Transition Memo Calls on Trump to Tap Trusted Adviser, Not Career Bureaucrat, for Key Ambassador Post

Conservatives incensed over possible MacManus pick, threaten tough Senate confirmation

Joseph Macmanus
Joseph Macmanus / Getty Images
September 18, 2017

Conservative foreign policy activists upset that a career State Department official is the frontrunner to serve as ambassador to Colombia are pointing to a Trump transition memo that calls for just the opposite—for President Trump to ensure that the job goes to someone who shares his political views and is committed to his agenda.

Many influential Republicans on Capitol Hill and throughout Washington are incensed that Joseph MacManus, a 30-year veteran of the foreign service and a former top aide to Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of State, is the leading contender to become ambassador to Colombia.

The Washington Free Beacon Friday reported that MacManus is considered the frontrunner for the ambassador post. Many observers believed Brian Nichols, the current ambassador to Peru, was slated for the post.

"This is the final straw for many of those who are fed up with [Secretary of State] Tillerson and the careers at State running roughshod over some in the White House," a GOP foreign policy activist said. "It's a microcosm of the larger feud that has been going on for some time."

Critics in Congress of such a career selection warn that MacManus would face a nasty confirmation process that will undoubtedly resurrect the role he played as a top aide to Clinton in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack and during the scandal over her use of a private email account.

Colombia, they argue, is one of Washington's staunchest allies and is at an inflection point in terms of the country's security and long-term stability. Last December, its government signed a peace deal with FARC rebels that is facing new challenges and allegations of noncompliance.

The Colombian government, among other problems, is resisting aerial spraying of illegal coca plantings. The spraying is a major tool in the U.S.-backed anti-drug campaign.

Despite the most recent concerns, the country is on much better footing than it would be thanks to conservative GOP efforts to provide critical U.S. military and diplomatic aide over the past 25 years. It could have already deteriorated to become a failed state, these activists contend, if non-political ambassadors and career diplomats in Washington would have had their way decades ago.

Letting Colombia fall into near "failed-state" status would have made the country's cocaine and heroin drug trade, with its national security implications, even more of a threat to the United States, they say.

A memo, obtained by the Free Beacon, underscores the need for Trump to name someone that he trusts to carry out his agenda without weighing how it will impact his next job at State, as well as someone with extensive experience in Latin American affairs.

Titled "Talking Point Embassy of U.S. in Colombia as Political Post for Ambassadorship," the memo says the ambassadorship is "no ordinary post, but one with a major U.S. national security interest."

The memo doesn't mince words when it comes to advising Trump not to choose a career diplomat to lead the embassy in Bogota.

"In the past, State Department-led bureaucrats cut off military aid to the police in Colombia as the GOP Congress fought to save Colombia from the FARC terrorist threat, while simultaneously tackling the drug threat," the memo states.

"Without this type of political support, military aid, and supportive push from a GOP Congress in the 1990s, it might have become a failed nation and even greater 'narco-state' threat to U.S."

"We can't take that chance again," he said.

The State Department originally referred all questions about a possible MacManus appointment to the White House, which did not respond to a request for comment.

On Monday, State Department press secretary Heather Nauert defended MacManus’ qualifications for an ambassadorship.

"Secretary Tillerson does not agree that career ambassadors lack the vision to solve tough problems," she said in an emailed statement. "MacManus is highly respected for his leadership, collegiality and professionalism. He has served his country in challenging posts across multiple administrations and has demonstrated his exceptional leadership."

"MacManus was sworn into office under President Ronald Reagan," she added.

The memo opposing the appointment of a career diplomat to be ambassador to Colombia references a policy known as "Plan Colombia," a U.S. initiative that combined foreign aid with military and diplomatic support to fight against Colombian drug cartels and left-wing insurgent groups in the country. President Clinton signed the plan into law in 2000, but Republicans argue it wouldn't have come to pass without years of strong GOP support in Congress.

Critics of the policy said that it was too law-enforcement oriented and was really aimed at fighting leftist guerrillas, and combating the country's drug cartels only to a lesser extent.

Republican supporters tout the program as the country's key stabilizer over the last two decades.

"Plan Colombia, which saved Colombia, was actually a GOP-led idea that had little support from career bureaucrats in our State Department who erroneously feared another Vietnam for us, and completely missed the big picture national-security threats from Colombia," the memo states.

"We need a GOP political ambassador to ensure the key gains and rare foreign-policy success led by the GOP are not lost," it states.

The memo also points out that the United States has sent billions of dollars in aid to Colombia over the last two decades. Despite this support, the Colombian government has continued to hire defense contractors that are not U.S.-based and fails to ensure that American intellectual property is protected, as required in the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade agreement.

In fiscal year 2017 alone, the United States pledged to provide $450 million to support Peace Colombia, an initiative to help the Colombian government's treaty with the FARC.

"Billions of dollars go to foreign aid to Colombia from the U.S. government go to foreign defense contractors, and we need an ambassador who will push to make sure American companies are winning contracts backed by U.S. foreign-aid money," the memo states.

Highlighting a dominant fair-trade theme of the Trump campaign, the memo argues that the next ambassador must leverage the free-trade deals to make sure American exports and products "supporting American jobs" are flooding Colombia.

Additionally, the memo says, Colombia needs a political ambassador with a "wider world view who can use the Colombia assistance we rendered to push [its government] to aid us with training, experience-sharing and the posting of seasoned policy and military officers with other nations (e.g. Mexico, Afghanistan) facing similar narco-terrorism threats."

"Career diplomats lack the ability or vision to go outside their lane and push the government of Colombia to aid us globally like this in places like Mexico, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.," the memo states.

It also praises the Colombian National Police, calling them some of the finest anti-narcotics and anti-terrorism police in the world "fighting drugs, kidnapping, terrorism."

That policing expertise could help U.S. policy in other parts of the world if a presidential administration had "the political will and the vision" to utilize it.

"Only a political ambassador with the ear of the U.S. president can and would be able to push" for such a mutually beneficial agreement with Colombia.

Update 5:59 p.m.: This post has been updated with comment from the State Department.

Published under: Trump Administration