Officially In: James B. Cunningham – from Kabul to Kabul

On July 17, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador James B. Cunningham as the next Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador James B. Cunningham, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, is Deputy Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.  Prior to his post in Kabul, Ambassador Cunningham served as the U.S. Ambassador to Israel from 2008 to 2011.  From 2005 to 2008, he was U.S. Consul General in Hong Kong.  Previous assignments include: Ambassador and Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations (1999-2004); Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Rome (1996-1999); Director of the State Department’s Office of European Security and Political Affairs (1993-1995); and Chief of Staff to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General (1989-1990).  Earlier assignments include posts with the U.S. Mission to NATO, as well as posts at the U.S. Embassies in Rome and Stockholm.

Ambassador Cunningham received a B.A. in Political Science and a B.A. in Psychology from Syracuse University.

If confirmed, Ambassador Cunningham would succeed Ambassador Ryan Crocker currently doing the press rounds as he prepares to return to retirement a full year before his two year tenure was to end due to health reasons.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador gives remarks at the inauguration of the Ghazi School.
U.S. Deputy Ambassador to Afghanistan James B. Cunningham, Afghan Minister of Education Abdul Rahim Wardak and visitng former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmai Khalilzad officially inaugurated the newly rebuilt Ghazi High School in West Kabul October 23, 2011. Former alumni of the school include both Ambassador Khalilzad and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The school was destroyed during 30 years of fighting in Afghanistan, and was refurbished by the U.S. Agency for International Development. (Department of State)
click on image for a slideshow

As noted in his brief bio, Ambassador Cunningham was the chief of mission at the US Embassy in Israel prior to his assignment in Kabul in 2011.  So we dug up the OIG report during his tenure in Israel, which has some really good things to say about his three-year assignment in Tel Aviv:

  • The Ambassador has forged productive relationships with senior Israeli and Washington officials, adding significant value to one of the United States’ most sensitive and central bilateral relationships.
  • Given the intersection of U.S. foreign policy objectives, high-profile domestic attention to Israel, and historically intransigent issues, Embassy Tel Aviv’s leadership faces challenges matched in intensity in only three or four other world capitals. The Ambassador performs commendably in this context and has advanced the U.S. relationship with the Israeli Government in the 2 years since his arrival.
  • Because few bilateral relationships attract the attention of as many senior American officials as the relationship with Israel, the Ambassador has a unique opportunity to interact daily or weekly with the President; National Security Adviser; Secretary of State; top legislators, military figures, and their senior staffs; the SEMEP; the general who heads the Roadmap Monitoring Mission; and the general who acts as the USSC.
  • Embassy section heads described the Ambassador as a masterful briefer of Members of Congress and senior U.S. military officers; his astute grasp of the forces at play in Israel helps shape their views and programs.
  • The heads of U.S.agencies at the embassy were unanimous in their appreciation for the Ambassador’s support for and involvement in their work.

The report has the following item, too, which if uncorrected would make managing one of the largest embassies in the world a double challenge:

Communication within the mission is limited. The Ambassador is respected for his intellectual ability but rarely interacts with employees below the most senior ranks.

He is reportedly a persuasive speaker; we’re looking forward to his confirmation hearing and see if he’ll make us feel any better about our prospects in Afghanistan.

Domani Spero

Related items:

OIG Report No. ISP-I-11-31A – Inspection of Embassy Tel Aviv, Israel – March 2011

July 17, 2012 | President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts