Inhofe Votes Against Chris Hill for U.S. Ambassador to Iraq

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a Senior Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today voted against the nomination of Christopher Hill to be the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.  Prior to today’s vote, Senator Inhofe joined Senators John Ensign (R-Nev.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), and Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-Mo.) to send a letter to the President expressing these concerns.

“While Christopher Hill does possess a long record of service at overseas posts, his level of experience pertaining to the Middle East makes him nothing short of unqualified,” Senator Inhofe said. “At this juncture, with diplomacy more important than ever, this post requires extreme familiarity with the region and with civil-military relations – Christopher Hill doesn’t even speak Arabic.

“I also believe that in dealing with these issues in Iraq, experience in working with our military in counterterrorism operations is imperative; and it is my understanding that Mr. Hill lacks this experience as well. Our ambassador for Iraq should have the ability to draw on a depth of insight and understanding of these issues from experience and expertise rather than arriving in the country ready to take on something new.

“During the Bush Administration, I put a hold on some of the administrations’ nominee posts for Africa simply because these nominees had never been to Africa and lacked the proper experience. In the same way, why would we send someone to the Middle East whose expertise is in Asia?  

“Furthermore, the controversy surrounding Hill and the Six Party Talks for North Korean nuclear disarmament is reason enough to question the honesty and professionalism he will bring to the position. I am genuinely concerned with the consequences his appointment will have on the U.S. Mission in Iraq.”

Full Text of the Letter: 

Dear Mr. President: 

We write to express our concern about your decision to nominate Ambassador Christopher Hill as the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq.  While we respect Ambassador Hill’s long and distinguished career in the Foreign Service, we believe that he is the wrong choice for this post, and we respectfully request that you withdraw this nomination.   

The U.S. mission in Iraq is the world’s largest and, along with our embassy in Kabul, one of the two most important.  Choosing the right individual to lead the embassy in Baghdad is of critical importance, particularly at this delicate moment in the history of our war effort.  As the security situation stabilizes and U.S. troops at last begin to withdraw from the country, skillful and effective diplomacy will assume an ever greater role in securing American national interests in Iraq and ensuring that the country does not backslide into violence.   

Ambassador Ryan Crocker is, we believe, the model for the kind of individual who should next serve as ambassador to Iraq.  Ambassador Crocker had career-length experience in the Middle East and in working closely with the U.S. military in the context of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations.  He had served in Baghdad twice before he became ambassador, including in the Coalition Provisional Authority, and as ambassador to several neighboring countries.  He knew the region, its players, and its trajectory, and he speaks fluent Arabic.   

Ambassador Hill, on the other hand, has a long record of service outside the Middle East and outside the sphere of civil-military relations.  He has served in at least seven overseas posts, but none in or around Iraq.  He speaks three foreign languages, none of them Arabic.  Nothing in his resume suggests more than a basic familiarity with the complicated issues at hand in Iraq and in the region, nor does he have any experience in working closely with the U.S. military in counterinsurgency or counterterrorism operations.   

We do not believe that now is the time to appoint an ambassador who may need the equivalent of a crash course in Iraqi affairs.  There are today, both within the Foreign Service and outside it, a number of individuals who possess much greater qualifications for this post than does Ambassador Hill.  As our next representative must arrive in Baghdad ready to tackle an array of difficult and potentially explosive issues, including Arab-Kurdish tensions, refugee resettlement, and oil distribution to name only a few, America must have an ambassador who has the requisite knowledge and experience with Iraq, the Middle East, and the military to ensure that we do not repeat the many costly mistakes that previous misjudgments have produced.   

Moreover, we found aspects of Ambassador Hill’s most recent work in the Six Party Talks for North Korean nuclear disarmament to be deeply troubling.  Whatever one thinks about the overall thrust of the Bush administration’s North Korea policy, Ambassador Hill engaged in evasive and unprofessional activities, including sidelining key officials at the State Department and breaking commitments made for the record before congressional committees.   

For example, on July 31, 2008, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he told Senator Brownback that “I would be happy to invite [North Korea special envoy Jay Lefkowitz] to all future negotiating sessions with North Korea.”  This did not occur.  Other diplomats also complained of being shut out of the Six Party process by Secretary Hill.  In a cable reported in the Washington Post, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer warned of irreparable harm to U.S.-Japan relations resulting from deals with North Korea that did not address Japanese interests, adding that he could play no role in assuaging such concerns as he had been cut out entirely from the flow of information on North Korea by Secretary Hill. 

In testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on October 25, 2007, Secretary Hill said, “Clearly, we cannot be reaching a nuclear agreement with North Korea if at the same time they are proliferating.  It is not acceptable.”  Yet only months after making these statements, Ambassador Hill succeeded in reaching such an agreement before Congress had a chance to answer key questions about North Korea’s alleged nuclear proliferation to Syria, taking place during Mr. Hill’s own negotiations.     

Finally, it has come to our attention that Ambassador Hill cooperated in a series of interviews for a recent book by New York Times reporter David Sanger.  In that book, Ambassador Hill is quoted as referring to his superiors in the Administration in dismissive and derogatory terms, conduct wholly unbecoming a sitting US official.  While we prefer not to list the statements in this letter, we would be happy to furnish you with specific examples, as necessary.    

Mr. President, the United States needs an ambassador in Iraq at this crucial juncture.   Moreover, we require an ambassador who will deal with the American people, our President and Congress with frankness, honesty and professionalism.  Ambassador Hill, we are afraid, has proven otherwise.   

For the reasons we have outlined above, we would request that you withdraw the nomination of Ambassador Hill for this particular post. 

Thank you for your attention to this matter.