Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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The Near East Bureau at State: Nobody Home, Year Two

by Elliott Abrams
July 9, 2013

On May 31, 2012 the Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East, Jeffrey Feltman, resigned his post. Feltman, a senior career diplomat who had been a superb ambassador to Lebanon, is now the number three official at the United Nations.

Amazingly enough, we are now well into the second year with that key post remaining vacant.

There is an acting assistant secretary, but that person does not have–no acting official ever does–the full authority of a permanent, confirmed officer. I suppose one could argue that Secretary Clinton could not or did not wish to fill the post last year when she was herself a short-timer. That was a mistake, but a comprehensible one. But that was a long time ago.

Secretary Kerry was announced as the President’s pick on December 12, 2012 and confirmed as Secretary of State on February 1, 2013.  He has been in office now for just over five months and there is still no nominee for the Near East Bureau.

Given the Secretary’s own preoccupation with Israeli-Palestinian matters, the carnage in Syria, the crisis in Egypt, the Iranian nuclear weapons program….one could go on….it is amazing that this job is vacant now under President Obama for over 13 months.

Excuses are offered, blame is cast in various directions, but in the end this is simply inexcusable.

Post a Comment 10 Comments

  • Posted by David S. Most

    For our current President, the Middle East has become his “who lost China” moment. His focus on the Israeli/Palestinian issue is totally misplaced. Egypt and its torn psyche is vastly more important than wheel spinning with Abbas and Netanyahu!

    We voters knew he was a “Community Organizer” with zero executive and zero foreign policy experience but we voted him in. Now, unlike Egypt, we can’t toss him out for general incompetence.

    If only the Muslims had listened to his calm reasonable outreach messages these problems wouldn’t exist!! :-)

  • Posted by James Schumaker

    The confirmation process has become increasingly sclerotic. Republicans in the Senate block nominations just because they are coming from the White House, and the White House fails to process nominations quickly, due to an increasingly tortuous vetting process. Top this off with the recent revelations that since 9/11 security clearance investigation procedures have been slipshod, to say the least, and you have a recipe for gridlock.

  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    Thanks for the comment, but people can’t be confirmed until they are nominated. Here the problem is that a year after the previous incumbent departed there is still no nominee.

  • Posted by lord garth

    Some sympathy for the administration.

    There is a shortage of experts who want to be potential scapegoats for multiple disasters. Of those experts who seek the position, many may have uncomfortably close ties with problematic persons.

  • Posted by SteveR

    Yes, when we had someone filling that position, everything went so well in our Middle Eastern policies. The Iraq war for example – brilliant success. Only good things happened for the United States when that oh so crucial position was filled.

  • Posted by Omar Ibrahim

    The “superb ambassador to
    Lebanon” happens to be the main inspiration, architect and foment or of the present civil war in Syria.
    To Abrams that is a “superb” achievement” that the USA may regret sooner than expected.

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  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    Sorry to say the Council’s tech people handle that, and I do not know the answer.

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