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Opinion: America’s silence by default

America is without an ambassador in Ankara, Turkey, and other key capitals.

A woman talks on her mobile phone while passing a mural on a wall of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran, Nov. 5, 2008. The U.S. is still without an ambassador in Ankara, Turkey, and other key capitals. (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As an American who has just returned from a series of discussions on international relations and America’s role in the Levant and the South Caucuses, I’m left with a sinking feeling.

It was eye-opening to see the discrepancy between America’s vibrant debates at home over the upcoming mid-term elections and virtual silence on U.S. foreign policy priorities in this region of the world. This silence is not because of a lack of U.S. foreign policy, but is rather by default because in each of these areas, America is without an ambassador in key capitals.

Take one of America’s closest historic allies in the region that itself is a rising power, Turkey. At the very moment that Turkey’s “rise” is being felt in its region, the U.S.-Turkish relationship is experiencing one of its most significant periods of turbulence.

Given divergent views on Iran and Israel, and conflicting interests of a newly arrived super-regional versus traditional super power, American foreign policy towards Turkey is in dire need of extensive diplomatic engagement and leadership that is currently lacking given the absence of its highest diplomat in the country. America is missing a critical tool of effective diplomacy, namely a U.S. ambassador in Ankara that can help to communicate and coordinate an already difficult relationship.

Unfortunately, Ankara is not an isolated case. Similarly, in Baku and Damascus, America has been missing key opportunities simply by lack of presence. Having been without ambassadors for too long, hopes for the administration’s nominees being confirmed anytime in the near future are fading along with America’s presence.

Simply having an ambassador in all three of these countries would increase America’s presence without having any real cost for U.S. foreign policy. The ability to engage in real-time, on-the-ground diplomacy would bolster U.S. foreign policy objectives in a way that both Democrats and Republicans can agree upon.

Given the American political calendar, it would be easy to only focus on domestic issues after the mid-term elections and the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, but this could be disastrous for U.S. foreign policies in these regions. As Iran, Russia, and Turkey continue to compete for regional influence, America has been largely absent.

Americans may not be in any mood to talk about or launch bold or new foreign policies in the midst of domestic and economic turmoil, but simply being able to communicate and report back through its ambassadors and using all diplomatic channels and means available to the United States is a winning proposition for all parties.