark commitments about the missile program. To ensure the survival of his regime, he has to improve the country’s disastrous economy by reducing the burden of a vast missile program and opening the doors to trade.

There are many challenges in ending this lingering Cold War conflict, and many would assume that Kim Dae Jung would first want to get North Korea to move back its million-man army from deployment along the North-South border. But he knows that he can counter that with conventional forces. So his priority is to reduce the destabilizing force of weapons of mass destruction, particularly long-range nuclear missiles. The world saw the threat they pose in 1998, when a missile being tested by North Korea flew over Japan and set off an international crisis that could have undone the 1994 nuclear agreement with the United States that halted the North’s fissile material production.

Read the whole thing if you want to get a flavor for the other-worldliness of her faith in Kim’s sincerity. A Senate Republican adviser warns, “Wendy’s North Korea policy in the 1990s was terrible — she basically let the North Koreans off the hook for their illicit behavior at every opportunity.” This would seem to pose a large hurdle to Senate confirmation.

Then there was her post as head of the Fannie Mae Foundation, in which she helped ladle out millions in grants and donations to help sustain the mortgage giant’s credibility and political standing in Washington.

To top it off, for two years Sherman has been vice chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, an international strategic consulting firm. Whom does she represent? Any foreign governments or government-owned industries? I asked a spokesman for the firm if Sherman or the firm ever represent the Chinese government or a state-owned Chinese enterprise or registered as a foreign agent under federal law. I also asked if there was a list of foreign governments or state owned enterprises outside of China that she or the firm represented. I got back a breezy e-mail: “Thanks for getting in touch. We have no comment.” That’s not going to fly with the U.S. Senate. If she’s been representing businesses (U.S. or otherwise) or foreign governments, she’s going to have to cough that up.

The administration may be dead-set on Sherman, but the Senate may have other plans. The Senate adviser is emphatic: “Clearly the Senate will want to know whether the Administration is yet again waiving its ban on former lobbyists working in the Administration. And Senators will specifically want to know if the prospective nominee for the number 3 position in the State Department has lobbied for the People’s Republic of China. If so, will Wendy recuse herself from any Administration decisions involving China? There are many questions the answers to which the Senate will have to deliberate. “

Sherman has yet to be nominated, but if she is, don’t be surprised to hear that her nomination has “stalled.”

By  |  04:47 PM ET, 06/14/2011

Categories:  foreign policy, Senate Republicans

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company