When Ambassadors Lose Perspective

by Michael Rubin

As the Senate considers Francis Ricciardone’s nomination to be the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, it’s worth considering some of Ricciardone’s speeches to an Egyptian audience, as they were posted on the U.S. Embassy website in Egypt (h/t David Keyes). It’s one thing to ingratiate oneself to a host government. It’s another to engage in such hagiography at the expense of U.S. interests.

Comments  to Students of Model American Congress, March 12, 2006:

“President Mubarak is well known in the United States. He is respected. If he had to run for office in the United States, my guess is he could win elections in the United States as a leader who is a giant on the world stage.”

From a March 16, 2006 interview:

Interviewer: “In your opinion, why has President Mubarak not visited the U.S. for years?“

Ambassador: “President Mubarak is loved in the U.S. and we always welcome him and appreciate his advice and benefit from it. He is a figure of historic importance on the global arena, and for the U.S.”

If Ricciardone is to be believed, it’s a good thing President Obama, with his falling approval ratings, won’t have to face Hosni Mubarak in the next elections.

But seriously, Ricciardone’s nomination to be ambassador to Turkey raises basic issues of competence. It should not be a partisan issue; career diplomats shouldn’t be subject to that meat grinder. But we should insist that U.S. ambassadors maintain moral clarity when serving in third-world dictatorships, as is the case in Egypt, or faltering democracies, as is the case in Turkey.

True, there is enough blame to go around. That Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice didn’t recall Ricciardone from Egypt shows her mismanagement of the State Department and her unwillingness to take on a bureaucracy that believes, much like a teachers’ union, that tenure and time served should trump basic competence. But that Secretary Clinton put forward Ricciardone’s name to the White House raises questions about Clinton’s own management and whether her vetting staff is any better. Surely there are more qualified would-be ambassadors in Foggy Bottom.

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