Secretary Kerry’s Foreign Policy Priorities: Reexamine the Role of U.S. Ambassadors

Raul H. Yzaguirre (Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, 2010-present)


I recommend that Secretary Kerry reexamine the role of U.S. ambassadors as the “C.E.O.” of the U.S. presence in the host country.

While a given ambassador has considerable negative power to remove personnel and to deny the presence of projects and initiatives in the host country, this authority tends to be functionally inadequate for a given ambassador to develop and implement a country specific strategy to achieve U.S. goals. That authority is draconian in nature and therefore is rarely used.

The very structure of the State Department is such that confusion as to priorities abound. We have both a line operational structure and a cross cutting programmatic structure. There is very little flexibility as to allocation of resources at the country level. Resources are either earmarked by Congress or mandated by Washington. Agencies are more responsive to their own bureaucracies, who will ultimately control their careers, than to ambassadors who are largely irrelevant in terms of their promotions.

There are all too many forces that disempower our ambassadors.

Having said that, experience shows us that here is much about the State Department’s structure and culture that is true and tried. The challenge is to maintain what is sound while being open to new constructs.