With three candidates turning down the job in the same number of months, Washington is struggling to find a person to serve as the US ambassador to India. Says a Washington lobbyist source, “The Obama administration has had to rip up the short list and start from scratch.”
The US ambassadorship has been vacant since Tim Roehmer returned to the US in late June. Retired diplomat Peter Burleigh is presently serving as charge d’affaires.
The Obama administration had first approached Strobe Talbott, former State Department number two during Bill Clinton’s presidency and head of the Brookings Institute. After he declined, partly for health reasons, the post was offered to John Hamre, a confidant of Hillary Clinton and president of another major US think tank, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. He also refused.
After Richard Danzig, an Obama-ite and once seen as a likely Pentagon chief, also turned it down, the White House decided to make a new list.
Sources in Washington and New Delhi say the inability to fill the New Delhi post reflect two realities. One is the drift in Indo-US relations with PM Manmohan Singh seen as lacking the political strength to push the ties forward and Obama equally distracted by domestic concerns. Two is the uncertainty of Obama’s own re-election. “From the candidate’s perspective, he is giving up a good job in the US for potentially just one year as ambassador,” said an Indian diplomat.
New Delhi need not be completely put out. The three candidates are clearly not run-of-the-mill people, but prominent members of the Democratic Party establishment. Diplomats say the Obama administration may need to find a less well-known interim candidate.
Said one, “A congressman who wants to avoid running for election next year may be what they need to be looking for.” A few prominent Indian-Americans were on the first short list and may make it back on the second version.