US consulate in Benghazi, Libya which was destroyed by people angry over the role of the United States inside the country. Demonstrations were held at the same time in Egypt, Sudan and Tunisia., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
October 11, 2012
White House Appoints Veteran Retired Diplomat to Serve as Senior Envoy in Libya
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
New York Times
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said on Thursday that it had recalled a veteran diplomat, Laurence Pope, who retired from the Foreign Service 12 years ago, to serve as the senior American envoy in Libya.
Mr. Pope has been appointed as the chargé d’affaires, and arrived in Tripoli, Libya’s capital, on Thursday. His appointment comes one month after the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in an attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi. The White House has yet to nominate a new ambassador, and Mr. Pope will be the top ranking American diplomat in Libya until that post is filled.
“It was very clear that we needed to get a senior leader to Libya on an urgent basis in advance of the White House having an opportunity to nominate a permanent successor for Chris,” a State Department official said, referring to Mr. Stevens. The move, the official said, would send a signal that the United States was still committed to a strong relationship with Libya.
With the presidential election approaching, the White House was not expected to rush to nominate a new ambassador, a move that would lead to confirmation hearings that might re-energize an already politicized debate over the United States mission in Libya and the security of American personnel there.
The decision to recall Mr. Pope from retirement also reflects the fact that there is a shortage of senior Arabists in the State Department. In 31 years as a diplomat, Mr. Pope served as the ambassador to Chad and as the political adviser to Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, the head of the Central Command, the American military headquarters that oversees operations in the Middle East.
General Zinni, who is now retired from the military, said Thursday that Mr. Pope is fluent in Arabic, knows the Middle East and Africa well, and is “extremely respected out there by the leadership.”
Mr. Pope, 67, is known not only for his diplomatic career but also for how it ended.
In a move that provoked the ire of Congressional conservatives, General Zinni voiced his skepticism in 2000 about legislation that called for aiding the Iraqi opposition in its quest to topple Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein. The general warned that encouraging Ahmad Chalabi and other members of the Iraqi opposition to take military action against the Iraqi leader would lead to a “Bay of Goats,” a play on the disastrous invasion attempt by Cuban exiles in 1961.
When the Clinton administration later nominated Mr. Pope to serve as ambassador to Kuwait, his years advising General Zinni became an issue for Senator Jesse Helms, the North Carolina Republican who was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Pope noted in a blunt article he later wrote titled “Advice and Contempt.”
Mr. Pope recalled in the article that he had been confronted by an aide on the committee, Danielle Pletka, who argued that he must either have agreed with General Zinni about the inadvisability of arming the Iraqi opposition or was an ineffective adviser. “In the latter case,” he recalled, “there was a chance of salvaging the nomination if I would provide the committee with written evidence of my opposition to Zinni’s position.”
“As Faustian bargains go, this one wasn’t hard to resist,” Mr. Pope wrote. “I told her that I would testify about my own views until the cows come home, but I wouldn’t talk about my advice to General Zinni.”
After being told by committee staff members that the panel would not support his nomination, he wrote, he decided to retire from the Foreign Service in 2000.
Ms. Pletka, who is now vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative policy research group, dismissed the episode. “I have very little recollection of Mr. Pope,” she said Thursday. “It must have been his choice to leave the Foreign Service.”
Mr. Pope’s new job does not require Senate confirmation.