The resignation of Suzan Johnson Cook as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom will allow the Obama Administration to take another step towards getting its religious act together. As indicated by RNS’ Lauren Markoe, who broke the story, Cook’s only discernible qualification for the job was founding an organization for female faith leaders from around the world. What she had was the right political connections.
The ambassadorship exists because of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), which came about as the result of a misguided effort on the part of House Republicans to embarrass the Clinton Administration. Under the circumstances, it’s no surprise that Cook’s two predecessors were also political appointees: Robert Seiple, former president of the evangelical aid organization World Vision; and John Hanford, a longtime aide to Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana. Neither were able to make much of an impact.
From Syria, where Christians are facing the consequences of their longstanding dependence on the Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad, to Myanmar, where Muslims are under attack by Buddhists long fearful of the influence of Islam on their society, religious liberty is implicated in some of the trickiest issues in the world today. There’s evidence that Secretary Kerry understands this, and wants to do something about it. He should secure as Cook’s successor someone with actual ambassadorial experience — a senior diplomat who knows what it is to deal not only with foreign governments but also with the the State Department’s ways and means.