President Obama’s nomination of Francis “Frank” Ricciardone to be the new U.S. ambassador to Turkey stalled when Senator Brownback placed a hold pending more information from the State Department. I’ve just seen Senator Brownback’s letter to Secretary Clinton in which he asks several questions, all of which give some insight into Ricciardone’s time in Egypt and basic questions about his competence. Among Brownback’s questions:
- Did Ambassador Ricciardone ever order that a State Department statement on human rights in Egypt be toned down before posting it on the embassy’s website?
- Did the ambassador, following a press conference including Secretary of State Rice and Egyptian foreign minister Aboul Gheit, agree with the Egyptian position that the Patriot Act essentially justifies Cairo’s ongoing use of its Emergency Law to restrict freedom of speech?
- Does the ambassador believe that human rights and political freedom have improved in Egypt over the last several years, especially in light of Egypt’s passage of constitutional amendments limiting the growth and development of civil society?
- Does the State Department believe that the Egyptian government should be able to reject U.S.-funded programs and projects intended to promote political reform and/or build civil society?
- How can the State Department ensure that funds to support political reforms and strengthen civil society will be spent on their intended purposes if they are a part of a U.S.-Egypt endowment?
Frank Ricciardone is the right nominee for the job when the goal of the United States is to ingratiate itself to a ruling family or an autocrat. While the Iraq desk in the mid-1980s, he certainly showed tremendous energy and enthusiasm beyond the call in his promotion of U.S. relations with Saddam Hussein’s regime (Donald Rumsfeld was only the tip of the realist iceberg). More recently, Ricciardone did wonders tightening the U.S. embrace of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak without letting either his instructions or U.S. policy get in the way. But when it comes to Turkey, a faltering democracy facing a pivotal election in the coming years, is Ricciardone really the best choice? Does Obama have a reason, other than length of Ricciardone’s tenure, that makes him a good choice? Wouldn’t Ricciardone be a better fit for Laos or Swaziland?