Editorial: Senate inaction on nominees for ambassador hampers U.S. foreign policy

Who cares about Namibia? It’s so far away. Or Sierra Leone, or Cameroon, or Niger, or Lesotho.

Evidently, not the U.S. Senate, at least not Republicans, who have decided the U.S. doesn’t need ambassadors in those African nations, or in dozens of other countries around the world.

In one of the latest manifestations of the nation’s dysfunctional capital, more than 40 individuals nominated by President Barack Obama to be ambassadors are waiting for Senate confirmation, and waiting, and waiting. That means a fourth of the 169 nations where the U.S. has embassies have no ambassador.

Like presidents before him, Obama adheres to the tradition of appointing campaign donors to some ambassadorial posts. Presidents, no matter their party affiliation, reward their political friends.

Obama, for example, nominated Noah Mamet to serve in Argentina. Mamet is intelligent and polished, and also is a major Los Angeles-area bundler of campaign donations for Democratic presidential and congressional candidates.

But many more nominees are career foreign service officers, who have spent decades in far-flung posts representing U.S. interests, and received the honor of being nominated based on merit.

They are individuals such as Thomas Daughton, Obama’s nominee for Namibia.

A graduate of Amherst College and the University of Virginia Law School, Daughton has been in the foreign service since 1989. He has served this nation in embassies and consulates in Jamaica, the Philippines, Lebanon, Morocco, Malaysia, Algeria, Gabon, among other countries. Obama nominated him on June 30, 2013, nearly 380 days ago.

Another is John Hoover, nominated to serve in the West African country of Sierra Leone. He, too, is a career diplomat, who started his career in 1988, and has spent much of his career in Uganda, Kenya and Swaziland, and in Asia. His nomination has been stalled for 370 days.

No fewer than 23 ambassadorial nominees have had their confirmation pending in the Senate for more than 200 days; 16 were nominated more than 300 days ago.

Roughly a fourth of African nations have no U.S. ambassador, which is especially shabby given that Obama is scheduled to host more than 40 African leaders next month in Washington. It’s also short-sighted.

Many U.S. companies have interests in Africa. Africa also is a region where piracy threatens international shipping, and where the terrorist organization Boko Haram is active, having kidnapped 200 girls in Nigeria for daring to attend school.

Lately, Secretary of State John Kerry has been protesting the lack of action by the Senate, for good reason. Ambassadors serve as this nation’s eyes and ears, are the face of this nation for foreign governments, and interpret those nations for our leaders.

In a statement last week, Kerry noted that members of Congress called for action to hinder Boko Haram, but he lamented that there are no ambassadors in two neighboring countries, Cameroon and Niger, where victims could be held captive.

He also cited the flow of children from Central America to the United States, saying: “Our hand would be stronger in daily diplomacy if we had an ambassador in Guatemala, one of the key sources of children sent on this dangerous journey.”

Part of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s obstructionism can be traced to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision last year to limit filibusters. But it also speaks to a lack of urgency about foreign affairs and the GOP’s general refusal to cooperate with the Obama administration.

Democrats and Republicans always have fought over domestic policy, and always will. Certainly, they should debate treaties, and matters of war and peace. But when the issue turns to international relations, they really ought to give their petty partisanship a rest.