GUANTANAMO BAY, WHERE NOTHING IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW — Laura Rozen gives us the background on the incoming designated ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Michael Feierstein:
A career Foreign Service officer and veteran Near East South Asia hand, Feierstein has previously served in Islamabad, Tunis, Riyadh, Peshawar, Muscat, Jerusalem and Beirut. Important for Yemen, where the U.S. plans to spend $150 million in security assistance this year, Feierstein also has significant counterterrorism experience, having served as the principal deputy coordinator and deputy assistant secretary of State for the State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator.
I know nothing about the guy, so this, I hope, won’t read as a personal shot. And for all I know Feierstein has a talented and knowledgeable DCM and staff to backstop him. But experience teaches us that you really need an ambassador who understands the country in which he or she is assigned. You can have all the experience in the world dealing with the primary issue around which U.S.-Country X relations revolve, but if you don’t know the intricacies of the circumstances in which the issue will relate, then you’re going to neglect the host of additional issues particularly to local circumstances that exacerbate the primary issue. Remember that time the Bush administration filled the Kabul embassy with people who grasped narcoterrorism? (Even leaving aside the extremely dubious merits of centering U.S.-Afghanistan relations around narcoterrorism, it sure didn’t get rid of Afghan narcoterrorism. [Yes, that term doesn’t really encapsulate the situation in Afghanistan viz. the nexus of drugs and insurgency, but you get what I’m trying to say and I’m exhausted and my internet connection here could die at any second, so give me a break.])
If you were Yemeni, what would you presume this announcement says about U.S. attention to Yemen concerning anything beyond the narrow question of terrorism?
Update, 8:05 a.m.: On second thought, while I stand by the broader point in this post, in Feierstein’s case, it doesn’t really work. He’s got a lot of relevant experience in the region, and I don’t mean to suggest that you can only be an effective ambassador to Country X if you’ve previously served there for Y Number of Years. Thanks to all the commenters who called me out on this.