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AFSA Reviews Obama Appointments

I am inclined to defer to the president’s judgment in his or, possibly, her appointments and I think that Congress should do likewise. Following that rubric I have been predisposed not to question President Obama’s ambassadorial appointments. Appointing cronies and political allies as ambassadors, after all, goes back to the beginnings of the republic. However, this might cause me to change my mind:

Now the American Foreign Service Association, an independent professional body representing US diplomats, is considering making its first formal complaint about a US ambassadorial nominee’s suitability since 1992, in a sign that recent appointments may have proven the final straw for the diplomatic community.

Its president, Robert Silverman, told the Guardian on Tuesday that a board meeting would consider Obama’s three recent nominations on 5 March, although no final decision to formally condemn their appointments had yet been taken.

The AFSA was founded in 1992. CBS helpfully adds:

Typically, presidents abide by the “70-30 rule”, an unofficial guideline which stipulates that the majority of ambassador posts go to foreign service professionals while around a third of them can go to non-career appointees. Since Mr. Obama came to office, around 37 percent of his appointments have been so-called “political appointees.” That’s a higher number than Presidents Clinton and both Bush administrations but lower than Carter and Reagan.

The standards of competence that political appointments must meet change over time. Appointmenting economists without notable banking experience as heads of the Federal Reserve, for example, is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating back only about thirty years to Paul Volcker. Previously, several chairmen of the Federal Reserve were not economists and even lacked banking experience. William McChesney Martin, the longest-serving chairman of the Federal Reserve was neither an economist, banker, or even a lawyer. He was a stock broker (and his father wrote the empowering legislation for the Federal Reserve).

As our society has become increasingly professionalized and conscious of credentials, it’s only to be expected that the standards for ambassadorial appointments should rise. It may be time for formal credentials and country or, at least, area expertise to be considered more closely in confirming ambassadorial appointments.

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About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging.

Comments

  1. John Peabody says:

    As you point out, plush appointments to certain countries have been around a long time. Perhaps the only new thing are the interviews with Congress, which have suddenly become newsworthy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. john personna says:

    For what it’s worth, this might be innumeracy:

    Typically, presidents abide by the “70-30 rule”, an unofficial guideline which stipulates that the majority of ambassador posts go to foreign service professionals while around a third of them can go to non-career appointees. Since Mr. Obama came to office, around 37 percent of his appointments have been so-called “political appointees.”

    There are two different measures there. The first is a “70-30 rule” on all positions, the second is “37 percent of his appointments.”

    It is quite possible to make 37 percent, or even 100 percent “of his appointments” without violating the 30% limit on total positions. It depends on the total turnover of positions, as a percentage of the whole.

    IOW, a sampling error, mismatch.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    @John Peabody:

    In an earlier post I pointed out that Ben Franklin, who had no experience in diplomacy, was our ambassador to France and, simultaneously, to Sweden, a country he never so much as visited. Joe Kennedy was our ambassador to the United Kingdom. His sole qualification was that he was a major contributor to Roosevelt’s campaign.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. john personna says:

    Actually, this page at the AFSA is interesting. It shows, rather than that Obama appointed less than the whole, he seriously over-appointed, meaning turnover and churn among serving ambassadors(?).

    It shows 185 confirmed career, and 97 confirmed political, for only 187 positions.

    Of the 188 listed positions on the bottom of the page, 59 are political (31%) and 22 are marked as “bundlers” (12%).

    So the number of political ambassadors serving is right at 30% (or a hair over) and the bundlers (helpfully marked?) are a small fraction of those.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. C. Clavin says:

    We ran through this recently…only OTB provided cherry picked numbers…actually Obama’s numbers are in line with other presidents +/-.
    There’s no “here” here.
    Obama’s numbers are not the worst…they are not the best. Average not including Obama – 68/34…a difference of 7% and 8% respectively. Seriously??? That gol’ danged socialist fascist Muslim dictator is at it again. If Obamacare, marriage equality, and legalized marijuana don’t end civilization…these wildly lopsided appointments surely will.
    Obama – 63/37
    W – 70/30
    Clinton – 72/38
    George H. W. 69/31
    Reagan 62/38
    Carter 73/27
    Ford – 62/38
    http://www.afsa.org/ambassadorlist.aspx

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  6. C. Clavin says:

    Seriously…
    Republican Dave Camp has come out with Tax Reform that makes sense…and is being certified dead on arrival by Republican leaders.
    Republican Jan Brewer vetoed a bill allowing discrimination…which I think is a plank in the Republican Party Platform.
    And Obamacare has now enrolled 4 million folks…not including Medicaid.
    And OTB is posting on this? Again?
    Are you guys giving up? Calling it quits?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  7. C. Clavin says:

    Oh yeah…and a settlement between NY and ConEd requires ConEd to design for Climate Change.
    And The NRA got busted for fraud in RI.
    You’re getting ready to fold up shop, aren’t you?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  8. gVOR08 says:

    There my be a bit of self-serving on the part of the AFSA trying to keep a few more plum appointments for themselves, but one can hardly argue for less professional ambassadors. That said, this sure looks like another case of what’s been routine business suddenly being an issue when the bla Obama does it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  9. Franklin says:

    @C. Clavin: Well one of your three posts is on topic, which is a decent average for a baseball player.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  10. C. Clavin says:

    @Franklin:
    Actually .333 is outstanding for a baseball player…top 22…in history.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    @C. Clavin:

