My favorite American ambassadors stand for America’s interests
During my 28-year Foreign Service career, I worked for many American ambassadors – some good, some bad and some indifferent – and those I admired most defended U.S. national interests forcefully and without apologies. Three of our ambassadors have come to my attention lately for stepping forward and asserting themselves on behalf of our country in very difficult situations.
These three articulate and effective envoys are U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Antonio “Tony” Garza and our representative to the United Nations, the feisty and outspoken John Bolton. Ambassador Khalilzad was a senior policy-planner at the Defense Department when we served together on an interagency public diplomacy task force in Washington during the first Gulf War (1991-92). Fluent in Arabic and knowledgeable about the history and culture of the region, I found him to be equally well informed about complex foreign policy issues.
So President Bush chose well when he appointed Khalilzad to become ambassador to Afghanistan after we invaded that country to confront Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in retaliation for the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. The experienced Afghan-American official was the right person for an extremely challenging diplomatic assignment, and he didn’t disappoint those of us who knew him “when.” And early last year the president named him to head our diplomatic mission in Baghdad, the largest American Embassy in the world.
Khalilzad has represented us effectively in that strife-torn country by utilizing a combination of diplomatic carrots and sticks in a concerted effort to convince the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds to work together to form a national unity government in order to avoid civil war. Late last month he delivered a blunt warning to Iraq’s political leaders, urging them to cooperate and to take religion out of the military and local police forces.
Khalilzad said Iraq’s next Defense and Interior ministers must be “people who are non-sectarian, broadly acceptable and who are not tied to militias” run by political parties. Otherwise, he warned that Iraq faces the risk of “warlordism” and reminded the Iraqis that the United States isn’t “going to invest the resources of the American people in forces … that are tied to (political or religious) militias,” some of which receive arms and training from neighboring Iran. That’s exactly what Iraq’s leaders needed to hear and I applaud the ambassador for delivering such a clear message on behalf of our government and the American taxpayers.
Khalilzad and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza are examples of American diplomats who are succeeding in parts of the world where they have cultural and family ties. Usually, it’s not advisable to send ethnic Americans to their families’ home countries so as to avoid “clientitis,” an affliction in which our diplomats forget which country they represent. But Garza, a Texas Republican, knows who he represents because he delivered a sharp rebuke to a hypocritical Mexican government earlier this year.
After President Vicente Fox and other high-level Mexican officials compared a reinforced border fence to the Berlin Wall, Ambassador Garza fired back by calling their criticism “excessive, often irresponsible and almost always inaccurate.
“There is no human right to enter another country in violation of its laws,” he wrote in a New Year’s statement issued in Mexico City. “Illegal immigration is a threat to our system of laws and an affront to the millions around the world … who play by the rules in seeking to come to the U.S.” As I wrote at the time, President Bush should take Ambassador Garza’s forceful statement to heart because on this hot-button issue, the ambassador is right and his fellow Texan is wrong for advocating a stealth amnesty plan that would legalize millions of illegal immigrants.
How many of you remember the big uproar that erupted in Washington, D.C., when President Bush defied Senate Democrats by naming controversial career diplomat John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in a so-called “recess” (interim) appointment? His critics feared that the outspoken Bolton would stir things up with his incendiary rhetoric, but nothing of the sort has happened since Bolton took office last August.
Prior to his appointment, Bolton angered UN fans and international bureaucrats by stating that “it wouldn’t make a bit of difference” if someone chopped 10 floors off the UN skyscraper in New York. But in a Time magazine interview late last month the feisty diplomat explained what he meant when he averred that “there’s not a bureaucracy in the world that can’t be more efficient.” Who can argue with that? Not me, that’s for sure, especially when it comes to the bloated and inefficient UN, which I saw up close and personal on my overseas assignments.
Bolton vowed to continue his efforts to make the world organization “better, more agile, more effective and more transparent.” He added that the United States and the UN “should increase pressure on Iran to give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons” and said he has no plans to run for public office after he leaves the UN next January. But if he did run, I’d vote for him because I like plain-spoken diplomats who defend national interests rather than trying to win international popularity contests.
— Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.