James Cole appointed to deputy AG job; new ambassador dispatched to Syria
Updated 9:12 p.m.
President Obama appointed Wednesday the first U.S. ambassador to Syria since 2005, using a recess appointment to bypass opposition from Senate Republicans.
Because he was appointed while the Senate is in recess, Robert Ford, a career diplomat, will not need Senate confirmation. But he can serve only until the end of the next session of Congress, which will likely be in December 2011.
Ford's nomination was held up by a group of GOP senators who complained that the administration had failed to articulate a viable policy toward the Syrian government, which has been charged with supporting Hezbollah militants and other anti-Israel groups.
The Bush administration withdrew its ambassador from Syria in February 2005 to protest the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Syrian intelligence officials are suspected of being behind the killing, a claim that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has long rejected.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who will chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the next Congress, said she was "deeply disappointed that the president decided to make such a major concession to the Syrian regime." She added, "Making undeserved concessions to Syria tells the regime in Damascus that it can continue to pursue its dangerous agenda and not face any consequences from the U.S."
Ford was one of six long-stalled nominees Obama appointed Wednesday, including ambassadors to Turkey, the Czech Republic and Azerbaijan. The president also appointed James M. Cole as deputy attorney general.
Cole's nomination had stalled in the Senate because of Republican concerns about his comments about terrorism and his work as an independent contractor for the insurance giant AIG.
Outgoing Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) had placed a hold on Frank Ricciardone's confirmation as ambassador to Turkey because he and former officials in the George W. Bush administration found him insufficiently zealous in pursuing democratic reforms as Bush's ambassador to Egypt. A career diplomat who served three previous tours in Turkey, Ricciardone was most recently assigned as deputy ambassador in Afghanistan.
NATO member Turkey, where the U.S. ambassador's post has been empty since summer, is a key U.S. ally in the region and due to host international talks on Iran's nuclear program next month. It also plays a crucial role in Obama's Mideast peace efforts and efforts to promote stability in neighboring Iraq, where U.S. troops are scheduled to complete their withdrawal in 2011.
Norman L. Eisen, a Washington lawyer who served as ethics czar in the Obama White House, will go to the Czech Republic. He was opposed by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), who charged that Eisen had misled lawmakers over the circumstances and his role in the June 2009 firing of Gerald Walpin as inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps and other similar programs.
Career diplomat Matthew Bryza, who will become ambassador to Azerbaijan, fell victim to domestic disputes between pro-Armenian and pro-Turkish forces and was opposed by the Armenian American lobbying group ANCA and Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Robert Menendez (N.J.), both representing states with large Armenian populations.
ANCA's executive director, Aram Hamparian, called Bryza "a deeply flawed diplomat" and said Obama's appointment "represents a disservice to American diplomacy that will,
sadly, undermine our nation's ability to advance our interests and
values in the Caucasus region."
Cole had waited nearly five months for a Senate vote on his nomination to the Justice Department post, by far the longest delay to fill that position in the past 30 years.
Republicans have focused in part on a 2002 column Cole wrote for Legal Times that criticized the Bush administration's battle against terrorism. "The attorney general is not a member of the military fighting a war -- he is a prosecutor fighting crime," Cole wrote. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has said that embodied a failed law enforcement approach to battling terrorists.
Cole also wrote that the attorney general should be an "aggressive advocate" in fighting terror and said at his confirmation hearing in June that the Justice Department must aggressively fight the "scourge" of terrorism.
Staff writer Mary Beth Sheridan contributed to this report.
Perry Bacon Jr. and Karen DeYoung
| December 29, 2010; 6:37 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency
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