Obama picks career diplomats to be envoys to Afghanistan, Pakistan

Olivier Knox

President Barack Obama has picked senior career diplomats James Cunningham and Richard Olson to be ambassadors to Afghanistan and Pakistan, respectively, the White House announced late Tuesday.

If confirmed by the Senate, the two would replace veteran diplomats Ryan Crocker and Cameron Munter in two of the toughest assignments in the State Department.

Cunningham, currently Crocker's deputy, served as U.S. Ambassador to Israel from 2008-2011. He has also held posts in Hong Kong, at United Nations headquarters in New York, and in Rome, among other places. (One interesting nugget in his official profile: Cunningham has a B.A. in Psychology from Syracuse University.)He would inherit improved relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai—but also concerns about whether the Afghan government and its security forces will be ready to shoulder responsibility for providing services and security as NATO-led forces withdraw.

Olson served as coordinating director for development and economic affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul from June 2011 to June 2012. He was ambassador to the United Arab Emirates from 2008-2011 and deputy chief of mission at NATO from 2006-2008. He has also held posts in Mexico, Uganda, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Iraq.

He would inherit still-raw relations with Pakistan, which only recently agreed to reopen ground transport lines used to supply NATO-led forces in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistani officials, angry over the covert May 2011 raid inside their country that killed Osama bin Laden, have denounced the U.S. drone campaign against suspected extremists hiding on their soil.