As the recent Gen. Anthony Zinni case demonstrates, behind the scenes and mostly under the radar, the Obama administration is busy slotting U.S. ambassadors for key assignments across the globe, weighing multiple considerations.
Former professional diplomats have encouraged the administration to put more career diplomatic professionals at key posts, along with appointees with foreign policy expertise in the countries they will serve as envoy to, rather than big money donors. The administration has also shied away from some candidates it initially contacted about being considered for ambassadorships who turned out to be registered as lobbyists, after the troubles the nominations of Tom Daschle for HHS secretary and William Lynn for deputy defense secretary ran into.
State Department sources also note that career Foreign Service professionals went through a process last year to be provisionally slated for positions opening up in 2009. The so-called D-committee (led by former Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte) met last summer to make tentative decisions on all the career people going to those embassy jobs. The list of selections was held until after the U.S. elections in November, when it was submitted to the Obama-Biden transition team.
Now, the new administration still has to decide, for all those people chosen, whether to confirm the selections made last summer, or, in some cases, to switch out people. Among the selections made last summer by the D-committee, sources said, was for a tentative career Foreign Service diplomat to succeed Ryan Crocker as U.S. ambassador to Baghdad. It's not clear if Christopher Hill was the choice at that time. [UPDATE: Hill was not the person selected for Baghdad last summer, a former U.S. official says.]
Sources speculate that the secret hand influencing the decision to not give Zinni the Iraq ambassadorship may have actually been the top government advocate warning against the militarization of the face of U.S. foreign policy: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. (Zinni, you will remember, was offered the ambassadorship to Saudi Arabia after the administration changed its mind on Iraq, an offer Zinni said he declined.)
Former Clinton-era NSC official Ivo Daalder is expected to be appointed U.S. ambassador to NATO. Daalder, now with the Brookings Institution, led the team advising the Obama campaign on nonproliferation issues. Scheduled to take place in just under 40 days, the NATO summit in April will top his agenda. Daalder declined to comment. Current U.S. ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker is likely to be named to another ambassadorship, sources said. Volker wouldn't comment on his plans. "Right now, I'm focused on trying to make sure that President Obama's first NATO summit is a success," he said.
Sources said former Clinton-era NSC official Mark Brzezinski is possibly going to be named as U.S. ambassador to Poland. Brzezinski, the son of former Carter national security advisor Zbigniew Brezinski, speaks Polish, associates note. Brzezinski, a partner at McGuireWoods, did not respond to a query.
Lee Feinstein, the former Clinton-era State Department deputy director of policy planning who coordinated outside foreign-policy advisors for Hillary Clinton's primary campaign, is expected to be named to an ambassadorship (not clear where: associates have mentioned Prague, the European Union, Geneva, or OSCE/Vienna). Feinstein, now at the Brookings Institution, declined to comment.
Harvard Kennedy School professor and dean emeritus Joseph S. Nye tops the list for U.S. ambassador to Japan, as first reported by Chris Nelson. Nye previously has served at senior State Department and NSC posts and as the chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Nye declined to comment, but a source close to him disputed a recent rumor that he had declined the Tokyo envoy job.
Jeff Davidow, the former assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs, has taken a leave from the Institute of the Americas to serve as the envoy preparing for the next Summit of the Americas, sources confirmed. "The summit is a premier regional venue, where all of the presidents (including Canada, but not including Cuba) discuss hemispheric problems and solutions and cement their personal relationships," a Washington Latin America hand said. "Key issues include things like consolidating democracy, increasing good governance, the whole host of security issues (personal security, organized crime, drugs), sustainable development and environmental protection, poverty reduction, economic growth, and reform."
Tom Shannon, the assistant secretary of state for Western hemispheric affairs, is expected to stay on the job through the spring, when he is likely to be succeeded by Arturo Valenzuela. Afterwards, Shannon is expected to be named ambassador to Brazil or Argentina.
Numerous media outlets have reported that Christopher Hill, the assistant secretary of state for Asian and Pacific affairs, is expected to be named U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and that Gen. Karl Eikenberry will be named U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. But neither has been officially announced.
Sources said that Karl Inderfurth, the former assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, tops the list for U.S. ambassador to India. Inderfurth, a professor at George Washington University's Elliot School of International Affairs who advised the Obama campaign on South Asian issues, did not respond to a query.
Robert Blake, the current U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, is the top foreign service officer candidate for the job of assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, sources told The Cable. Some South Asia hands thought that U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, who is overseeing the South Asia appointments, might choose to keep Anne Patterson, the current US ambassador to Pakistan, in the Islamabad job. Richard Boucher, the current assistant secretary of state for south Asian affairs, is expected to move on, either to an ambassadorship or to retire from the Foreign Service. Boucher declined to comment on his plans.
Outgoing Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Daniel Fried, who has agreed to stay on until his expected successor Philip Gordon gets in place, might also be being considered for an ambassadorship. Fried declined to speculate on a possible ambassadorship, saying his future plans are uncertain.
A State Department source suggested that the current U.S. ambassador to Israel, James B. Cunningham, is likely to stay in the job. He said the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Jordan, Daniel Rubenstein, is expected to become the consul general and chief of mission of the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.
More to come, and let us know what you're hearing.