What do Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, the UAE have in common, in addition to being Middle Eastern states?
There is no U.S. ambassador in any of them. It has been more than a year since there was a U.S. ambassador in Egypt or Kuwait.
Then there’s Saudi Arabia, where a new U.S. ambassador took up his post in March after the United States had no ambassador there for two years.
In Israel, the U.S. ambassador has left or is leaving within days and there is not even a nominee. The post could be vacant for many months.
In Jordan and Lebanon, the U.S. ambassador has completed his or her three year term but a new ambassador is not yet confirmed.
To repeat the list, it’s likely that in a few weeks there will be no U.S. ambassador in Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, the UAE, Lebanon, Israel, or Jordan.
Who or what is to blame for this mess? In some places around the globe, one can blame the outgoing ambassador for failing to inform the White House and State Department early enough to get the process going. That looks to be the case in Israel. In other cases the White House simply takes too long to nominate someone. The post in the UAE was vacated in January 2021, but no one was nominated to fill it until September 2022. In Egypt, the post was vacated in March 2022 and it took an entire year before a nominee was put forward.
To this one must add that the confirmation system has broken down. It simply takes too long for ambassadorial nominees to be confirmed—or rejected—by the Senate. In some cases holds are put on one nominee, or a large group of nominees, for entirely extraneous reasons—a fight over other matters, where nominations are being used as a lever against the administration. In other cases, a single senator opposes a nominee but knows he or she does not have the votes to defeat that person in committee or on the floor—and therefore puts a hold on him or her.
Confirmation for many other posts has changed as well, taking much longer and now becoming much more partisan than was the case a few decades ago. But stick with embassies. Surely it can be agreed that having these vacancies in a combustible region like the Middle East is a great mistake and undermines U.S. influence.
President Biden was a senator for 36 years and was chairman or ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee for 12 years, so he understands the way the system used to work when he arrived in 1973—and fails now. Is it possible that he could take up this problem, starting with a discussion with Senators Schumer, McConnell, Menendez, and Risch? Or appoint a commission of former senators, former ambassadors, and the like to propose a solution? Obviously any proposal that limits the power of individual senators or of either party will meet resistance, but one can think of formulae that impose only partial limits and provide a speedier path in certain non-controversial cases.
A fool’s errand? Perhaps—but the conclusion is widely shared that the current system is not working and should be fixed. Looking at what may soon be vacant embassies in Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, the UAE, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan, that conclusion is impossible to resist.