Why the U.S. Needs Its Envoys

Particularly at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation

Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Iyad bin Amin Madani, Foreign Ministers Sameh Shoukry of Egypt, and Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey at the opening session of the OIC Istanbul Summit in Istanbul, Turkey April 14, 2016. Sebnem Coskun / Reuters

Over the past few months, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has undertaken a radical shakeup of his department and has expressed a desire to remove a number of special envoys and representatives. Although it is healthy to prune positions that have become redundant or obsolete, reckless downsizing without the proper replacement for key functions could damage national security. The U.S. special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is one such position that if removed would eliminate a proven platform for building constructive partnerships with Muslim-majority countries and communities on core national security issues. In fact, given the spread of global terrorism and the ongoing conflicts and humanitarian crises in OIC member countries over the last few years, the position should be not only maintained but also enhanced.

Since 2008, the special envoy to the OIC, which was created at the tail end of President George W. Bush’s administration, has represented the United States at the OIC, a 57-member international organization made up of states with substantial Muslim populations. Its membership spans the globe and includes some of the United States’ closest allies, such as the NATO members Albania and Turkey, and half of its major non-NATO allies (Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan, and Tunisia). The OIC actively engages with the United States on a wide variety of issues, such as conflict resolution, countering extremism, humanitarian affairs, human rights, and economic development.

At first, the special envoy to the OIC focused principally on efforts, through public diplomacy, to engage with Muslim communities around the world. This was motivated in large part by the need to demonstrate, in the aftermath of the disastrous U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the ongoing quagmire in Afghanistan, that the United States was not at war with Islam. But in 2010, President Barack Obama broadened the envoy’s mandate to deepen and expand U.S. partnerships with the OIC, in line with what he had advocated in his June 2009 speech

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