North Korea has just successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile and now has the ability to threaten every city in the America. According to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, their nuclear weapons program “endangers world peace, regional peace and certainly the United States.” Another prominent official who sounded this alarm is ambassadorial-nominee KT McFarland, a national security expert whose wisdom has been proven over and over.
Their words are very sobering. Time is running out on efforts to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which is why we are significantly ratcheting up sanctions, moving three aircraft carriers into the region, and working overtime with China, South Korea, Japan and the UN Security Council.
The international community has finally imposed crippling sanctions on North Korea. But the key will be getting those banking and trade sanctions enforced rigorously, which means we may have to lean on our friends. Which elevates the value of our diplomatic relationships to the very highest levels. Yet KT McFarland has been left sitting on the sidelines.
One of the most important countries in these sanctions against North Korea is Singapore. It is one of Asia’s leading banking and finance centers, and the largest transshipment port in the world. The role of Singapore vis-à-vis our national security cannot be overstated, but there are two parts to every diplomatic relationship. Half of that equation is in place since Singapore has been our steadfast friend and security partner; the other half of the equation remains in limbo.
President Trump has nominated KT McFarland to be our ambassador to Singapore. But, like so many other nominees, she has yet to get on the Senate confirmation schedule, despite support and despite the critical need for diplomatic representation in this crucial region.
KT McFarland is superbly qualified, She was one of the first generation of women to enter the national security field in the 1970s. She has decades of experience in Asia Pacific affairs going back to her early days as an aide to then-National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger when the U.S. opened relations with China. She studied at Oxford and MIT, concentrating in Chinese studies and nuclear weapons. She was one of the first female professional staff members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. She held important posts in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Trump Administrations. She was awarded the Defense Department’s highest civilian honor.
As President Trump’s first deputy national security adviser, she led the original interagency review of North Korea policy, and was one of the driving forces behind the president’s across-the-board escalating pressure campaign.
She is one of the most experienced and qualified people ever to be nominated as ambassador to Singapore. Kissinger himself has written to “encourage speedy action” on her confirmation. Yet, despite being voted out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with bipartisan support more than two months ago, McFarland has still not been confirmed.
Both sides of the political aisle are concerned about the state of American diplomacy. Both sides complain that too few top national security posts have been filled. Both sides of the aisle are anxious about the threats to the U.S. by a belligerent and now nuclear North Korea, and by tensions in the South China Sea and throughout the Asia Pacific region. We have a uniquely qualified candidate nominated to be the ambassador to a key strategic ally. The only thing we don’t have is a vote.
As of November 22nd, the Senate has confirmed only 203 of President Trump’s nominees. More than twice as many had been confirmed at this point in the Obama administration (409 for those who are counting). That is an abysmal result.
During the Bush and Obama administrations, senators also played hardball with confirmations; it’s par for the course. But ambassadors were off limits because both sides of the aisle agreed that our nation’s national security should not be politicized.
Senate Democrats are now playing a dangerous game with a superbly qualified nominee just as the tensions in the region are reaching a crescendo. It is well past time for the Senate to stop playing games when the world is in crisis. Whatever their political calculations, those partisan equities are nothing compared to the existential threats now facing Los Angeles, New York City, Seattle, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Miami, Cleveland, Denver and Bozeman.
Peter Feaver, who served in the National Security Council under George W. Bush, described McFarland as someone who can “go from zero to 100 on an issue very, very, very quickly,” adding that she was a “very strong deputy” at the National Security Council. I agree. It’s time for the Senate to act in the name of U.S. safety and security and confirm KT McFarland as U.S. Ambassador to Singapore.
Dan Schneider serves as executive director of the American Conservative Union (ACU), America’s oldest and largest grassroots conservative organization.