WASHINGTON — In a sign of respect to career State Department officials after the rocky tenure of his predecessor Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may recommend nominating career diplomat David Hale, currently the US ambassador to Pakistan, to be the next undersecretary of state for political affairs, three former senior American officials told Al-Monitor.
Hale, who has been the US envoy to Pakistan since 2015, previously served as US ambassador to Lebanon (2013-2015), special envoy for Middle East peace (2011-2013) and ambassador to Jordan (2005-2008), among other assignments.
Given that Hale has been a foreign service officer since 1984 and has the rank of career minister, his nomination for the State Department's No. 3 job would boost confidence among career officials who have largely felt demoralized and marginalized during the first year and a half of the Donald Trump administration.
Hale did not respond to an emailed query from Al-Monitor on the possible nomination. A State Department official speaking not for attribution said he was not certain if the decision was final. But several sources said they understood that Pompeo wanted to put a career diplomat in the key No. 3 post, rather than a political appointee such as Paula Dobriansky, the well-regarded former Bush-era undersecretary of state for global affairs who had previously been reported to be under consideration for the position.
In the meantime, Steve Mull, the former US ambassador to Poland and former head of the State Department office on the Iran nuclear deal implementation, has agreed to serve as the acting undersecretary of state for political affairs this summer. But Mull, who traveled to Brussels and Vienna last week to meet with European Union officials, has told associates that he will only do the job for a few weeks this summer, and is expected to then retire from the State Department to take another job, likely in academia. Mull, contacted by Al-Monitor, declined to comment.
In other diplomatic appointment news: US Ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller is expected to be nominated to be the next US ambassador to Iraq, a former US diplomat and a current official told Al-Monitor. Tueller, contacted by Al-Monitor, declined to comment.
US Consul General to Jerusalem Donald Blome is expected to be tapped to head the Libya external office, operating out of Tunis, Tunisia, US officials told Al-Monitor. Blome had recently been rumored to be under consideration to become the deputy assistant secretary of state for the Levant (Syria, Lebanon and Jordan), but in the end was expected to be tapped for the Libya job, the US officials said. Blome did not respond to a query.
Indeed, confusion over who will be the deputy assistant secretary of state for the Levant and who might serve as a possible US Syria envoy reflect apparent disagreement between the White House, the National Security Council and the State Department over who should do those jobs, and possibly the larger direction of US policy toward Syria as the war against the so-called Islamic State winds down, current and former officials said. Ethan Goldrich, the director of the State Department Levant office and a former deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates is currently serving as the acting deputy assistant secretary of state for Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
Joel Rayburn last week finished his term as the NSC senior director for Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and was succeeded by Rob Greenway. Several sources said Rayburn was under consideration to take a senior State Department job, possibly as a US Syria envoy, but that there was still uncertainty on whether that would happen or if he would take a different role, or if someone else would be considered. He could not be reached, but had previously declined to comment. Michael Bell, the former NSC senior director for the Middle East, has also left the NSC.
Alice G. Wells, currently the principal deputy assistant secretary of state and former US ambassador to Jordan, may be nominated for ambassador to Egypt, one former US diplomat told Al-Monitor. She did not respond to a query, and two State Department officials said they had not heard that and did not know if it was accurate.
Pompeo’s embrace of career foreign service officer talent may be influenced by another insider. Another career diplomat, former US Ambassador to Brazil Peter Michael “Mike” McKinley, is serving as a key “senior adviser” to Pompeo. Former US diplomatic sources tell Al-Monitor that McKinley is serving as a sounding board for Pompeo and is the proverbial last person Pompeo talks to when going into meetings. They say the arrangement, which virtually does away with the chief of staff job, was designed to prevent Pompeo from walling himself off from — and alienating — the building the way Tillerson and his former chief of staff Margaret Peterlin were widely perceived to be shutting career Foggy Bottom officials out.
Update: A few hours after publication, the White House announced the nomination of Ambassador David Hale to be Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.