Obama’s Christmas Gift to Azerbaijan: An Ambassador
How’s that for well-wishes for the holidays? Taking advantage of the congressional recess, President Obama has flown in the faces of Robert Menendez and Barbara Boxer to appoint Matthew Bryza to the Ambassador post here in Baku:
A decision by U.S. President Barack Obama to directly appoint a new ambassador to Azerbaijan whose nomination had been stalled by lawmakers for months has been welcomed by Baku but criticized by an Armenian-American lobbying group.
Obama on December 29 bypassed the usual Senate confirmation process to appoint four new envoys whose nominations had been held up, including new Azerbaijan envoy Matthew Bryza.
It’s taken long enough, but I think we can all be glad that Azerbaijan is finally getting an ambassador after more than a year and a half having no top-brass representation in the country. Except for this guy. He’s going to lose his cushy status as the acting ambassador.
This is most certainly going to help the US in our relationship with Azerbaijan. In my experience, Azerbaijan is a country where titles and honorifics matter, even if the person holding the title and commanding the honorific is a poor excuse for an official. Not having had someone with the title of ambassador for more than a year hurts our relationship here because the Azeri officials probably put too much stock in our diplomatic titles. Even when it might not be the ambassador who actually makes things work, in Azerbaijan, that title is what gets you the meetings and influence you want. And it certainly didn’t hurt when our president gave the Azeri president some face time. After that meeting, I’m sure a whole series of meetings and appointments became open for our diplomats here on the ground.
So now what? I guess we get to see someone new pop out of the big Suburban with crazy security gadgets and ever-flashing lights. Bryza’s experience here in the region is notable, and his familiarity with how things work in Azerbaijan will definitely help in whatever initiatives he’s undertaking. In the meantime, we’ll have to wait and see what improvements come in the US-Azerbaijan relationship and our own desires for the region. I’m not particularly optimistic, but I’m hoping that Matthew Bryza is what they say he is, and hopefully more. I’m also hoping he’s not what the Armenians say he is.