In the Arena

Hill to Iraq

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I’ve been a bit reluctant to jump into the mini-controversy over the pending appointment of Christopher Hill as Ambassador to Iraq. My son was Hill’s personal assistant during part of his tenure as Assistant Secretary of State. But I’ve been admirer of Hill’s since I first met him back in the 1990s, when he was assisting Richard Holbrooke on the Bosnia negotiations and I would have been disappointed in John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Sam Brownback for their transparently political opposition to the Hill appointment in any case.

But enough about me. Hillary Clinton makes the case for Hill eloquently during this recent press conference:

QUESTION:  Madame Secretary, how do you respond to criticism from Senators McCain and Graham and Brownback that Chris Hill is – does not have the experience necessary to become ambassador in Baghdad? He doesn’t have the experience in the Arab countries.  And they also allege that he doesn’t have the negotiating skills necessary, and they point to the recent deadlock in the negotiations with North Korea as an example.
SECRETARY CLINTON:  Well, obviously, I think both of those criticisms are unjustified and unfounded.  Chris Hill is a distinguished, experienced diplomat who has served in some very difficult positions on behalf of our country.  Another very distinguished, experienced diplomat, John Negroponte, was our ambassador to Iraq.  He did not have Middle East or Arabic language skills when he was sent to Iraq. I believe the people you’ve just mentioned, my former colleagues, all voted for former Deputy Secretary Negroponte.  So I think on the experience basis, he is not only very well-qualified in terms of running a large embassy, helping to deal with the myriad of issues that will arise as we conduct our withdrawal, but we’ll have around him, as any ambassador does, people who have particular skills and expertise.
With respect to the North Korean mission that we believe Ambassador Hill carried out with great persistence and success despite some difficult challenges, this is a hard set of challenges to meet.  And it is our perspective that he made a lot of lemonade out of some pretty bad lemons, and he was able to get the North Koreans on record as agreeing to certain obligations.  We now have to follow through on those obligations.  
So our assessment, which we believe is rooted in the facts, may be different from those who, you know, are rightfully distressed with and extremely critical of North Korean actions on human rights, on their continuing effort to obtain nuclear weapons, on their belligerence and their provocative actions.  But that is something that is not in any way reflective of the job that Chris Hill did in the Six-Party Talks, where we think he did a very good job.