February 7, 2014
By Silvia Pisani
WASHINGTON.- It was a real meat grinder. The evaluation in the Senate of the man chosen by Barack Obama as ambassador to Argentina turned into predictions of a “possible financial crisis” in the country and reproaches over the dubious quality of its democracy and its commitment as an ally. “It does things that even North Korea doesn’t do,” said Democratic and Republican legislators that interrogated Noah Mamet yesterday.
"It’s a country with which there are clearly some irritating aspects in the bilateral relationship and I am committed to working on that,” said, pressured and against the ropes, the businessman Obama rewarded for his presidential campaign efforts with the embassy in Buenos Aires.
The tough questioning that Mamet was subjected to was not only a reflection of the growing doubts that Argentina sets off in Washington. It was also a shot across the bow against the State Department’s policy towards the country.
"It’s likely that we will have a crisis soon in Argentina,” said Republican Senator Marco Rubio. A rising figure in his party, he called Argentina “the most peculiar ally in the world, because it doesn’t pay its debts and doesn’t cooperate militarily.”
Democrat Bob Menéndez wasn’t left behind. At the start, his comments were critical. He argued that the country not only “doesn’t pay the debt” but also the government is trampling “judicial independence and freedom of expression.”
At the same time, Menéndez emphasized that Argentina is a country suspected in drug trafficking, money laundering and violation of intellectual property patents.
Mamet’s arguments, prepared by the State Department, left doubts among the legislators over the outcome of the vote, essential for the candidate being confirmed as ambassador to Buenos Aires.
"The situation is worrisome. We want, and we think the Argentines deserve, something better. We also think that the companies that invest in Argentina deserve something better as well and with more experience,” Menendez summarized, putting Obama’s candidate’s approval in doubt.
At this point in the game, it is difficult to predict Mamet’s fate. Various aspects are concentrated in the candidacy.
Not only doubts about Argentina and about the Obama government’s policy for the country, but also some internal reticence against the nominee, who – in one of his most uncomfortable moments – admitted that he’s never been to the country.
“Have you traveled to Argentina?” Republican Rubio wanted to know from Mamet.
“No, unfortunately I still have never been there. I’ve traveled around the world, but I have never been to Argentina,” the aspirant for ambassador acknowledged.
Rubio then raised the tone even more in his irony towards the country. “It does things not even North Korea does,” he said before the eyes of his parliamentary colleagues and the man designated by Obama to occupy the vacant space left last year by Vilma Martinez in the American embassy in Buenos Aires.
According to what LA NACION found out, that bit is not necessarily determinant – in other cases, it has not been – but in this case the questions and the tone by which they were asked was more proof of the strength of the questioning that Mamet had to deal with.
What happened yesterday was only the first step in the process of congressional approval. By law, Mamet appeared before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. He spoke of the goals of his mission and accepted questions. In total, there were more than a dozen, one stronger than the other. Weeks will go by before his fate is known. His nomination must be voted on first by the full Foreign Affairs Committee and, if he passes that step, it is assumed that the same will happen on the Senate floor.
"What matters to us is that he pass the test,” sources from the Democratic administration told LA NACION. Yesterday, real preoccupation appeared round the chance that this might not happen. “With all due respect, I don’t see this nomination,” Rubio anticipated, not in agreement with the responses from the nominee over what he sees as a serious democratic retreat in our country.
"Argentina is added to this trend from Latin America where governments are chosen, but then they don’t govern democratically. The Kirchner government is monitoring the critical media and accuses them of terrorizing the population by reporting,” and then “signs an accord with Iran” which does nothing more than “reinterpret” what was a terrorist attack, he said.
"Is Argentina an ally of the United States?” the Republican then wanted to know, sounding out the judgment of the ambassadorial aspirant.
"From my perspective, he is an ally, but we have disagreements. Mature democracies can dissent in a direct manner, privately or publicly. And that is the reason why we should interact with governments at the highest level,” the nominee said in his own defense.
Mamet is a Democratic financier, to whom is attributed important work as a fundraiser for the campaign in which Obama achieved re-election. He started his career from below: some say he was a driver and even a bodyguard in campaigns for legislators. In 2008, he worked for Hillary Clinton, in her failed attempt to win the presidential nomination. But in 2010 he worked actively in favor of Obama’s re-election and was credited with raising a half million dollars.
If he manages to pass the test in the Senate, he will replace Vilma Martinez, who left the post in July and also was not a career diplomat.
His fate will be known shortly. The temperature of bilateral relations was taken yesterday, meanwhile, with a new and revealing test.