Senator Menendez on Bryza hold: "absolutely nothing to do with the ethnic origin of his wife"

Robert Menendez, a Democrat representing New Jersey in the U.S. Senate was not happy with WaPo’s Sept. 24 editorial “A toxic hold” and has written to the newspaper to make clear that his opposition to Matthew Bryza’s nomination to be US Ambassador to Baku has “absolutely nothing to do with the ethnic origin of his wife.”

I am so very relieved, are you? Read on …

Why I oppose Matthew Bryza’s nomination as ambassador to Azerbaijan

Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
WaPo | Sunday, October 3, 2010; A18

The Sept. 24 editorial “A toxic hold,” in criticizing Sen. Barbara Boxer’s and my opposition to the nomination of Matthew Bryza as ambassador to Azerbaijan, cited an unsubstantiated comment from a junior member of my staff as my position. This was despite the fact that a Post editorial writer had a full conversation with my foreign policy adviser and an official written statement regarding my position, which was entirely consistent with my statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The suggestion that my office “backpedaled” is incorrect. The Post is entitled to its own opinion, but not to its own facts.

For the record, I stand by my position that Mr. Bryza is the wrong person for the job and have made public my hold in the U.S. Senate on his nomination. That position has absolutely nothing to do with the ethnic origin of his wife. It is based on information that I believe raises concerns about Mr. Bryza’s ability to remain impartial toward Azerbaijan and Turkey, including his opposition to the recognition of the Armenian genocide by Turkey and his close ties to individuals in both governments. Perhaps it is not so unusual for a U.S. ambassador to have acquaintances in regional governments, but when those relationships affect the ability of the individual to represent the interests of the United States, it is my prerogative to withhold support of the nomination.

Finally, at the core of my opposition to Mr. Bryza’s nomination is respect for the Armenian people. The Armenian genocide was one of the great atrocities of modern history. We should not be sending a top diplomat to the region who does not support recognition of what is considered among historians to be the first modern genocide. Nor should The Post label the Armenian National Committee of America as “noxious” simply for demanding recognition of this historical fact.

So his main beef –– “We should not be sending a top diplomat to the region who does not support recognition of what is considered among historians to be the first modern genocide.”

Good grief! Has the good senator from New Jersey been under a rock during the Bush Administration’s years in office?

NYT reported in October 2007 that “President George W. Bush and two top cabinet members urged lawmakers on Wednesday to reject a resolution describing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians early in the last century as genocide – a highly sensitive issue at a time of rising U.S.-Turkish tensions over northern Iraq.” And they did.

Remember Ambassador Evans?  He was recalled officially for undisclosed reason — the “firing” have something to do with using the “G-word” and confusing the public with his own personal opinion and that of the official position of the Bush Administration. He had to issue an official clarification — the whole thing from the informal comment he made in California to the clarification, and clarification of the clarification statement and the recall from Yerevan, followed in great detail here

In an interview later in 2007 with LA Times, he was quoted as saying, “I never in 35 years had encountered a U.S. policy that I could not at least live with.” After this incident, he was “eased out after about 18 months,” and was “basically asked to go ahead and retire.”
What did then Senator Obama said about this in early 2008?

“Two years ago, I criticized the Secretary of State for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after he properly used the term “genocide” to describe Turkey’s slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915.”

Now apparently,  President Obama, had not used the word in a statement honoring the memorial in 2009 after he became president.  Foreign Policy in Focus reported in March this year that “The Obama administration, citing its relations with Turkey, has pledged to block the passage in the full House of Representatives of a resolution passed this past Thursday by the Foreign Relations Committee acknowledging the 1915 genocide by the Ottoman Empire of a 1.5 million Armenians.”

Sounds familiar?  The Bush and Obama administrations, a historian complained in the History News Network “…both sing the same old song.”

So Senator Menendez essentially found Mr. Bryza lacking for not articulating a policy position that got another ambassador canned. Can we call this an example of a no-win/no-win situation?

Senator Menendez, of course, faults Mr. Bryza for the one thing that is admirable/distressful (take your pick) with professional diplomats – the suspension of a personal opinion.  As a career diplomat, Mr. Bryza and all diplomats like him are allowed one opinion – the official opinion/position of the administration of the day.  They work 24/7, 365 days a year and they’re on-duty even when they’re off duty. Their “opinions” do not go beyond the chalk lines, that is — until they retire, and are free again to say what they really think.
So to ask that Mr. Bryza support a position beyond what his bosses are willing to officially articulate is quite absurd, no?