America's Empty Embassies

By Mondale, Walter F | International New York Times, December 30, 2015 | Go to article overview

America's Empty Embassies


Mondale, Walter F, International New York Times


Why won't the Senate approve Obama's diplomatic nominees?

As the last year has demonstrated, America's struggle to defend its national interests cannot be won by military force alone. Even as the campaigns against the Islamic State and the Taliban have faltered, American diplomats have made remarkable progress across a number of fronts, from climate change to checking Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Such success depends on making common cause with our allies, an effort led by America's ambassadors. And yet, thanks to Senate politics, dozens of ambassadorial nominations have been delayed unnecessarily. At one point in 2014, nearly a quarter of the world's countries lacked an American ambassador, and even today, despite some efforts to approve candidates, a dozen nominations have not received congressional action -- including nominees to represent the United States in strategically vital countries like Mexico, Norway and Sweden.

Some of these are still early in the nomination process, but several have received overwhelming bipartisan support in committee, only to see their candidacy halted on the Senate floor.

Take the case of Roberta S. Jacobson, whom President Obama nominated as ambassador to Mexico this summer. A State Department veteran who is fluent in Spanish, she is exactly the sort of person we need to advance our interests in Mexico. The Mexican government has expressed support, as did the Republican-led Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

But because, as an assistant secretary of state, Ms. Jacobson helped negotiate the thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba, Senator Marco Rubio, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has placed a "hold" on her candidacy, unilaterally preventing her from receiving what should be a pro forma vote of approval.

I am particularly concerned about the vacancy in Norway, now going on more than two years. I care deeply about Norway, where my family originated before immigrating to Minnesota, along with thousands of others.

But my concern is not just sentimental: Norway is a key strategic ally and partner.

It shares a 122-mile border with Russia -- an increasingly aggressive and unpredictable international actor. Norway is a NATO member that routinely carries out joint military exercises with our forces. And it has started to take delivery of more than 50 F-35 fighter planes it is buying from Lockheed Martin, making it an important trade partner as well. …

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