Home > Uncategorized > Better Late Than Never? President Obama Appoints Envoy to OIC

Better Late Than Never? President Obama Appoints Envoy to OIC

On February 9, 2009, just days after President Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th President of the United States of America, THE INSTITUTE on Religion and Public Policy sent President Obama a series of recommendations on improving international religious liberty and interfaith dialogue.

Among the recommendations was this one:

OIC Appointment: It is recommended that within your first 100 days you appoint a special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. American influence in the Muslim world is questioned regularly thanks in large part to a growing misperception of American interests. Until now, lack of direct engagement on our part has further strained, even diminished, that influence. Your approach represents a shift in attitude toward the Islamic world, but your administration needs to do more than adjust attitudes. It needs a direct interlocutor with the Islamic world’s political elements, one who can appropriately represent the United States’ commitment to dialogue while also proactively engaging with the 57 Member States of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Secretariat itself. Issues such as human rights, freedom of religion, international development, cultural dialogue, poverty and –- most importantly—the situation in the Middle East, require the multilateral engagement that can only be found at the OIC. Through such involvement, the United States can play a distinctive role “to safeguard the interest and ensure the progress and well-being of their peoples and those of other Muslims in the world over,” the core mission of the OIC and a stated priority of yours.

Three hundred sixty-nine (369) days after the recommendation was made, President Obama named Rashad Hussain – Deputy Associate Counsel in the Office of White House Counsel – as his Special Envoy to the OIC.

Prior to 2008, the United States had never had an envoy to the 57-member international organization of Islamic states. The first special envoy – named by President George W. Bush – was Sada Cumber, a Texas businessman who played a very low profile role as envoy.

A former trial attorney at the Justice Department and clerk to Damon J. Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Hussain is a devout Muslim and helped inform the speech President Obama gave in Cairo — particularly with the speech’s references to the history of Islam and the Koran, and its general tone.

Here’s Hussain’s credentials from the official White House press release:

Rashad Hussain is presently Deputy Associate Counsel to President Obama. His work at the White House focuses on national security, new media, and science and technology issues. Mr. Hussain has also worked with the National Security Staff in pursuing the New Beginning that President Obama outlined in his June 2009 address in Cairo, Egypt. Mr. Hussain previously served as a Trial Attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. Earlier in his career, Mr. Hussain was a legislative assistant on the House Judiciary Committee, where he focused on national security-related issues. Mr. Hussain received his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal. Upon graduation, he served as a Law Clerk to Damon J. Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Mr. Hussain also earned his Master’s degrees in Public Administration (Kennedy School of Government) and Arabic and Islamic Studies from Harvard University. He attended college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

While his Islamic and legal credential are quite impressive, Hussain seems to have absolutely no international experience, especially in multilateral diplomacy. One must remember that the OIC can be considered the Islamic United Nations, a multilateral organization of states working together on issues related to Islam and the Islamic world. While Hussain’s Islamic credentials will do him well, his lack of diplomatic experience leaves him ill-prepared for the work he must do.

This is the first major act President Obama has taken toward the Islamic world since his June 2009 Cairo speech. While it is a major step, it is far too late in coming and far too little in effect.

The Special Envoy should not and cannot be a part-time job played either by a wealthy businessman or a White House staffer. Engagement with the Islamic world requires full-time efforts to improve the American image in the Islamic world, develop relationships and partnerships on areas of common and vital interest (such as counter-terrorism), and advance a multilateral strategy that will protect America’s interests in the Islamic world as well as fostering understanding of international Islamic interests in the West.

I wish Mr. Hussain the best of luck in his new position, and hope that he gets the support and assistance from the White House, State Department and Congress that his positions requires and should demand.

By the way, it should also be pointed out that while the OIC envoy is significant and important, it is not a statutory position. The OIC special envoyship is not created in law and does not require Senate confirmation. It should also be noted that this far into his term, President Obama has yet to name an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, a position created in the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, unanimously passed by both houses of Congress.

Let it not be lost on anyone that by this point in the Bush Administration, an ambassador had been named…

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