One of the ideas floated at the meeting was to focus on a possible successor to Ambassador Mitchell Reiss as U.S. special envoy to the wee North.
True, Reiss had been off the radar a bit as he settled back into the groves of academe at William and Mary College in Virginia.
It is here that Reiss lectures and ponders what can be done with what is his number one northern pursuit: that of analyzing the murky political machinations of North Korea, or as it likes to call itself, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
But Reiss hadn’t completely forgotten that other North and word was that he was not a happy camper when he learned that some folk in faraway New York were already looking beyond his tenure as envoy.
True, William and Mary is as good place as any to contemplate a conundrum such as Kim Jong Il’s earthly paradise.
And it would equally serve as a good place to put on the back burner and forget about the perennial headscratcher that is Norn’ Ireland.
The campus, located in Colonial Williamsburg, looks like a period painting and the college’s academic reputation is as solid as they come.
Until recently, the chancellor was Henry Kissinger and he has been replaced by retiring Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
The college itself goes back to 1693 when it received it’s charter from none other than King William of Orange and his missus, Queen Mary 11.
Given such august founders, Reiss’s sense of irony must have been given a jolt when King Billy’s latter day followers went bananas on the Whiterock Road.
As it turned out, Reiss wasn’t walking the gilded halls of William and Mary when September began to resemble the Julys of yore. He was actually in the auld sod.
Always the diplomat, Reiss didn’t entirely loose the rag when the September loyalist riots turned parts of Belfast into a war zone. But he did accuse unionist leaders of dropping the ball big time.
Leadership was needed, Reiss said, but not much had been in evidence during the several days of disturbances following a Parades Commission decision to divert an Orange march down a street a few yards from the Order’s intended, “traditional,” route.
Reiss said that there had been “absolutely no excuse” for the trouble.
“What you really need is leadership, and unfortunately in the last few days, we haven’t seen very much of it,” he said.
“I think all of us are pretty disappointed with the abdication of responsibility by many unionist political leaders.”
Needless to say, these comments didn’t go down too well with unionists and it wasn’t long before Reiss was at the wrong end of a verbal tongue lashing from Ian Paisley’s DUP.
The party’s Nigel Dodds accused Washington’s ambassador of making one of the most unhelpful, negative and damaging contributions he had ever heard.
Dodd’s described Reiss’s criticism of unionist leadership failings as “crass” and said that the U.S. envoy no longer had any credibility among unionists.
At this juncture, the meanderings of Kim Jong Il — dear leader, or whatever his people are required to call the guy — must have been taking on a whole new appeal.
Having no credibility with unionist leaders would ordinarily be a bit of a handicap for anyone trying to get a handle on the North imbroglio.
But it certainly did Reiss’s flagging profile no harm with Irish America.
The man was back in the frame, front and center.
He was again in more recent days when he briefed Irish American community leaders at the State Department.
Irish National Caucus president Fr. Sean McManus came away from the event in no doubt that the U.S. role in the peace process was still in very good hands.
“He is very impressive,” McManus said of Reiss.
“I would have the greatest confidence in Ambassador Reiss,” McManus added.
“While I might disagree with him on individual, specific issues, I think he can still do an excellent job and will.”
For as long as his president wants him to that is. But will that mean the entirety of President Bush’s second term?
That could in large part depend on Reiss and his own judgment as to how much time he can set aside for a peace process that still seems intent on taking a step back every time it takes one forward.
If he decides to step down from the envoy post, or if he is replaced, will the new envoy be, like Reiss and Richard Haass before him, a State Department diplomat?
Or will the administration plump for someone from an entirely different, perhaps non-diplomatic background?
The New York meeting of early August seemed to thinking in precisely these terms.
It actually came up with a list of potential envoys. It’s called the “Initial Potential Name List for Irish Special Envoy Presidential Appointment.”
Quite a mouthful.
Here — drum roll please — is the list: Ambassador Howard Baker,
Tom Brokaw, Mario Cuomo, Bob Dole, Bill Flynn, Lee Iacocca, former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, former senator Sam Nunn, George Pataki, Colin Powell;
General Norman Schwarzkopf, and former General Electric head Jack Welch.
It’s an intriguing list to be sure. And there are few in Irish America who wouldn’t relish the prospect of Stormin’ Norman taking on Nigel Dodds, Big Ian et al.
But frankly, the list looks a little unlikely for any number of reasons. At the same time it’s never too early to look ahead.
Irish America will continue to make Northern Ireland an election issue as best it can and the identity of who occupies the special envoy job is intricately tied in with such an effort.
In the meantime, however, the envoy is Mitchell Reiss. And he appears to be more than up to the job.