Obama’s Middle East Mistake

Today’s guest blog comes from Chris “Repman, Jr.” Cody, and addresses a surprising cultural misstep by President Obama. It’s just one proud dad’s opinion, but I found his research fascinating…”

imagesDid you know that 18 of 19 U.S. ambassadors to Arabic speaking countries aren’t of Middle Eastern descent?  That’s like Major League Baseball sending all-white recruiters to inner cities in hope of attracting urban kids to consider a career in what once was America’s pastime.

I find it ironic that our nation’s first black President isn’t more sensitive to the cultural nuances essential to connecting with an Arab world in total flux.  Sensing that I was on to something, I spoke to my good friend, and Arabic professor, Ahmed Eissawi.

Ahmed is an Arabic language professor at both the United Nations and NYU.  Moreover, he is an Arab-American community leader, and a respected intellectual.

I brought up the ambassadorial “gap”, and asked Eissawi how the U.S. should address it AND improve its image in the Middle East.

He suggested the following: “Instead of launching drone strikes and threatening military interventions President Obama should, instead, tap into loyal, intellectual Arab-Americans such as academics, Middle Eastern experts, journalists and lawyers.  These individuals could bridge the gap that currently exists because they know both the Middle Eastern and American mentality.”

I agree with my professor (I better. He grades my papers). America needs far fewer individuals such as James B. Smith (our ambassador to Saudi Arabia) and many more diplomats like the current U.S. ambassador to Qatar, Susan L. Ziadeh. To Professor Eissawi’s point, Ambassador Ziadeh is the daughter of noted Palestinian-American scholar Farhat Ziadeh. She was born and raised in the U.S., where she earned a PhD in Middle Eastern History.

I know President Obama is rightly concerned with his legacy in light of the Obamacare website fiasco. But, he risks losing the respect of far more than Americans if he doesn’t wake up soon to the realities of the new Arab world.

Our current ambassadors to the Middle East:
Iraq – Robert S. Beecroft
Egypt – David M. Satterfield,
Libya – Deborah K. Jones
Yemen – Gerald M. Feierstein
Oman – Greta C. Holtz
Jordan – Stuart E. Jones
Lebanon – David Hale
Tunisia – Jacob Walles
Algeria – Henry S. Ensher
Saudi Arabia – James B Smith
Turkey – Francis J. Ricciardone, Jr.
Syria – Robert Ford
Bahrain – Thomas Krajeski
Qatar – Susan L. Ziadeh
Kuwait – Matthew H. Tueller
UAE – Michael H. Corbin
Afghanistan – James B. Cunningham
Pakistan – Richard G. Olsen
Morocco – Matthew Lussenhop

9 thoughts on “Obama’s Middle East Mistake

  1. Great analysis, Nick Deuce. I think ambassadorial posts have also been politically motivated and used to “thank” campaign contributors and supporters. I can’t imagine why else Caroline Kennedy was recently named the new U.S. Ambassador to Japan.

    • Your old man is rightfully proud of you, Chris. But as spot on as this analysis is, I’m sure you’re aware of the sad truth alluded to by your father — top ambassadorships have long been chips to be cashed in for winning at political poker.

      I’m guessing that the best qualified FSOs either don’t get the top posts, are assigned to less desirable spots, or serve below those “Special Friends” of the POTUS.

      As for ethnic/cultural affiliations with a country, I was hoping Obama, Clinton and now Kerry would be sensitive to that too, but they seem content to swim in the same pool that everyone else always has.

      • Great points, Peter. Since the average Syrian, Saudi or Jordanian can’t cast a vote in a U.S. presidential election, the ambassadorial and FSO appointments are, for the most part, ceremonial at best. Obama doesn’t need to worry that these obvious cultural mismatches will harm future Democratic candidates.

  2. I think you and your professor are right Chris. I’m working on a marketing project for the U.S. Department of State right now and I can speak a little about what I’ve learned about how they choose ambassadors/ foreign service officers. From what I’ve gathered, we see little representation of people who have strong ethnic/cultural ties to a specific foreign nation working as a US ambassador to that nation because the government fears such ties could compromise the loyalty of the diplomat (spies). I’ve also heard from some of their employees that many FSO’s that are children of immigrants of war torn countries request not to be sent to their home countries/regions out of fear of being viewed as traders.

    I personally agree that having someone who has an ethnic tie to a foreign country would make for a much better liaison between the US and foreign nations. Being able to connect on a deeper level with local people beyond language is important when communicating with any group of people.

  3. Nice! I thought you’d need to do additional research before answering my question. Tres bien, mon ami (said in honor of any US ambassadors to France of French descent).

  4. Catharine: I think Adel would be a better choice, since he is an Egyptian-American!

    Steve: The United States is often praised for being a melting pot. It’s amazing that every President doesn’t capitalize on it for diplomacy! That being said, I do know that Tony Garza, a Mexican-American, was George W. Bush’s ambassador to Mexico for 8 years…

  5. Which country are you thinking he’d be best suited for, Catharine: Ireland, Austria, Russia, Greece, or one of the 3,000 countries Pop-Pop’s family seems to have emigrated from?

  6. Chris: An impressive research job as always. I’m guessing this sort of cultural blindness isn’t unique to Obama. Do you know of any past presents who appointed ambassadors precisely because of their ancestral roots? Obviously, Joe Kennedy was a disasterous US Ambassador to the Court of St. James for every reason BUT his Irish ancestry. I’d like to hear your views.