America’s Asterisk Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Matt Bryza, will soon be heading off to Baku.
President Obama, resorting to an 18th Century loophole written into our Constitution to deal with the slow pace of horse-drawn carriages, made this last-minute “recess” appointment while on vacation in Hawaii on December 29th, just days after the Congress left Washington. Bryza’s term will last less than a year, unless he is confirmed by the full U.S. Senate.
Our nation’s newest ambassador is being sent abroad in the face of unprecedented controversy, despite Senate holds by Barbara Boxer and Robert Menendez, without Senate confirmation, and amid unanswered questions about his troubling ties to Baku’s corrupt leadership, his disturbing record of diplomatic failures, and many ongoing conflict of interest issues related to the Azerbaijani government and the Caspian energy industry.
The President’s desperate push to get Bryza to Baku, a move cheered by Azerbaijan and its oil industry allies, comes at the cost of U.S. credibility and our nation’s diplomatic effectiveness.
In terms of the White House, it showcases both President’s indecisiveness in waiting more than a year to nominate Bryza and his lack of confidence that he could summon the facts, the arguments, or the political will to win Senate confirmation if he had re-nominated Bryza in the new session of Congress. In terms of U.S. foreign policy, the President’s resort to a recess appointment places a shadow over the head of an already controversial diplomat, further undermining our nation’s ability to advance our interests and values in our relations with Azerbaijan. It should be noted that even President George W. Bush, who twice nominated a similarly flawed ambassadorial nominee, Dick Hoagland, to represent the U.S. in Armenia, did not resort to a “recess” appointment to circumvent Senate opposition.
This Asterisk Ambassador’s unconfirmed status, on top of all his countless past missteps and mistakes, from Djulfa to Georgia, only adds to the reasons that he will not to be taken seriously, either in Washington or in Baku. This is especially dangerous at a time when Azerbaijan’s President is moving – through words and actions – toward a new Caucasus war.
Thankfully, the same U.S. Constitution that grants our President the right to make a recess appointment, also limits the term of his or her service to one year, which, in this case, ends in December of 2011.
The U.S. Senate and the State Department must both immediately launch formal investigations of possible conflict of interest violations raised during the Bryza confirmation process. The Senate, the White House, and the State Department should closely monitor his actions in Baku in order to guard against a repeat of his many failings and costly errors in his previous diplomatic postings. And finally, the Senate should safeguard U.S. interests and limit the damage done by this appointment by blocking his confirmation to a full term as Ambassador to Azerbaijan.