A Questionable Appointment for Near East

The White House formally announced the nomination of Jeffrey Feltman to serve as the next Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, an appointment that raises new questions about whether the Obama administration’s rhetoric of change in U.S. policy to the region will be matched by actions. As recently pointed out by ret. Col. Pat Lang on his blog, Feltman’s role as ambassador to Lebanon (2004-08) was not particularly astute, and his farewell speech to the leaders of the March 14 coalition 15 months ago sounds like it was written by Liz Cheney. Of course, Feltman, a 23-year career foreign service officer, may simply have been dutifully carrying out the orders of his political superiors, no doubt including Elliott Abrams, but he seems to have done so with a particularly artless zeal. While, as acting assistant secretary, he traveled without incident to Damascus last month, thus formally ending Washington’s four-year-old diplomatic embargo, one wonders how he effective he will be in dealing with Beirut if the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition emerges victorious in June’s parliamentary elections. If Obama wanted to signal real change in Washington’s approach to Bush’s nemeses in the Middle East, Feltman would seem to be a very questionable choice. I hope I am proved wrong.

Feltman’s White House bio follows:

Jeffrey Feltman, Nominee for Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, Department of State

Jeffrey Feltman, a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service since January 1986, assumed his current position as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Near Eastern Affairs on February 11, 2008. Since December 18, 2008 he is also the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East Bureau. Until January 25, 2008 he had served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Lebanon having been sworn in on July 22, 2004. From January to April 2004, Feltman headed the Coalition Provisional Authority’s office in the Irbil province of Iraq and simultaneously served as Deputy Regional Coordinator for CPA’s northern area. From August 2001 until December 2003, Feltman served at the U.S. Consulate-General in Jerusalem, first as Deputy Principal Officer and then, from July 2001 until September 2002, as Acting Principal Officer. He also served in Embassy Tel Aviv as Ambassador Indyk’s Special Assistant on Peace Process issues from the summer of 2000 to July 2001. From 1998 to 2000, Feltman served as Chief of the Political and Economic Section at the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia. He served in the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv from 1995 to 1998, covering economic issues in the Gaza Strip. Mr. Feltman studied Arabic at the University of Jordan in Amman from 1994 to 1995 after joining the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in 1993. From 1991 to 1993, Feltman served in the office of Deputy Secretary Lawrence Eagleburger as a Special Assistant concentrating on the coordination of U.S. assistance to the formerly Communist countries of Eastern and Central Europe. Feltman served as an economic officer at the U.S. Embassy in Hungary from 1988 to 1991. Feltman’s first tour in the U.S. Foreign Service was as a consular officer in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Feltman speaks French, Arabic and Hungarian. He received his undergraduate degree in history and fine arts from Ball State University in 1981 and his Master’s degree in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in 1983.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.