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Chris Hill’s Iraq Showdown

In this corner: Christopher Hill, the Obama administration’s choice to become ambassador to Iraq; Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the committee’s ranking GOPer; Defense Secretary Bob Gates; Generals David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno; and former ambassadors to Iraq John Negroponte, Zalmay Khalilzad and Ryan Crocker.

In that corner: a small band of GOP senators not on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Sam Brownback (R-Kans.), who’s threatening to hold Hill’s confirmation because he disapproves of Hill’s performance as North Korea envoy under President George W. Bush. The Washington Times editorializes against Hill: “If anyone wants Iran to have the same nuclear capability as North Korea, Hill is your man.” If you’re wondering how on earth the U.S. ambassador to Iraq has the ability to grant nuclear capability to Iran, welcome to the debate over the Hill nomination, which the committee takes up at 9:30 this morning.

Substantively, watch for Hill to go all-out in demonstrating his facility with Iraq, as he’s never served in the Middle East before. During Petraeus’ confirmation hearing to become U.S. military commander in Iraq in January 2007, he referenced the Shabak, a very-obscure-in-the-U.S. ethnic minority in Iraq, as a way of making a point about Iraq’s sectarian complexity. Will Hill go that deep? (The difference, though, was that Petraeus already had two Iraq command tours under his belt.) Look as well to hear how Hill will approach non-traditional diplomatic efforts in Iraq, like the governance-aid groups known as Provincial Reconstruction Teams, or whether he views U.S. diplomatic activity in Iraq rising while U.S. troops withdraw and Iraqis try to reach a stable political compact.

Politically, watch for which GOPers on the committee take up Brownback’s charges and go after Hill. I called around last week to figure out what the GOP senators on the committee thought about the nominee. They’re a rather green group, all freshman and, if I’m not mistaken, sophomores, apart from the ranking member. Not a single one besides Lugar took a position on Hill. Let’s see if the tone changes this morning.

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