The Cable

Olsen to be next U.S. ambassador to Pakistan

President Barack Obama intends to nominate Ambassador Richard Olsen to be the next U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, three sources with direct knowledge of the pending appointment told The Cable.

Olsen, a senior member of the foreign service, has been serving as the coordinating director for development and economic affairs at U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, since June 2011. If confirmed, he will replace Ambassador Cameron Munter, who announced in May that he would step down from his post after only 18 months on the job. Munter, who presided over the Islamabad embassy during perhaps the worst period in U.S.-Pakistan relations in over a decade, resigned of his own accord and will retire from the foreign service and join the private sector, these sources said.

Before going to Kabul, Olsen was U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates from 2008-2011. He previously served abroad in Mexico, Uganda, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Iraq, and as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. mission to the NATO.  His Washington assignments included stints at the State Department Operations Center, NATO desk, the Office of Israel and Palestinian affairs, and the Office of Iraqi Affairs.

Pakistan watchers and experts saw the choice as a reasonable one and generally said Olsen was a competent and safe choice, but that he faces an uphill battle in moving the relationship forward if and when he gets to Islamabad.

"It will help that Olsen understands some aspects of the region. But Kabul is a different place from Islamabad and Rawalpindi, as he will discover rapidly," said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. "Pakistan is at once more complex and confounding."

Nawaz said that Olsen's success will depend largely on whether he is given power and influence in the interagency policy process. Munter was reportedly overruled several times when he engaged other administration departments on sensitive issues, such as the use of drone strikes or whether the United States should have apologized for killing 24 Pakistan soldiers last November. As the top U.S. representative in Pakistan, Olsen would also be forced to focus on the U.S. military's pursuit of the Haqqani network and the ratcheting up of the U.S. drone program, both unpopular policies in Pakistan.

"Olsen's biggest challenge will be dealing with a Washington that does not have a clear center of gravity in terms of decisions on relations with Pakistan. That was the biggest obstacle faced by Cameron Munter, who impressed many Pakistanis with his zeal and energy but did not get the support he needed from home," Nawaz said.

Some regional experts think Olsen is being set up for failure because he will never be able to resolve the fundamental disputes between the various parts of the U.S. policy bureaucracy over Pakistan policy. The military and the intelligence community are set to ratchet up their kinetic activities inside Pakistan in advance of the U.S. handover of Afghan security control in 2014, a plan that runs in contrast to the State Department's focus on improving government to government relations and raising the image of the U.S. there.

"The best person in the world will not succeed with a defective policy, which is what we have; more accurately, our policy towards Pakistan is fragmented among several entities," said Stephen Cohen, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "Will Olsen be accepting or influencing decisions of other agencies, some of which seem to be running their own policy towards Pakistan?"

Administration and congressional sources also confirm that Ambassador James Cunningham is set to be named to succeed Ryan Crocker as the U.S. envoy in Kabul. Crocker's health continues to deteriorate and he is expected to return to the U.S. soon.

In other ambassador news, the White House announced Tuesday that the president intends to nominate Dawn Liberi to be ambassador to Burundi, Stephen Mull to be ambassador to Poland, and Walter North to be ambassador to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and the Republic of Vanuatu.

There's still no word on who will be chosen to replace Ambassador Jim Jeffrey in Iraq, following the withdrawal of former National Security Council staffer Brett McGurk last month. There is some speculation but no hard evidence that former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford is in the running.

The Cable

Development community upset over future of Global Health Initiative

The Obama administration quietly announced this week that it is scrapping the office of the Global Health Initiative and abandoning plans to move the whole project over to USAID, creating anger and frustration in the non-government organization community.

Following what administration sources described as a knock-down drag-out interagency fight between USAID and CDC over whether the Global Health Initiative, a huge $63 billion project to help the world's poorest announced by President Barack Obama in 2009, would actually be moved to USAID as promised in the State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), the administration has decided to forgo what the QDDR directed and stop trying to consolidate the leadership of the multi-billion dollar program at USAID.

"As a result of our analysis and conclusions, we have made a collective recommendation to close the QDDR benchmark process and shift our focus from leadership within the U.S. Government to global leadership by the U.S. Government. This recommendation has been accepted," read a July 3 blog post by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Ambassador Eric Goosby, Director Thomas Frieden, and Executive Director Lois Quam.

"At the State Department, the GHI Office (S/GHI) will close and the Office of Global Health Diplomacy (S/GHD) will be stood up. Unlike S/GHI's focus on interagency coordination, the S/GHD office's mandate will be to champion the priorities and policies of GHI in the diplomatic arena.... Global Health Initiative will continue as the priority global health initiative of the U.S. Government.... GHI country teams and GHI planning leads will continue to work to implement GHI strategies under the leadership of the U.S. Ambassador."

The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), an umbrella group representing development organizations co-chaired by David Beckmann, George Ingram and Jim Kolbe, today issued a harsh criticism of the administration's decision. 

"The Obama Administration unfortunately yielded to inertia and interagency turf battles in deciding not to move leadership of the Global Health Initiative (GHI), America's largest development program, to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), our premier development agency," MFAN wrote. "We are concerned that our partners on the ground will continue to be confused about global health leadership and coordination, which will hamper efforts to effectively transition ownership of development programs to recipient countries.... Viewed through these lenses, the Administration may have undermined its own landmark efforts to increase development effectiveness and accountability."

Development experts Amanda Glassman and Rachel Silverman wrote about the backstory in a blog post on the website of the Center for Global Development. They said the administration has dramatically scaled back its ambitions for GHI by deciding not to consolidate its leadership at USAID.

"The news is deeply disappointing and frustrating on a number of levels. The announcement reflects a breakdown of the inter-agency process. It demonstrates a continued lack of political will to address the hard questions that hamper integration, particularly separate earmarked funding streams and parallel, competing institutions within the U.S. government that had different strategies and relationships with recipient country governments," they wrote. "The bottom line: GHI 1.0 failed on the hard questions, and GHI 2.0 isn't even trying."