Two Troubling Recess Appointments

by Jamie M. Fly

Recess appointments are always controversial, and President Obama’s appointments of December 29 are no different. Bill Kristol has written about the questionable appointment of Deputy Attorney General James Cole, and Jen Rubin, among others, has covered some of the four ambassadorial appointees.

Two of those appointees have not provoked much reaction: Matthew Bryza to Azerbaijan and Norman Eisen to the Czech Republic. This is because their nominations were being held up due to spurious concerns unrelated to the countries to which they had been nominated. A strong U.S.–Azerbaijan relationship is important, given U.S. efforts to prevent a nuclear Iran, and the Czech Republic is one of America’s closest allies in Europe, so these two recess appointments make sense: Relations with both countries have been impacted by the delay in naming an ambassador.

But the same can’t be said for the other two ambassadors, Robert Ford and Frank Ricciardone. Their nominations were held up due to serious concerns in the Senate about the administration’s policies toward Syria and Turkey.

The Obama administration’s engagement strategy with Syria has achieved nothing, as even the administration itself has appeared willing at times to admit. It is difficult to see how returning an ambassador to Damascus for the first time since 2005 will change the status quo, given the repeated rejection of Obama’s overtures by Bashar al-Assad.

The appointment of Ricciardone is equally troubling. His nomination was held up because some senators were concerned about his track record as ambassador to Egypt. During his tenure in Cairo, he had a tendency to praise the Egyptian regime even as Washington was trying to prod Cairo in the direction of fundamental political and civil reforms. Given the delicate state of U.S.–Turkish relations at present, it is important that our ambassador in Ankara be able to convey Washington’s views to Turkey without undermining the message he is carrying. It is not clear that Ricciardone is up to this task.

These appointments show an administration committed to engagement with a state sponsor of terror despite repeated repudiations. They also show an unwillingness to think carefully about how to ensure that Turkey, a key NATO ally, does not continue down the path away from the West.

Most of all, these appointments are troubling indications that the Obama administration remains wedded to strategies formulated from campaign rhetoric — such as engagement — despite numerous signs that U.S. national security is being weakened, not strengthened.

Jamie M. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.