Commentary: Bryza’s Nomination Not a Breeze


By Edmond Y. Azadian

It looks like the embattled nominee to the position of US Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Matthew Bryza, will be confirmed by the senate. But the tug-of-war between the administration and the groups opposing his nomination needs to be noted in the annals of diplomatic history — an opposition to which the Armenian lobbying force has contributed significantly, and which has stretched the US diplomatic vacuum in Baku to almost 15 months.

The State Department tacitly, and its public arms openly, blame the Armenian lobby for the delay, whereas simple logic would dictate that a less-controversial nominee could easily breeze through the hearings that Mr. Bryza limped through. Now that his ego has been bruised, after vigorous cross examination, he may take his revenge on Armenians, as a result of his Pyrrhic victory.

The administration tried to force a Bush-era leftover through nomination in a desperate attempt to demonstrate bi-partisanship  at the expense of Armenian interests.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by John Kerry, voted 17 to 2 to confirm Bryza’s candidacy. Unfortunately, Senator Kerry seems to have lost his moral compass since losing his bid for the White House, and this is not the first time that he is damaging his once-impeccable record as a man of principle. The two Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer and Robert Menendez, placed holds on the nomination, further delaying Mr. Bryza’s trip to Baku.

The Armenian Assembly and the ANCA put up a valiant fight in derailing Mr. Bryza’s appointment. Even if the State Department overrules all the valid objections raised by the two groups, a lesson will be learned that Armenian rights cannot be trampled easily, especially by light-weight diplomats with checkered records.

The right-wing news media rushed to Bryza’s rescue. The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post dedicated their editorial columns to extolling the diplomatic skills of the nominee and marginalizing the life-and-death issues that impact the lives of nations in the Caucasus.

Mr. Bryza brought upon himself all the problems which the media is blaming on the Armenian lobby.

As for his diplomatic skills, he has not performed with the stature and maturity becoming to the representative of the most powerful nation on earth during his time as the US representative on the OSCE Minsk Group. He acted as a loose cannon, flip-flopping on critical issues and immediately correcting his missteps or blaming the media for misquoting him. Many times his co-chairs in the Minsk group had to resort to clarifications to cover up his politically-incorrect statements.

The Caucasus being one of the powder kegs of the world, require diplomats with extra prudence in dealing with issues troubling the region, a prudence which he seldom demonstrated as a “top-notch” diplomat, as presented by the Washington Post.

No one could blame Mr. Bryza for marrying an ethnic Turk, Zeyno Baran; it is that he reportedly allowed an Azeri government official to underwrite his wedding expenses. Although he vehemently denies the allegation, the jury is still out on that charge. His ties to Azeri and Turkish government circles have created a cloud of suspicion over his head, which has not dissipated yet.

Also, his wife’s ethnic background would not have mattered had she not joined the editorial board of Azerbaijan Focus, funded by the Azeri government.

When the source of Bryza’s wedding expenses was leaked to the press, the Azeri government beat and jailed the journalist publishing the story, which only confirmed the veracity of the allegation.

According to a Wall Street Journal editorial published in its September 20 issue, “Mr. Bryza is a highly-accomplished career diplomat who has spent two decades working in the Caucasus and Central Asia.”

It is not surprising for the Wall Street folks to support Bryza, because any statesman or person who is endowed with Bush-era neo-con credentials deserved the highest degree of plaudits by the Journal.

Just to define the moral paradigm of the Wall Street Journal editors it is worth to mention a few “heroes” which paraded its editorial columns earlier.

One of them was John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN, who confused bullying with diplomacy, alienating half of the member-states of the UN.

It is incomprehensible how that kind of behavior could promote US interests in the world.

Another colorful character who won plaudits from the Wall Street Journal staff was Paul Wolfowitz, who after triggering the bloody war in Iraq, took over the leadership at the World Bank to clean up corruption there! And as a first action to “fight corruption” he gave a hefty raise to his girlfriend. Even after losing face and quitting his position at the World Bank, the paper was still in denial mode, praising its “hero.”

And it is the Journal who has come to extol our “national interests” in the region and insulting the victims of the Armenian Genocide.

In an arrogant and insensitive statement the Journal writes: “The Armenian lobby would love to see America’s ties to the Turkic world weakened. Each year they press Congress to adopt a resolution that the 1915 massacres of ethnic Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman qualifies as ‘genocide’ infuriating Turkey. These tribal Caucasian obsessions threaten US interests. Oil-rich and strategically located between Russia and Iran, Azerbaijan has enjoyed close relations with Washington.”

By citing “national interests” the Journal cannot absolve itself, because it sees those interests in a distorted mirror.

The US national interests will be damaged when diplomats like Mr. Bryza are assigned to Baku, where they may help start a war in the region through their reckless diplomacy, encouraging the trigger-happy Azeri leadership, which will disrupt the flow of oil and harm US interests there.

Second, Wall Street Journal editors need a good lesson from Genocide scholars to find out whether those massacres qualify as genocide or not.

Third, the Journal editors are concerned that Armenians may jeopardize America’s relations with the Turkic world, where Azerbaijan is “strategically” located, but they are not concerned with the US support for Israel, infuriating the entire Muslim world where vast oil reserves are located.

Last but not least, it is this kind of myopic world view that constitutes sometimes the faultline of American foreign policy, labeling real issues as “tribal Caucasian obsessions.”

Civilization came to the Caucasus a thousand years before it knocked on the door of US editors. Thus the debate over Bryza’s nomination has opened a can of worms, bringing forth the shallowness of the foreign policy debate at the hands of dogmatic statesmen and their media counterparts.

An entire mentality emerges here, reflecting the ugly face of US foreign policy viewed from the outside and blinded from the inside.

For all the issues raised, Mr. Bryza is the wrong candidate. He will not only hurt Armenian interests, he will hurt the very US interests first, under the guise of upholding them.