Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr., Trump’s Pick for Ambassador to Australia, Offers Direct Line to President

SYDNEY, Australia — President Trump this week nominated a Republican lawyer to become the United States ambassador to Australia, filling the long vacant post with a Washington insider who helped the president select his 2016 running mate.

The lawyer, Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr., who is expected to be confirmed by the Senate, will be the first American ambassador to Australia in two years.

The delay in selecting an ambassador has been a sore point between the two countries, with one former prime minister saying the snub indicated Australia had become a “second-class ally.”

Mr. Culvahouse’s nomination represents an effort to repair the relationship at a time when Australia is looking to the United States to help balance an emboldened China in the Asia-Pacific region.

Marise Payne, Australia’s foreign minister, welcomed the nomination, saying Mr. Culvahouse will bring a “wealth of legal and policy expertise to the role.”

Who is Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr.?

A lawyer from Tennessee, Mr. Culvahouse, 70, is perceived as an adept Washington insider. Known to many as “AB,” he served as White House counsel to Ronald Reagan and vetted Republican vice-presidential running mates including Mike Pence in 2016 and Sarah Palin, who he called “high risk, high reward” in 2008.

Mr. Culvahouse has served on several government advisory boards and committees, touching on issues like foreign intelligence, defense and nuclear weapons. He is also the chairman emeritus for O’Melveny & Myers, a law firm with offices around the world.

The Australia job is his first diplomatic posting.

What do Australians think?

American efforts to fill the job have been marred by false starts: One pick’s nomination was pulled at the last minute so he could head the American embassy in South Korea instead. Another nominee, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, turned down the job in May.

Foreign policy experts on Thursday praised the choice of Mr. Culvahouse.

“He is clearly politically astute, he’s experienced. He’s got political acumen. It’s quite likely he’ll do a very good job,” said John Blaxland, a professor of international security and intelligence studies at the Australian National University.

Mr. Culvahouse’s connections to the president and Washington also bode well for Australia because they signal a direct line of communication to the highest levels of the White House.

“That will be powerful,” said Michael Shoebridge, a director of defense and strategy at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

What challenges will he face?

The biggest challenge for the new ambassador will be successfully navigating the nuances that distinguish Australia’s relationship with Asia from that of the United States.

There is considerable bipartisan anxiety in Australia over what critics see as an inconsistent, transactional approach to the region by the Trump administration. Some fear Australia could get caught in the middle of the superpowers’ rivalry, damaging its own interests.

Mr. Culvahouse will have to “convince Australia that the U.S. is up to this challenge, despite the fact that he serves a president who sends highly ambiguous signals about U.S. resolve,” said Sam Roggeveen, director of international security at the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.

Follow Isabella Kwai on Twitter: @bellakwai
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