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America is without an ambassador in Ankara, Turkey, and other key capitals.
U.S. domestic politics over the Obama administration’s choices for ambassadors has allowed a resurgent Republican minority in the Senate to create a tenuous international environment for America. This is particularly challenging for U.S.-Turkish relations, resulting in consistent recriminations over how Turkey was “lost” as an ally of the “West” on the president’s watch.
While there are serious foreign policy objectives and concerns to be debated in U.S.-Turkish relations, the fact that the United States has been without an ambassador since June and is likely to not have one until March 2011 at the earliest has only and will only continue to exacerbate deteriorating relations between historic allies.
The contrast of U.S. and Turkish foreign policies in these regions is personified by the active role that Turkish ambassadors, undersecretaries and even foreign minister have taken upon themselves in the Azerbaijan, Lebanon and Syria while the U.S. has only been superficially involved given our lack of permanent representation.
The separation of domestic and foreign politics is increasingly becoming difficult in our interconnected world. As a case in point, the breakdown in Turkish-Armenian rapprochement signed with the 2009 Zurich protocols will only become more critical as a newly elected U.S. Congress once again tackles the contentious Armenian Genocide Resolution that will stir populist-national sentiment in all countries involved.
The spill-over of these dynamics into the Nagarno-Karabah conflict will further push a settlement away at precisely a moment in which America should be taking the lead in prodding along the Minsk Group to take its role seriously while Russia seeks to consolidate its influence in its post-Soviet space.
Elsewhere, the Special Tribunal established in Beirut to investigate Rafik Hariri’s murder in 2005 threatens to explode into civil war at the very moment that the U.S. Congress is talking about pulling funds for the only non-sectarian and unified institution in Lebanon, the Lebanese Armed Forces.
Backing down from international promises and responsibilities to America’s partners may sometimes be strategically necessary, but simply abrogating its role in international affairs by default due to the lack of ambassadors is unacceptable for a global power.
Whether Americans like it or not, America is a global player and despite the isolationist tendencies seen recently in campaigns across the country, patriots of all stripes should agree on the need for America’s presence — which at a minimum includes an American ambassador in all posts around the world as soon as possible.
Joshua W. Walker is a postdoctoral fellow at the Crown Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University and fellow at the German Marshall Fund.