President Bush has appointed veteran diplomat John Negroponte, now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to be the ambassador to Iraq, heading what is slated to be the largest U.S. embassy in the world, with 3,000 employees.
His job, which will in some ways be more like nation-building than traditional diplomacy, will be daunting.
Some elements of America’s intransigent left have never forgiven Negroponte for being closely involved, as ambassador to Honduras, in the Reagan administration’s efforts to unseat the Sandinista government in Nicaragua in the 1980s. Otherwise, the career diplomat has a solid reputation. The fact that he does not have Middle East experience and doesn’t speak Arabic, however, will not help.
Ambassador Edward Peck, who was chief-of-mission in Iraq from 1977 to 1980, said “more than any diplomatic position in the world, Mr. Negroponte will be under a constant microscope.” What will complicate matters, Peck believes, is that “while most ambassadors have at least some discretion, Mr. Negroponte will have none. Every decision will be orchestrated from elsewhere. The only question is whether the State Department or Defense Department will call the shots.”
Some cynics say Negroponte will in fact be governor general or proconsul of Iraq. However, his position will be more delicate than that.
If the interim Iraqi council is to be useful to the United States, it must have enough real power to convince various Iraqi factions that it is not simply a tool of the American occupying army. However, the more power the interim council has, the more incentive Iraqis will have to fight over it, and the more difficult it will be to constitute it with minimal conflict.
The base problem, according to Ted Carpenter, Cato Institute vice president for defense and international relations, is that “the insurgency is growing broader and more lethal by the day.” If it isn’t brought under control soon, managing Iraq may be beyond the capacity of even the Platonic ideal of the most experienced and competent diplomat imaginable.