Jeffrey Feltman did a stellar job as U.S. ambassador to Lebanon from 2004 to 2008. While many career ambassadors embrace moral neutrality against the backdrop of political crisis, Feltman stepped up to the plate during the Cedar Revolution and helped give the Lebanese a real shot at affirming their freedom and independence from Syrian domination. Alas, the March 14 movement was hopelessly divided and ineffective. After Feltman left, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice blessed the Doha Agreement which enabled Hezbollah to reassert its control, and effectively end the Cedar Revolution.
President Obama’s election was a mixed blessing for Feltman. On one hand, he received a nice promotion and became the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs but, on the other hand, Obama used him as his point man for his silly and misguided strategy to flip Syria and normalize ties with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad who both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton considered a reformer.
Earlier this summer, Feltman had enough. He resigned from the State Department and immediately began to work for the United Nations, as that body’s under-secretary-general and head of its Department of Political Affairs. Alas, any hope that the good Feltman would rub off effectively on the United Nations appears to have been dashed. As my colleague Ahmad Majidyar pointed out, Iran’s Fars News Agency has just published a photo of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Feltman meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khameini. Feltman looks distinctly uncomfortable and, indeed, he should squirm. He is being used as a showpiece in Iranian propaganda, as he and his misguided boss supplicate themselves to a man who openly calls for genocide.
Decisions matter, not only when in the State Department, but also when retired from it. Feltman’s predecessor as Assistant Secretary of State David Welch used his connections to solicit business for Bechtel in Libya, but actually worked to advise Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi on how to maintain power. If these are the best and the brightest at the State Department’s Near East bureau, let’s hope that a Romney administration would take a long hard look at how the career foreign service is staffed and trained, and why it is that so many representing the United States appear to have lost their grounding.