WITH CHARLIE HARPER
AS you may have noticed, ten months into the Biden administration, we still don’t have a sitting American Ambassador here in Nassau. As a matter of fact, for those not keeping score on such matters, within five weeks, it will have been fully ten years since a Senate-confirmed U.S. envoy has overseen the work of the large American Embassy still located on Queen Street downtown until the new U.S. embassy headquarters building is ready for occupancy. Do you remember who was the last American ambassador to The Bahamas?
It was Nicole Avant, an African-American music promoter from Los Angeles, the daughter of the founder of Motown Records and wife of a Netflix executive. Many Bahamians will favorably recall her tenure and positive impact on our community despite the fact that the State Department’s own Inspector General criticized her absenteeism from her post here: The IG noted that she was away from The Bahamas for an average of 12 days during each of the 25 months of her tenure.
That’s it. Since November 2011, no U.S. ambassador.
It’s not as though the Americans are ignoring us or disrespecting us, or singling us out for some kind of special treatment. Over these past ten years, presidents have submitted several nominations to the U.S. Senate for the ambassadorship here. For a variety of reasons, none of them was ultimately confirmed for the position.
Ten years does seem like a long time to continue with no resident ambassador, but it’s helpful to notice that with no American chief of mission, we’re in pretty good company. Other nations with no one yet even nominated for an ambassadorship include Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Italy, Kenya, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and South Korea. More regionally, we are in a situation like those of Brazil, Belize, Cuba, El Salvador, Honduras, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad.
In fact, President Biden has celebrated the confirmation of only one ambassador since he was inaugurated. That is former Colorado senator and Obama-era Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Republican obstructionism in the Senate is part of the reason for this dismal record. Overall, Biden’s nomination and success rate is slightly behind that of his predecessor, but the administration is promising to pick up the pace.
Like all the others, we’ll need to be patient.
Poll suggests scepticism about global leader role
Maybe the slow pace of American ambassadorial appointments is symptomatic of something bigger. Several polls and surveys in recent months have pointed to a diminishing faith among surveyed Americans in what is sometimes called American exceptionalism.
That’s the notion that the U.S. is somehow preordained to be the world’s shining light, saviour, role model, promulgator of popular culture like films and music, and protector of democracy.
While U.S. presidents, including especially incumbent Biden, still push out the narrative of American exceptionalism, there is a growing sense that the appeal among U.S. voters is fading, and with it, commitment to more traditional forms of American engagement abroad.
One recent survey revealed a sharp decline in American interest in pursuing extended overseas engagements such as the recently ended 20-year war in Afghanistan. But there also appears to be waning interest in military confrontations with rivals such as China over Taiwan, for instance or Iran for its aggressive interference in conflicts around the Middle East.
According to the results of one recent poll quoted by several publications, Americans seem more and more sceptical about not only whether the U.S. can or should act as the self-appointed global leader, but also whether it has a right to do so at all. For example, consider how Americans answer when asked whether they see the U.S. as an exceptional nation:
Among Americans over the age of 60, nearly 80 percent say yes. For those aged 45 to 60, it’s about 70 percent. Between ages 30 and 44, just over 50 percent say that is the case. But, for those aged 18 to 29, only 40 percent believe in American exceptionalism, with the other 60 percent affirmatively stating that the U.S. is no longer an exceptional nation.
There is obviously a steady and sharp decline as younger people are surveyed.
Maybe it’s just temporary fatigue after a period of unprecedented and persistent domestic turmoil and continuous, futile foreign engagements with neither an evident metric for success nor an inherently cogent rationale.
But if this trend persists and becomes permanent, the prospects for us and many others may look disturbingly different.
Fortunate after COVID experience
Laura is slender and fit, tall and intense. She eats carefully and does not drink or smoke. She’s in her early ‘50s. She and her investor husband have raised two handsome sons who are now both off to college. Laura, herself a finance person before her husband’s financial success enabled her to focus on the children and other pursuits, now lives in Baltimore and serves as a yoga instructor and mentor at America’s leading rehabilitation facility for wounded military veterans.
Laura takes care of her health. She gets a flu shot every year. Partly because of her position at the hospital, she was vaccinated against the coronavirus in February. She wears a mask in public and has practised social distancing faithfully. She was planning to get her booster shot soon. But that will have to wait.
Last Sunday morning, Laura recognized that she had COVID.
“It started with the fever,” she recalled. “I felt flush all over my face and neck. My head started to hurt. It seemed like there was pressure from all inside my head. When I touched my forehead, it was burning up. And there was nothing at all wrong with any part of me from the neck down.
“My husband had to travel out of town on business, so I drank a ton of fluids and tried to rest after he left on his trip. Sunday afternoon passed and I was able to sleep some. But as soon as I got up, my head began to throb again. I felt dizzy, a bit unsteady on my feet. And again, absolutely no symptoms at all below my neck.
“I keep up on reputable medical websites, and I realized that I probably had COVID. My symptoms perfectly matched what the websites said were COVID symptoms for someone in non-compromised good health who had been vaccinated. I decided I’d better get to the Emergency Room at one of the two hospitals near my home.”
There followed eight harrowing hours filled with frustration and growing fear.
“I visited both local ERs,” Laura recalled. “At both, I was told I would not be admitted to hospital because I had been vaccinated. There would be a six to eight hour wait to see a physician in the reception area of the ER at either facility because of the crush of patients with COVID-like symptoms who had not yet been vaccinated. And there were also several people waiting in both ERs with various serious other, non-COVID symptoms and injuries. I didn’t stay at either hospital.”
Instead, she went back home, now wondering if she would become an example of someone in good health who did all the right things and nevertheless succumbed to the virus. Further attempts to rest were futile. In the middle of Sunday night, exhausted and fearful, Laura finally called her family doctor. Fortunately, his practice had a duty physician who soon returned her call.
“He told me to take Tylenol and Motrin, alternating each medicine every four hours,” Laura reported. “Within a couple of hours, I began to feel better and could sleep. By Tuesday, I felt fine and was able to resume my normal work schedule.”
Reflecting on her experience, Laura realizes how fortunate she is. She lives close to hospitals, and even though they could not help on a busy Sunday, she and her husband can afford the advanced health care offered by her internist’s practice. And because she was vaccinated soon after the vaccines became available, she benefited from the vaccine’s protection and did not need to be hospitalized.
Many are not so fortunate, both in the U.S. and in The Bahamas. As our death toll passes 600, we are now ominously approaching a per capita fatality rate uncomfortably similar to the Americans’ 700,000 deaths from the coronavirus.
This is certainly not an area where we want to emulate the U.S.