Nicholas Casey at the Wall Street Journal explains a vicious but avoidable cycle in U.S. policy toward Latin America. Republicans charge that the Obama administration is losing influence in Latin America, but then retaliate by blocking nominations, which in turn reduces U.S. influence even more.
The Republican strategy has left many in the U.S. government perplexed about how to engage the vast territory. Even in countries where relations are frayed, ambassadors usually have links to the local president's office and Washington policy makers, influencing everything from business disputes to elections. Embassies without ambassadors are usually led by diplomats called charges d'affaires, but they only serve on a temporary basis.
"Obviously, embassies continue to work on important issues without an ambassador," said a senior U.S. government official close to the case. "But not having an ambassador muffles our voice. There are things that need to be spoken about. The bully pulpit just isn't as effective without an ambassador."
It is a disturbing trend. It is hard to see the utility of cutting off channels of communication and influence. Certainly doing so does not give the U.S. more leverage. In classic form, in the article Roger Noriega is quoted in the article as saying it is good to block nominations, though not when he himself was blocked, because that was "obstruction."
The entertainment value of Roger Noriega notwithstanding, this all points to the fact that U.S. policy goals in Latin America (and often elsewhere) are decoupled from effective strategies to achieve them. I challenge anyone to explain how nomination blocking serves to further specific policy goals (as opposed simply to the domestic political goal of thwarting Barack Obama) in the region. Instead, we are left with the argument that we must send the proper "signals" to governments we don't like, even though these feeble messages are ignored or even mocked.
The odd thing here is that if you want to meddle, and many conservatives very much want to meddle in Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and elsewhere, then historically ambassadors have made excellent meddlers. It is a very powerful position. Instead, there is a pattern of biting off your diplomatic nose to spite your political face.