David Hale

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Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs

Early Life and Diplomatic Background

Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1961, you graduated from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in 1983, and in 1985 you joined the United States Foreign Service (FSO), the professional diplomatic corps of the U.S. Government, where you have served ever since. Through your competence and your achievements, you have won successively higher positions within the FSO. You served both as Ambassador to Jordan under President George W. Bush, and as Ambassador to Lebanon and Special Envoy to the Middle East under President Barack Obama before taking your current position in 2018, after being nominated by President Trump. Soon after you took this position, you were promoted to the rank of Career Ambassador – the highest rank in the foreign service. In fact, as of December 2019 you were the highest-ranked serving United States Foreign Service Officer.

As Ambassador to Jordan, there were few pressing matters to be addressed. Jordan has roughly followed American foreign policy, both of its own volition and due to its reliance on western aid. This strong bond presented an easy relationship for you to walk into, and it also presented you with a chance to strengthen ties with key leaders in the region. Your other roles in Middle Eastern diplomacy have brought more stress and conflict—especially your tenure as President Barack Obama’s Special Envoy to the Middle East, so let’s start there.

Your Tenure as Special Envoy to the Middle East

A special envoy is a person with unique skills and a specific mission. While your title suggested a broad mission, you were actually tasked with a very specific goal. Your job was to get both the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the bargaining table. This is a far more difficult job than most would believe. Preconditions are largely the reason for this increased difficulty. These are agreements which stipulate what will be discussed at a negotiation session, so that neither side is blindsided. Discussions of preconditions are very messy. They involve going from one side to the other and seeing what both are willing to discuss, comparing the two, and determining if there is room for compromise, and whether or not that compromise is enough for both sides to return to the negotiation. Most often there is not enough room for compromise. This job is highly frustrating, something you learned about first hand. Working with the Secretary of State John Kerry, you actually succeeded in convening talks in July 2013 between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The talks lasted for nine stormy months, during which time you and Secretary Kerry sought to build sufficient trust for meaningful talks to take place. The Palestinians wanted a freeze on Israel’s expansion of settlement-building in the West Bank, and wanted a number of Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli prisons to be released. Israel wanted Palestine to refrain from asking the UN to allow it to bring suit for war crimes against Israel in the International Criminal Court, and it also demanded that Palestine recognize Israel as a Jewish state (a move the Palestinian leadership knew would result in their being seen by the Palestinian people as giving up their “right of return” to the land they were exiled from in the wake of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948). While both sides gave modest bits of ground, neither of the leaders were deeply invested in the peace process, and either weren’t strong enough or brave enough to take the needed risks for the talks to break though. Finally, in April 2014, the Palestinians came to feel that the Israelis were moving too slowly with a promised release of prisoners, and announced the formation of a unity government with Hamas, the Islamist political opposition party in Palestine that both Israel and the United States regarded as a terrorist organization. This resulted in Israel abandoning the talks. No such effort has been mounted since then, although President Trump has spoken a great deal about reviving the peace process through a still-secret plan, partially under the leadership of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs

Your talents and your network were put to the test almost immediately upon taking the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs position, as you were called back to Lebanon to help monitor political events taking place there in the wake of the November 2019 resignation of Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri. Hariri, a Sunni with strong familial and economic ties to Saudi Arabia (he was born there, and his father ran an incredibly successful construction firm there as well) had grown weary of trying to lead such a divided nation, and quit the prime ministership in October 2019. For many years now, Lebanon has had an extraordinarily difficult time choosing leaders. This is because seats in parliament are assigned proportionally to religious sects within the country, and no religious group has a majority. There are 18 different recognized religious groups, with 128 seats of parliament spread proportionally between them, making reaching broadly acceptable decisions very hard.

The parliament also reserves certain offices for particular religious groups. The President of Lebanon is a post reserved for Maronite Christians. The office of Prime Minister is reserved for Sunni Muslims. The speaker of parliament must be a Shiite Muslim. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President; however, he must maintain the confidence of parliament. This means that while he is guaranteed to be a Sunni, he must have enough votes from Parliament to ensure that he can survive a vote of no confidence. Hariri’s designated replacement, Hassan Diab, is a Sunni Muslim, of course, but he is considered to be the preferred candidate of the Shi’ite Muslim bloc, led by Hezbollah, the militia/political party that is allied with Iran and is considered by the US and Israel (and much of the west) to be terrorists. Lebanon’s Sunni leaders are not enthusiastic about Diab, even though he is a university professor presenting himself as a “technocrat” (a sort of expert manager) rather than a politician. You are trying to manage the situation, affirming the American desire “to put aside partisan interests and support formation of a government committed to and capable of undertaking meaningful, sustained reforms,” while reaffirming “America’s longstanding partnership and enduring commitment to a secure, stable, and prosperous Lebanon.” In a time of growing tension between the United States and Iran, your ability to convincingly argue that the US can put aside partisanship and advocate for political stability in Lebanon will indeed be tested.

Your Talents and Expertise

This is where your skills as a career diplomat should serve you well. You are mainly a behind the scenes operator, and in the simulation private communiques should be your primary means of communication. This approach allows you to help craft agreements, which may be unpopular with some, without allowing them to bring their criticism to bear too heavily. It also allows you to gauge the impact of any statement that the President or the Secretary of State may make. Using your position to test the waters for potential American initiatives, and shielding the President and Secretary, is your primary job.

Finally, you are in a somewhat strange position as a career Foreign Service Officer under President Trump. During the 2019 congressional impeachment hearings, many Foreign Service Officers testified, and some of them wound up giving damning testimony about the actions of the president regarding Ukraine. You testified as well, and while your testimony was not damaging to President Trump, he has been sharply critical of many statements made by American diplomats, speaking in alarming terms of the influence of what he calls the “deep state,” giving the image of silent bureaucrats who have their own agendas, and who are often out to get him. Among your challenges will be to execute your responsibilities in a principled fashion, while not incurring the anger of your boss.

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