The Washington Post

Obama nominees for ambassador posts may face opposition from Foreign Service group


The American Foreign Service Association failed to stop Larry Lawrence from becoming an ambassador in the Clinton administration — but it got some posthumous vindication. (Scott J. Ferrell/CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY VIA GETTY IMAGES)
Columnist

In an unusual move, the American Foreign Service Association, which represents more than 16,000 career diplomats, is expected to weigh next week whether to publicly oppose some of President Obama’s controversial recent ambassadorial nominations.

AFSA President Bob Silverman, at a news conference Tuesday to discuss the association’s new guidelines for selecting ambassadors, said he would ask the 28-member board whether it wanted to take a formal position on three Obama mega-bundler nominees: Colleen Bell (for Hungary), George Tsunis (Norway) and Noah Mamet (Argentina). Bell and Tsunis were approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this month, though Tsunis got through on a party-line vote of 12 to 6.

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

The nominees came under fire at their committee hearings in recent weeks after displaying a lack of knowledge about the countries to which they had been nominated.

AFSA has not often taken public stands on nominations. The one example cited — Bill Clinton’s 1993 nomination of hotelier Larry Lawrence to be ambassador to Switzerland — was approved despite AFSA opposition. (Lawrence, Loop fans may recall, died in Switzerland and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery as a World War II Merchant Marine vet. His body was later disinterred when it was found that he had never served.) And we’re told there may have been instances of behind-the-scenes opposition to some nominees as well.

Silverman didn’t promise that AFSA would act on any of the nominations at the March 5 board meeting, but he said, “I want to consult with the AFSA board . . . we do have concerns . . . stay tuned.” He noted that there may be a feeling that AFSA might not “want to get into the middle of a dogfight” while it’s in progress.

Diversity milestones

Jeh Johnson’s confirmation a couple of months ago as head of the Department of Homeland Security may have marked one of the few times that the two top officials in a Cabinet department were minorities.

The first time in the Obama administration was at Commerce in 2009, when Gary Locke, a Chinese American, was head of the agency and Dennis Hightower, an African American, was deputy secretary.

Johnson, who is African American, has joined Cuban American Alejandro Mayorkas, who had already taken over the deputy slot.

Meanwhile, if former Obama White House Cabinet secretary Chris Lu, who is Chinese American, is confirmed as deputy secretary at the Labor Department, he’ll be joining Secretary Tom Perez , a Dominican American. So that would be three. (We’re hearing a fourth is in the works.)

Staying in bean-counting mode, however, we see that women are not to be found in especially high numbers among deputy secretaries in the 15 statutory Cabinet departments. (As opposed to the “Cabinet-rank” agencies and positions.)

So far, with four vacancies (at Education, Commerce, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development) and one nominee pending (Sarah Bloom Raskin at Treasury), there are only two women serving as deputy secretaries: Heather Higginbottom at the State Department and Krysta Harden at Agriculture.

A Singapore sing

When your economy is a bit shaky and your military in a bit of a budget squeeze, there’s always what Harvard political scientist Joe Nye called “soft power.”

Nye was talking about extending U.S. influence around the world not through drones or bribes but through the lure of American culture and values.

Kind of like when the State Department sent jazz legend Dave Brubeck to Poland in 1958 to loosen the commie grip on most everything in the country.

So our ambassador in Singapore, former Miami trial lawyer and Obama mega-bundler Kirk Wagar , is working on his own variant.

“Soft power diplomacy, baby!” he posted on his Facebook page last week, along with a photo of himself in white pants and shirt, microphone in hand, at a Singapore karaoke club. Apparently he’s quite good at this.

“Learned something today,” he wrote. “Singapore had never seen an Ambassador from the United States do karaoke. I have rectified that situation. I hope it’s a good thing . . . ”

Well, one can only hope.

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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