President Trump is criticized for many things, but his choice of a U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria should not be among them. He got that right and he deserves credit for it.
The new U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria, Herro Mustafa, speaks nine languages. To someone who speaks seven languages like myself, that is massively impressive. She is currently learning Bulgarian, which will be her 10th language. How many U.S. officials like that do you know?
Mustafa grew up with an intellectual role model in North Dakota. Her father was an investigative reporter, so in Bulgaria she wishes to champion media freedom, and for a reason. For that, she has met local Bulgarian support and is already making friends.
The ambassador’s background and experience in Middle East politics acquired while she served in the Office of the Vice President, the Afghanistan Office, the Office of the Under-Secretary for Political Affairs and at the National Security Council, in addition to her diplomatic postings to Iraq, Greece and Lebanon, prepare her for her role in Bulgaria, which is somewhat special when it comes to Middle East politics.
Bulgaria is not actively diplomatically involved in conflict resolution, but nevertheless is strategically positioned as the EU external border country that is closest to the Middle East. The return of some ISIS fighters with EU passports from Middle East terrorism hot-beds will pass through Bulgaria as a gateway to the EU. And Trump has been adamant that European nations with ISIS fighters need to take responsibility for them. What happens to ISIS fighters when they enter the EU for the first time – possibly in Bulgaria – is a key question. In this sense, Bulgaria’s function and the role of the U.S. ambassador will be key.
This was my first thought when I saw Mustafa’s experience: It seems like Trump appreciated Bulgaria’s strategic role when appointing her as ambassador.
Of course, apart from the hot-button issues, there is a lot to be said about energy security and cooperation between the U.S. and Bulgaria. Judging from her first meetings here, energy security will be a priority for the ambassador.
The U.S. Embassy in Sofia has traditionally been involved in the area of cultural and educational exchange. That is something that is appreciated by many local Bulgarians who have benefited from language programs.
It remains to be seen what Mustafa’s long-term contribution will be to U.S.-Bulgarian relations. She and her family are still settling in.
From first impressions, though, it seems like Trump made the right decision.
Cherneva is an author in the fields of security and human rights who previously served for five UN agencies and in US Congress.