Tonight I landed in Kabul where the United States is working intensely to help address an election crisis. I came here from Beijing after days of meetings on one of the world’s most important strategic relationships in the world’s most dynamic region. I am reminded every day as Secretary that the world demands our engagement more than ever before.
But we can’t lead if we are not present.
That’s why I want to make a personal plea to my friends in the United States Senate to please confirm the State Department’s nominees and confirm them now. This very minute, we have 58 nominees pending before the Senate, including 43 ambassadors. That means we’re going without our strongest voice on the ground every day in more than 25 percent of the world. This very minute, we have immensely qualified nominees for Assistant Secretaries for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance and International Organizations. They have waited 356 days and 254 days for a confirmation vote. That means we are not as strong as we need to be when rogue countries threaten proliferation regimes. That means we don’t have our full presence to defend Israel and our allies in multilateral organizations, or to seek ways to reform the UN. Finally, we have the Director General of the Foreign Service – a career diplomat and former Ambassador to Guatemala – awaiting confirmation for 276 days. If confirmed, he will manage the global deployment of our diplomatic corps. However, until he is confirmed not only are we weakened due to lack of ambassadors, we are weakened because we lack top leadership at home in lifting up the line officers of daily diplomacy.
Good diplomacy doesn’t tie one hand behind our back. I revere the Senate. Every member of the Senate wants America to succeed in the world. We have a Minority Leader who was my classmate in 1984 who I’ve seen firsthand work on and care about foreign policy very personally from South Africa in the 1980’s to Burma today. I know he wants America to be strong in the world. I think all of us agree that the United States should see its foreign policy professionals confirmed so that America is well represented.
But today it’s not happening. Between flights from Beijing to Kabul, I spoke with Leader Reid. We’re in complete agreement that world events demand that the Senate rise above political partisanship and confirm these nominees, and I was struck by Harry’s poignant and pointed comment on the Senate floor this morning that “we are being held up here as a country from doing the country’s work as a result of this stalling.”
I see it every day. It matters. It really matters. All of us were shocked when Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 school girls in Nigeria. Members of Congress rightly called for action and we acted. But guess what? We’d be stronger still if we had Ambassadors in two neighboring countries, Cameroon and Niger, where some of these victims could be held captive. There have been loud calls on Capitol Hill for action to stop the flow of unaccompanied minors from Central America, as well there should be. We’ve responded forcefully. But guess what? Our hand would be stronger in daily diplomacy if we had an Ambassador in Guatemala, one of the key sources of children sent on this dangerous journey.
I know the Senate can fix this. Just today, our nominees to Qatar and Kuwait, were confirmed. These are vital jobs. But it should not take a crisis to win approval. This is particularly true of the 21 remaining nominees on the floor who are career diplomats. As I proposed earlier this week, they should be expeditiously confirmed as a block, just the way we handle promotions of our military officers. Like our military, they dedicate their lives in service to country. We should treat them that way.
I know we can fix this problem. It’s not hard. We cannot lead if we are not there and we can’t be there if the Senate won’t confirm our best and brightest. This is a moment to show that we speak with one voice on American leadership and that our democratic institutions can still advise and consent instead of defer and delay.