BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
After languishing for more than a year in Washington, D.C., Richard Hoagland, U.S. Ambassador Designate to Armenia, is about to be reassigned to another country, according to several confidential but highly reliable sources.
Hoagland, who was U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan in 2006, was nominated by Pres. Bush to replace John Evans as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia. Evans was forced into early retirement last year, after he used the words "Armenian Genocide" to describe the mass murder of Armenia’s in Turkey, during his visit to California in February 2005. Even after his public apology for this "indiscretion," the State Department still pressured the American Foreign Service Association to rescind the "Constructive Dissent" Award that Amb. Evans was selected to receive.
Armenian-Americans were incensed that the career of a seasoned diplomat like Amb. Evans was being cut short due to his use of a single word. They were deeply offended that State Department officials did not have the decency to publicly announce the reason for Amb. Evans’ forced exit. When asked to comment on the news of Amb. Evans’ recall, various U.S. officials kept repeating like a broken record that "ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the President." Since the Turkish Ambassador to the U.S. and lobbyists hired by Turkey had protested to the Bush administration about Amb. Evans’ "taboo" statement on the Armenian Genocide, some wondered whether U.S. ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the President of Turkey or the President of the United States!
In response to the disrespect shown by the State Department toward the Armenian-American community and particularly the critical issue of the Armenian Genocide, Armenian-Americans asked that the U.S. Senate block the nomination of Amb. Hoagland. After lengthy debates in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Robert Menendez (Dem.-N.J.) placed a hold on Hoagland’s nomination, thus blocking his assignment as the next ambassador to Armenia.
Requests by this writer and others asking the State Department to meet with Armenian-American community leaders and come to a mutually acceptable solution were ignored. Bush Administration officials kept repeating that Hoagland remained the President’s nominee, disingenuously claiming that it was important for Armenia to have a U.S. Ambassador. If it were that important for the United States to have an Ambassador in Yerevan, many wondered why had the Bush administration recalled the fine ambassador – John Evans – it already had in place? Furthermore, on several occasions during the year when the Senate was in recess or on vacation, Pres. Bush declined to use his authority to appoint Amb. Hoagland without Senate approval. The administration must have recognized that circumventing the Senate would have had negative consequences for both the nominee and the President himself.
The administration also opted not to withdraw the nominee’s name from further Senate consideration. Instead, when the newly-elected Congress started its deliberations in early January, Pres. Bush’s advisors, showing complete lack of political judgment, talked the President into resubmitting Hoagland’s name to the Senate. Sen. Menendez then placed a new hold on his nomination, thus ensuring that the Senate would not approve Hoagland as Ambassador to Armenia.
Since the State Department had rejected all offers to meet with Armenian-American community leaders to discuss Hoagland’s nomination, and the President had not exercised his right to make a recess appointment, the only sensible option left on the table was to withdraw Hoagland’s nomination and replace him with another nominee. The administration was repeatedly assured that should another reasonable name be submitted to the Senate, there would no objection or obstruction from the Armenian community and the U.S. Senate.
At last, it appears that the administration has come to the conclusion that Hoagland’s nomination is hopelessly dead in the water. The State Department is finally willing to drop its oft-announced position that Hoagland remains its nominee for Armenia.
After languishing for a whole year at an empty desk in the State Department, Amb. Hoagland deserves to have an assignment at a diplomatic post in a country other than Armenia. He has been caught in the midst of a controversy not of his own doing. His superiors’ mismanagement of this issue should no longer keep his career in limbo.
Only time will tell if the Bush administration has properly understood from this episode the deeply-felt sentimen’s of the Armenian-American community. In view of the embarrassment suffered by the State Department on this occasion, it is hoped that, henceforth, the administration would think long and hard before showing any more disrespect toward the Armenian-American community on the core issue of the Armenian Genocide.