By Luke Coffey * – US Needs Clear Policy in the Balkans The new U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is a highly accomplished individual. As CEO of ExxonMobil, he presided over world’s largest oil and gas company with an annual revenue of almost $270 billion— or about the size of Pakistan’s total economy. Having worked and lived in places from Yemen to Russia—and many places in between—he is perhaps one of the most accomplished geo-political operators ever to have been confirmed to the post.
Even so, one thing is certain: Tillerson has an uphill battle ahead of him. Standing in his way of implementing US foreign policy is the bureaucratic blob molded during the Obama years and now stuck in its ways—referred as the Fourth Branch of Government.
Make no mistake; there are some career civil servants who will work in the interest of the U.S. no matter what political party occupies the White House. However, many officials have become politicized with many lean their support towards the Democrats. According to research carried out by Тhe Hill, about 95 percent of political contributions by federal employees went to Democrat Hillary Clinton during the presidential race. Some career officials have even pledged to “resist” the new administration. This will be a problem for the new administration.
Unfortunately, the political activism of the State Department spreads beyond Foggy Bottom and extends to America’s global network of embassies and missions to international organizations.
One obvious example of this is in the Balkans.
In recent months the U.S. Embassy in Albania has been accused of meddling in the internal affairs of that country. Some of the accusations deal with U.S. Embassy’s alleged collusion with leftwing groups like the Open Society Foundation. The Open Society Foundation is a George Soros network of non-government organizations that promotes the billionaire’s “progressive” ideology worldwide, which is often inimical to U.S. interests. The “progressive” agenda of the Open Society Foundation is often tone-deaf to local sensitivities—both religious and cultural—especially in places like the Balkans.
Although an important NATO ally in the Balkans, the Albania faces many challenges. Controversial reform of its judicial system was recently passed in the parliament. There was no national consensus because the opposition Democratic Party headed by Lulzim Basha, boycotted the vote since it felt that its concerns about the legislation were ignored. For years U.S. AID projects focused on judicial reform have been funded, in part, by the Open Society Foundation. George Soros’ meddling in Albania is nothing new. Prime Minister Edi Rama, a Socialist, even attended Soros’s wedding. When Hillary Clinton headed the State Department Soros was communicating directly with her and her staff to help promote his agenda in Albania.
The U.S. Ambassador to Albania, Donald Lu, recently and very publically accused Albania’s General Prosecutor Mr. Adriatik Llalla of impeding judicial reform in the country. This has caused outrage in Albania. Mr Llalla has written to both President Bujar Nishani and the chairman of the Albanian parliament Ilir Meta to complain about the ambassador’s brash behavior. Mr. Llalla even claims in the letter that Ambassador Lu has threaten him. The letter reads:
“In official and unofficial communications, Ambassador Lu has made it clear to Prosecutor Llalla that if he will not publicly support the changes to the law, it will result in personal and institutional consequences,”
What a diplomatic mess!
This is on the back of the U.S. Embassy recently denying visas to 70 prosecutors and judges linked to the opposition party (no visa were revoked for the ruling Socialists Party). Both incidents can be interpreted as partisan intervention by the U.S. Embassy the pre-empting a major “vetting” effort underway for members of the country’s judicial system. This has also made the political polarization in the Albania even worse.
Meddling in the domestic affairs of America’s allies is not only bad for the U.S. but contrary to the spirit and the letter of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relationship. Article 41 of the convention states that diplomats have “an obligation to not interfere in the domestic issues of that state.”
Political activism inside the halls of Foggy Bottom is bad enough, when it extends to America’s embassies it can quickly become detrimental to the good conduct of U.S. foreign relations. The job of diplomats should be to advance U.S. national interests and not the narrow political interests of a single political party or non-governmental organization.
Changing the mentality inside the State Department will be a slow and cumbersome process a keen to turning an oil supertanker in the Bosphorus. As Tillerson begins cleaning out the Augean stables of the State Department, it is worth examining if certain career ambassadors are out of step with the new administration’s foreign policy approach. There are plenty of experienced and capable individuals who are able to represent the United States who could easily fill these posts. This is common practice for the big diplomatic posts of London, Berlin, and Moscow, among many others. This practice should be considered for smaller allies too, including in the Balkans.
One of the main focuses of the Trump Administration has been this desire to rebuild relationships which have been under strain due to the policies of the previous eight years. US needs friends and allies. The U.S. also needs to advance its national interests. This is why it is vital to have ambassadors that recognize this and do not swim in the often murky waters of domestic and partisan politics.
* Luke Coffey oversees research on nations stretching from South America to the Middle East as director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.