Blocking ambassadors

The dysfunctional nature of Congress is having a serious harmful impact on U.S. foreign policy by preventing the confirmation of ambassadors, including representatives to countries that today are of major importance.

According to the Senate’s rules, a single lawmaker can derail a confirmation, and 65 nominees are now victims of political stagnation. As a result, the United States lacks high-level representatives with direct contact to a country’s authorities and to various political, social and economic spheres.

This is a serious problem when it happens, for example, in Sierra Leone, considered to be the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak. In Africa, where this virus and Islamic terrorism—in Nigeria—are serious issues, there are 11 embassies that lack a chief of mission.

Islamic extremism is at the top of the security agenda because of the appearance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which threatens the region. Turkey, which borders Syria, is key to any strategy, but the ambassador that the White House nominated has not been confirmed. Given the current crisis, the government had to turn to George W. Bush’s representative in order not to leave the post vacant.

There was a crisis involving minors from Central America, and Washington still does not have an ambassador in Guatemala. Likewise, a former Soviet country, Ukraine, is trying to stop advances from Vladimir Putin, but nine neighboring Western European countries lack an American ambassador.

The post of ambassador is at times used to reward campaign donors and people who helped a president get elected, even if they know nothing about foreign policy and even about the country where they are headed. The Obama administration echoed this poor practice.

However, out of the 65 nominees waiting their turn, 40 are diplomats with distinguished careers who are being held hostage by political grudges. In the majority of the cases, it is not even related to the nominee, and lawmakers are objecting in order to call attention to another issue.

President Obama is getting ready to explain his strategy to tackle ISIS’ advances today. The Republican caucus is already trying to gain political brownie points from this issue, blaming the White House’s foreign policy for weakening the worldwide image of the U.S.

In reality, the opposition in the Senate is the one that damaged that image from the beginning—when through obstruction, it allowed posts to remain vacant in U.S. embassies throughout the world.