By Ernie Bower
The United States is under-utilizing its ambassadors in the Asia Pacific. The role of the U.S. Ambassador should be redefined by having them spend more time in the United States.
U.S. Ambassadors have the skills and opportunity to promote American interests abroad, but they are also uniquely equipped to inform, counsel and educate Americans about the countries they focus on.
Most U.S. Ambassadors spend the majority of their time at their post. Constitutionally, ambassadors have the imprimatur of the President of the United States. They know and can convey the interests of the United States to the countries they engage. They also advise the Administration providing inputs through cables and occasional visits. Exceptional ambassadors reach out to the private sector, think tanks, universities and other groups.
The United States government should explicitly instruct ambassadors to spend between one-third and one-half of their time in the United States with directions to engage business, U.S. Congress and Congressional staff, governors, think tanks, universities and schools, non-government organizations and the media.
Asia wonders whether the United States will remain focused through political transitions, changing personnel and navigating economic recovery. At the core, perceptive Asian leaders ask whether America understands why Asia is vital to its future. That understanding is the foundation of a political base for U.S. engagement in Asia.
Re-conceptualizing the role of US ambassadors is an important step in answering this question and promoting U.S. interests in the region.
Mr. Ernest Z. Bower is a senior adviser and holds the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at CSIS. You can follow him on twitter @BowerCSIS.
Ernest Bower is senior adviser and Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies & codirector of the Pacific Partners Initiative at CSIS.