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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

All the President's Ambassadors

Depression-era child star Shirley Temple just died.  Despite lacking a diplomatic background -- or even a college education -- she would go on to serve as ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.  She was one of many nonprofessional American ambassadors.  Psycho star John Gavin served in Mexico, though the appointment was not odd as it may sound at first:  he had studied Latin American history at Stanford and was (and is) fluent in Spanish.

In January 2009, President-elect Obama suggested that his practice would be different.  At ABC, Jake Tapper writes:
"I want to recruit young people into the State Department to feel that this is a career track that they can be on for the long term. And so, you know, my expectation is that high quality civil servants are going to be rewarded," Obama said then.
But Obama has passed over qualified career professionals in favor of political friends and fundraisers more than any president in the modern era, according to the American Foreign Service Association.
"You know, are there going to be political appointees to ambassadorships? There probably will be some," Obama said in 2009.
Some? Actually, the majority of Obama's second-term ambassadorial nominations have been political.
The Center for Public Integrity says Obama has nominated 23 major fundraisers who have collectively raised at least $16.1 million for Obama since 2007.
At The Washington Post, Professor Henri Barkey writes about a recent nomination:
Two Norwegian lawmakers have nominated Edward Snowden, the bĂȘte noire of U.S. intelligence, for the Nobel Peace Prize. It is quite possible that this is the Norwegians’ way of showing their displeasure and shame at having the Obama administration nominate a completely unqualified person to be its ambassador to Oslo.
The nominee, a Long Island campaign bundler named George Tsunis, made a fool of himself during his Senate confirmation hearings last month. He was unaware of some of the most basic facts about Norway. He admitted never having set foot in the country, and he seemed to think that Norway, a monarchy, has a president. He also had no idea which political parties constituted Norway’s governing coalition, even though, as ambassador, he would be dealing with them. It seemed, as some later tweeted, that Tsunis had not even bothered to read the Wikipedia page for Norway.
The Huffington Post reports:
Political consultant Noah Bryson Mamet, whom President Barack Obama has nominated to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Argentina, admitted that he has never actually been to that country during his Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing Thursday.
In response to a question from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mamet framed visiting the country as an "opportunity" he has not yet taken advantage of.
"I haven't had the opportunity yet to be there. I've traveled pretty extensively around the world, but I haven't yet had the chance [to visit Argentina]," said Mamet, who was nominated to the post in July 2013.
"I think this is a very significant post," Rubio said in response.
Mamet bundled at least $500,000 for Obama's reelection campaign, according to the Center for Public Integrity. He served on the Obama-Biden National Finance Committee for the 2012 campaign.
At ABC, Abby Phillip reports:
Being a Hollywood producer doesn’t disqualify someone from being an ambassador, but from the combative nature of his questioning, McCain wasn’t very impressed with the resume of Colleen Bell, who has been nominated to be ambassador to Hungary.
This exchange probably best encapsulates most of McCain’s question and answer session with Bell:
SEN. MCCAIN: So what would you be doing differently from your predecessor, who obviously had very rocky relations with the present government?
MS. BELL: If confirmed, I look forward to working with the broad range of society –
SEN. MCCAIN: My question was, what would you do differently?
MS. BELL: Senator, in terms of what I would do differently from my predecessor, Kounalakis –
SEN. MCCAIN: That’s the question.
MS. BELL: Well, what I would like to do when — if confirmed, I would like to work towards engaging civil society in a deeper — in a deeper –
SEN. MCCAIN: Obviously, you don’t want to answer my question.