With role of US ambassador still unfilled, what’s going on behind the scenes?
America Letter: The inordinate delay in the appointment is frustrating Irish-Americans
The febrile partisan atmosphere on Capitol Hill is not helping. Paranoid that those dastardly Republicans will find dirt to block yet another appointment, the Democratic Obama administration is not rushing to fill political jobs.
Many coveted ambassador roles have been filled by political appointees or big donors. Washington DC newspaper The Hill reported in July that almost a third of Obama’s ambassadors installed in the first half of the year were political appointees, more than the previous three presidents, and that at least 19 Obama campaign contributors and political allies have landed ambassador gigs.
“It’s a great house,” Bill Clinton is said to have told Mike Sullivan when he tapped him to become his top diplomat in Ireland in 1999, selling the merits of living in the US ambassador’s residence in the Phoenix Park (the former Wyoming governor had supported Clinton’s run for president).
Ireland shouldn’t feel like an isolated case; the White House has yet to name a new ambassador to France, arguably a more strategically important role than the Irish gig. But unlike Ireland, the existing ambassador, Charles Rivkin, has stayed on in Paris to be hauled into frank tête-à-têtes with French president François Hollande about National Security Agency spying on French citizens.
State of relations
Asked on Wednesday if the delay in the appointment of the new ambassador to Ireland marked a change in Irish-American relations or the relegation of Dublin as a foreign policy priority, US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said “absolutely not”.
“I would be personally outraged as an Irish-American myself,” she added, pointing me to the White House for any specific updates on the process to find an ambassador.
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the US president’s national security council, said she could not comment on “the details of the process” and there was no announcement to make at this point. She noted Obama’s comments on the “incredible bond” between the US and Ireland when he met Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Oval Office during this year’s shamrock summit in March.
It was highly unusual for a US ambassador to Ireland not to be appointed by or on St Patrick’s Day. It would be unprecedented for an ambassador not to be named for a second consecutive St Patrick’s Day.