U.S. Ambassador to Turkey: Who Is John R. Bass?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

On July 15, 2014, the Senate Foreign Relations committee held a hearing into the nomination of John R. Bass as the U.S. ambassador to Turkey. Although the committee approved his nomination, the hearing did have one moment of controversy. When Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) confronted Bass with details of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s crackdowns on free speech, Bass proved reluctant to criticize Erdoğan. McCain asked, “Do you believe—it is a pretty simple, straightforward question—that with his repression of social media, of his desire to change the Constitution to give more power to the presidency, which he obviously will be, do you believe that is a drift towards authoritarianism?” Finally, when McCain threatened to withhold Bass’s nomination if he didn’t get a direct answer, Bass conceded that “It’s a drift in that direction, yes.”


If he’s confirmed, it will be the second ambassadorial post for Bass, a career Foreign Service officer who was formerly the U.S. envoy to Georgia.


Bass is from upstate New York and graduated from Syracuse University in 1986 and was a newspaper editor and political campaign consultant before joining the Foreign Service in 1988. Some of his early postings were in Belgium, the Netherlands and Chad.


In 1998, he went to work for Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, first as a special assistant for Europe and Eurasia. In that role, he was part of the peace negotiations for the Kosovo conflict. He was named Talbott’s chief of staff in 2000, coordinating policy on arms reduction with Russia.


Bass served in the U.S. Embassy in Rome from 2002 to 2004, when he was named a special advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney for policy on Europe and Eurasia. In 2005, Bass was named director of the State Department Operations Center, the department’s communication and crisis management center. It’s open around the clock and coordinates State Department responses to incidents throughout the world.


Bass was sent to Iraq in 2008 as leader of a provincial reconstruction team. After a year in that assignment, Bass was named U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, an important post at a time when that country was being used as a transit point for U.S. forces headed to Iraq. During his term there, Bass was charged by the Tbilisi government’s opposition with “meddling in Georgia’s domestic affairs” and his recall was urged, but nothing came of the protests.


Since 2012, Bass has been executive secretary of state. The executive secretariat coordinates activities between the department’s bureaus and leadership. It’s also the liaison between the State Department and the White House, the National Security Council and other agencies.


Bass is married to another career Foreign Service officer, Holly Holzer Bass. Holzer Bass most recently served as deputy director of the Office of Iranian Affairs. She is an accomplished photographer and has had several exhibitions of her work. The two are avid runners and have competed in the Bay-to-Breakers race in the San Francisco Bay Area. Bass speaks Italian and French.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Official Biography

Testimony before Senate Foreign Relations Committee (pdf)

State Department Cables (WikiLeaks)


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