Former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar

Joe Amon | Denver Post | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he would appoint former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar as US Ambassador to Mexico and Morgan Stanley Vice Chairman Tom Nides as Ambassador to Israel.

The nominations are among Biden’s first political ambassadors. So far, the only ambassadors the President had publicly announced were career officers of the Foreign Service.

Salazar is a former Colorado attorney general and a former Democratic Senator who left the Senate in 2009 to join President Barack Obama’s administration and head the Home Office.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Salazar chaired Biden’s Latino Leadership Committee and was honorary co-chair of the Biden Campaign’s Colorado Latino Leadership Council.

Nides was Deputy Secretary of State in the Obama administration. During the Clinton administration, he was also a top advisor to then-US sales representative Mickey Kantor.

Biden also announced that he will appoint Captain CB “Sully” Sullenberger as US Ambassador to the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization. Sullenberger is a retired airline pilot best known for successfully landing US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in 2009.

Biden has selected Julianne Smith for the prestigious post of Permanent Representative of the USA to NATO in the rank of ambassador. As a former Deputy National Security Advisor to Biden when he was Vice President, Smith also led NATO policy at the Pentagon.

Los Angeles-based psychiatry professor Dr. Cynthia Telles is Biden’s choice as ambassador to Costa Rica. Telles teaches at UCLA and has been the director of UCLA’s Spanish-speaking Psychosocial Clinic and the school’s Hispanic Neuropsychiatric Center of Excellence for 30 years.

In addition to the intended nominees listed above, Biden has also selected four career away-from-office officers for ambassadors:

  • Julie Chung, Ambassador to Sri Lanka
  • Sharon L. Cromer, Ambassador to The Gambia
  • Troy Damian Fitrell as ambassador to Guinea
  • Marc Ostfield as ambassador to Paraguay

The announcements were largely expected. But as they did while Biden was traveling overseas, they underscore Biden’s broader goal of staffing U.S. embassies abroad with seasoned and respected professionals.

They also represent a break with the long (and bipartisan) tradition that presidents give prestige ambassadorships like Britain and France to their largest campaign donors first.

Not only did Biden choose not to name his envoys for vacation destinations like the Bahamas and Brussels on Tuesday, he did exactly the opposite:

The two high-profile ambassadors announced by Biden, Mexico and Israel, are considered to be the most difficult diplomatic posts in the world.

Hard jobs

If Salazar is confirmed as expected, he will face a difficult task of repairing the American-Mexican relationship that has been severely disrupted in recent years.

Former President Donald Trump accused Mexico of sending criminals across the border and invested billions of dollars to build a wall between the two nations.

Biden took office, promising a fresh approach to immigration and reversing several of Trump’s more draconian border policies.

But its pivot also sparked an avalanche of new undocumented migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border, many from Central America’s “Northern Triangle” countries, seeking asylum.

The result is a humanitarian crisis in both Mexico and the United States.

Like Salazar, Nides, if confirmed, would take on one of the most demanding portfolios in American diplomacy.

The Israelis recently elected a new coalition government, ending the twelve-year term of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The change in leadership in Israel comes less than a month after a ceasefire agreement with Hamas that ended 11 days of fighting in what was the worst violence in the region since 2014.