March 13th, 2009
08:09 PM ET
11 years ago

Obama Iraq nominee to meet with critical McCain

Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain have both questioned the president's choice of Christopher Hill to be the country's next ambassador to Iraq.

Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain have both questioned the president's choice of Christopher Hill to be the country's next ambassador to Iraq.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Sen. John McCain will meet early next week with Chris Hill, President Barack Obama's nominee for ambassador to Iraq who McCain has questioned because he has no prior experience in the country, a spokeswoman told CNN.

McCain spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan told CNN that McCain, an Arizona Republican and 2008 presidential nominee, plans to use the meeting to assess whether he thinks Hill can do the job. Buchanan said Hill requested the meeting.

McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, released a statement Thursday night saying "the next ambassador should have experience in the Middle East and in working closely with the U.S. military in counterinsurgency or counterterrorism operations. Mr. Hill has neither."

Hill has had a long career in the foreign service. He most recently served as U.S. ambassador to South Korea, leading the U.S. delegation to the so-called six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program.

He also has served as ambassador to Poland and special envoy to Kosovo among other posts in Europe.

"I have every confidence that Ambassador Hill is the right person to represent the United States in Baghdad," said Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, which will consider Hill's nomination. "By nominating Ambassador Hill to serve in Baghdad, President Obama has chosen one of our very best to help bring lasting peace to Iraq.

"I look forward to his confirmation hearings, and am confident that those of my colleagues who may not yet be familiar with his service to the nation will be as impressed by his skill and dedication as I have been."

State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said Friday the administration stands behind Hill.

"I know that Ambassador Hill looks forward to confirmation hearings in which he can address the senators' concerns and go into more detail about his record," Duguid said. "He is ready for those hearings."

But in a telephone conversation with CNN, Graham said Hill "has no experience in the theater of operations in an area where experience matters."

"No matter how talented he may be, he is coming into a position where he has no background," said Graham.

Neither Graham nor McCain has announced plans to put a hold on Hill's nomination, a move that is allowed under Senate rules and could effectively block him from getting the post.

At the White House, President Obama's spokesman staunchly defended Hill's experience and ability to do the job in Iraq.

"The president believes quite strongly that the political disputes that stand in the way of continued progress in Iraq - many that have been outlined for years - call for somebody who has the unique ability to both understand and solve those challenges, and that we believe that Chris Hill possess the skills to do exactly that," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Both McCain and Graham, along with Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, also say they do not think Hill performed well as chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea.

"He's a figure from the past that got mixed reviews on North Korea," said Graham.

Kerry responded that "there are limits to what any one person can do" in situations like relations with North Korea and specifically responded to suggestions he failed to keep North Korea from testing a nuclear bomb.

"The responsibility for that lies first and foremost with North Korea and second with President Bush and his senior advisers, who did not empower Ambassador Hill to engage in direct talks with Pyongyang until after the North had withdrawn from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, exported nuclear technology to Syria, and tested a nuclear bomb," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, released a statement enthusiastically backing Hill.

"Hill is precisely the kind of diplomat America needs in the Middle East and Iraq, where a long-term resolution must be achieved politically and diplomatically, not militarily. I look forward to confirming him as quickly as possible," said Reid.

Updated: 8:09 p.m.

- CNN's Charley Keyes contributed to this report.

Filed under: Iraq • John Kerry • John McCain • Lindsey Graham • Obama administration
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Wilbert

    Here we go again. The party of no once again raises its ugly head against another major issue decided by President Obama. McCain should retire.

    March 13, 2009 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  2. Honorable Kansas Vet

    So did John McCain question the appointment of the Amb to Iraq by Gerorge HW Bush. THe amb that told Saddam when she was asked as to US interests in Kuwait, only to be told that the US did not have interests in Kuwait. The action that was seen by Saddam as a green light on what ever he wanted to do with Kuwait.

    March 13, 2009 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  3. Kent in CA

    Senators, look where the people with experience have gotten us. I personally have built a very successful career by going into areas where I had no experience and turning ailing organizations around. Direct experience in a field may just get you more of the same.

    March 13, 2009 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
  4. Dianne

    Does McCain know he lost the election? Go away.

    March 13, 2009 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  5. Concerned citizen

    McCain,Palin,Limbaugh....etc.Aren't we tired of all this negative rhetoric?
    McCain had the nerve to anounce Palin as his running mate?????Talk about no experience?Why she couldn't answer any questions without putting her foot in her mouth and now he is the judge of character and experience?????????Please!

    March 13, 2009 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  6. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    McCain is senile.....

    March 13, 2009 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  7. Steve (the real one)

    Somebody else with experience issues?? The Middle East is not an ideal place for rookies He needs to quickly learn about that centuries old culture!

    March 13, 2009 11:19 pm at 11:19 pm |
  8. Seattle Sue

    The Party of NO. Has McCain and the Ditto Heads prayed today for Obama to fail? What a poor loser.

    March 13, 2009 11:35 pm at 11:35 pm |
  9. Tabloid Politics

    yea right, McCain had no experience either before he started in politics and the same goes with his NASA space mission, before he went into space he had no experience in space.

    What they really should do is get rid of all those folks that got us the wrong intell in Iraq in the first place!

    March 13, 2009 11:44 pm at 11:44 pm |
  10. Betty in Arizona

    Will John McBush ever sit down and shut up? He is worth nothing and so are his ideas. If he worked as hard for the people of Arizona as he does running his mouth, we might be in decent shape.

    March 14, 2009 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  11. Randall from Detroit and living in Torrance, CA - The GOP is the opposite of Jesus

    Why would ANYONE with even the memory of a gold fish listen to Senators Graham and McCain have to say about foreign policy? Remember that McBlame wanted to stay in Iraq for 100 more years? Graham is McShame's side-kick and they both represent the failed, dumb, stupid ideas of a failed Preseincy under Bushie bow. ACtulayy if historians and investigators look close eneough they will come to the irrefutable conclusion that Dubya was never officially elected by popular vote or by the electoral college. Bush destroyed America during his 8 years as fake president of the U.S. The republicant's have ZERO credibility when it comes to ANYTHING! They are not represntative of the will of the people.

    March 14, 2009 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  12. Pete Collins

    Dear John,
    We gave you two long years, and now it's over. We told you that last November. We're never going back to you. Please find the strength and serenity to move on with your life. Stop looking back at the past. You lost the election in a landslide. Goodbye forever.

    March 14, 2009 01:06 am at 1:06 am |
  13. D. Jo

    All U RNC Sen/Rep go home and help your state. Pres "O" is the Chiif! Bush Jr, said he was the "leader", 8 yr later all he did was be RNC!

    March 14, 2009 02:35 am at 2:35 am |
  14. Sick of the bull

    Why does it seem that every candidate Obama points to is very aggressively confirmed by the Senate Dems? It seems to me that they would seriously consider these people before they have to continuously backtrack on their support. Look at all the people that have been called out on their less than perfect records and then the Dems start backing away. Just stop and think before confirming. This isn't a contest, it's people's lives.

    March 14, 2009 07:41 am at 7:41 am |
  15. dee

    Stop pandering to the irrelevant right. They smile to your face and stab you in the back every time.

    March 14, 2009 08:46 am at 8:46 am |

    Why mccain enter the white house?

    March 14, 2009 09:37 am at 9:37 am |