There was a point over the summer when Donald Trump abruptly – and as we later learned, temporarily – canceled his summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. The White House did not, however, give a heads-up to our South Korean allies, who were left terribly confused by the American president’s antics.
Ordinarily, it’d fall to the U.S. ambassador to South Korea to help smooth things over, but that wasn’t possible: a year and a half after taking office, the Trump administration didn’t have an ambassador to South Korea.
This came to mind yesterday as the White House confronted an intensifying international incident over the disappearance and apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who lives in the United States, who was reportedly killed inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey by a squad of Saudi Arabian officials.
Turkish officials have reportedly provided U.S. officials with proof of Khashoggi’s slaying. The American president, meanwhile, is prioritizing an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, which doesn’t really exist.
As the pressure mounts, our U.S. ambassadors in Turkey and Saudi Arabia have their work cut out for them. Or at least, they would if we had U.S. ambassadors in Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
There was a striking back and forth during a State Department press briefing yesterday with Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino.
QUESTION: In terms of your high-level diplomatic talks, other than the calls you – other than the calls that you’ve read out here, presumably you have people on the ground in both Ankara, Istanbul – in Ankara, Istanbul, and Riyadh all pushing this, right?
PALLADINO: Our embassies overseas, absolutely…. Our diplomatic mission overseas.
QUESTION: Who again – what’s the name of the ambassador in Turkey right now?
PALLADINO: I don’t have that in front of me right now and I – Matt –
QUESTION: What’s the name of the ambassador in Saudi Arabia right now?
PALLADINO: I see what you’re getting at.
What the reporter was getting at, of course, was the fact that those ambassadors don’t exist.
As part of the discussion, Palladino added that State Department officials “definitely would reiterate our request for our colleagues in the Senate and their assistance in fielding our full camp.”
That might make more sense if Donald Trump had nominated ambassadors to Saudi Arabia and Turkey, only to have the Senate delay the confirmation process, but in reality, that’s not the case.
The White House hasn’t even nominated anyone to these posts.