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The Caretaker Head of Mission

No one in the U.S. State Department at that time imagined that partisan politics would lead to a blockade in Jacobson’s assuming her term in Mexico
By The News · 25 of February 2016 14:03:29
Joe Biden, Roberta Jacobson, Colin Kahl, Vice President Joe Biden, center, accompanied by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, left, and National Security Adviser to the Vice President Colin Kahl, right, meets with the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala known as the Northern Triangle leaders, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, at the Blair House in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik), No available

The U.S. Embassy may still be without an ambassador (President Barack Obama’s June 2015 nomination of Roberta S. Jacobson, assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, has been delayed in the Senate due to concerns from hyper-right-wing politicians regarding her lack of diplomatic experience and leftist leanings toward Cuba and Venezuela), but ad interim Chargé d’Affaires William H. Duncan and his wife Nora Duncan proved to be worthy hosts Monday night for the annual American Benevolent Society (ABS) annual general meeting and cherry pie festival.

Duncan, who has been holding down the fort at the embassy since Earl Anthony Wayne left in early July of last year, was gracious and hospitable, but very low-key, as, probably, befits a caretaker head of a diplomatic mission.

But while Duncan proclaimed the mandatory thanks and appreciation the embassy has for the ABS, he was careful not to make any comments regarding politics or the bilateral relationship between the United States and Mexico on a diplomatic level.

This discreet, don’t-rock-the-boat approach to diplomacy – which has been Duncan’s predominant characteristic since taking the helm of the chancellery – may be acceptable for a while, but it is hardly the appropriate trademark of the multifaceted and complex relationship that exists between the two countries.

Duncan is not to blame. He is simply doing his job, which, when he first took it on in July of last year, he expected would be a three- or four-month gig.

No one in the U.S. State Department at that time imagined that partisan politics would lead to a blockade in Jacobson’s assuming her term in Mexico. (She was finally approved by the Senate in November, but her appointment must be approved by the full 100-member Senate before she can take up the position.)

Granted, Jacobson is green when it comes to international diplomacy (this will be here first ambassadorial post and just her second embassy posting), and there is a strong likelihood that once a new president takes office in the United States next January, she will be recalled.

But that does not justify a drawn-out battle to keep a custodian head of mission running the embassy.

Jacobson has an impressive career and solid experience in U.S.-Latin American relations, and she has proven herself to be a gutsy, determined diplomat with knowledge and capability in a broad range of issues that are embarked on in the binational relationship between the United States and Mexico, including immigration, security, drug trafficking, human rights, legal relations and trade.

It is high time for the U.S. Senate to stop using a barrage of delay tactics and get Jacobson fully approved so she can start doing her job here in Mexico.

The bilateral relationship is strong and healthy, but it is also organic and variable, and we need more than a caretaker embassy in Mexico to keep it vibrant.