    I posted on Mr. Camp’s proposal over at my own site. I restrict myself to foreign policy issues here at OTB. I don’t have the knowledge or background to post on the Venezuela situation (I’ve encouraged Steven Taylor to post) and I’m working on a post on the situation in the Ukraine.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Dave Schuler says:

    @gVOR08:

    As I noted in the body of the post, standards change over time. A lot has changed since the Reagan Administration.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. C. Clavin says:

    @Dave Schuler:
    I’ll look forward to the post on the Ukraine…it’s getting touchy, what with gunmen taking over Gov’t buildings and raising the Russian flag…and Putin sending fighter jets to the border.
    McCain and Butters should start screaming for us to fire nukes any second now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  14. stonetools says:

    As our society has become increasingly professionalized and conscious of credentials, it’s only to be expected that the standards for ambassadorial appointments should rise. It may be time for formal credentials and country or, at least, area expertise to be considered more closely in confirming ambassadorial appointments

    A lot of the defense of Obama here is the “me too” defense, which is different from what Schuler is asking, which is, Should amassadorial appointments from here on in be purely on merit?
    While that seems like a good idea, I tend to believe that maybe a certain area of polilitical appointments ought be reserved for patronage appontments and that the area of ambassadorships seems to be a good candidate. Whio the hell really cares where the ambassador to Sweden speaks Swedish, or can find Oslo on a map? OTOH, it’s anice sinecuire for someone who raised millions to to the crucial work of helping the President be elected. We should all like for such fundraisers to do this purely out of the goodnessd of their hearts, but that doesn’t seem to be how the human species works.
    I would say that until it is shown that awarding ambassadorships as sinecures actually hurts, we should keep on doing it. That might not be the idealistic approach, but it at least it’s reality-based.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. PJ says:

    I’m going to repost this map that I created and posted in the previous post on this subject. It’s showing the share of career diplomats appointed as Ambassadors since 1960. The darker the color, the higher the percentage.

    What Obama is doing is nothing new.

    And about this quote from CBS News:

    Since Mr. Obama came to office, around 37 percent of his appointments have been so-called “political appointees.” That’s a higher number than Presidents Clinton and both Bush administrations but lower than Carter and Reagan.

    The data from AFSA does not support that. According to it, Clinton and Carter appointed the highest percentage of career diplomats. Reagan, on the other hand, appointed the lowest percentage of career diplomats. Not sure what kind of data CBS News is basing this on…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. PJ says:

    @stonetools:

    Whio the hell really cares where the ambassador to Sweden speaks Swedish, or can find Oslo on a map?

    Considering that Oslo is the capital of Norway, I think you are on the fast track to be appointed as the next ambassador to Sweden, Norway, or both… ;)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  17. C. Clavin says:

    @stonetools:
    I personally don’t see the big problem with political appointees…at least at these levels.
    I have to assume that anyone who can manage to bundle this many donations has a lot on the ball. Maybe they don’t have Ambassadorial experience…but so what? If they can bundle millions of $$$ they are certainly skilled glad-handers.
    Certainly political appointees shouldn’t be in BEGHAZZiiii!!!!!
    And I assume that’s really at the heart of these complaints…other than the black President…trying to get more plums for the professionals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  18. stonetools says:

    @C. Clavin:

    I think you have to get used to the fact that the OTB is a conservative blog with an idiosyncratric focus on domestic on foreignpolicy issues. They’re not a a blog that comments generally on the news. It is unfortunate, for example, that the front pagers somehow will never post on or even acknowledge issues favorable to the Obama Administration , but that’s pretty much how it is here. If you want commentary for anything even vaguely pro Obama, head on over to Balloon Juice or LG&M. You won’t find anything like that here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  19. Dave Schuler says:

    @stonetools:

    I don’t think it’s just a binary decision—political appointees vs. no political appointees. Is there a case to be made that the ambassadors to, say, UN Security Council members plus Japan, Germany, India, and Brazil should always have diplomatic experience and country or area expertise?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. john personna says:

    The Guardian makes this about George Tsunis, Noah Mamet and Colleen Bell.

    I have no idea if they are truly idiots, and so don’t take a position on that.

    The problem, for me at least, is that it’s hard to trust any sources on that most important question. Knives are out. Single lines are taken out of long testimonies, and etc.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. john personna says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    The appointment of Kennedy to Japan seems to be one that understands native sentiment:

    Caroline Kennedy presented Emperor Akihito with her credentials to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan on Tuesday, following a traditional procession aired live on national television.

    Thousands of onlookers cheered the ambassador — the first female ambassador from the U.S. — as she rode up to the Imperial Palace in a horse-drawn carriage, a custom for newly arrived ambassadors.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. C. Clavin says:

    @stonetools:
    I’m OK with the ideological water-carrying…I mean, it’s not like it’s Hot Air or Ace of Spades crazy.
    It just seems that the interest of the front page posters is waning.
    I noticed this even before Doug lost his Dad.
    There used to be multiple postings every day.
    The post at the top of the page is a day old…and a re-post.
    I enjoy this site and the back and forth…I even miss the nonsensical lies from Jenos…hate to see it go the way of the Polar Bear.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  23. PJ says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Is there a case to be made that the ambassadors to, say, UN Security Council members plus Japan, Germany, India, and Brazil should always have diplomatic experience and country or area expertise?

    There clearly is no precedence for diplomatic experience, area expertise is bit harder to find data on (but I would guess that there is no precedence for that either.)

    Percentage of ambassadors since 1960 who have been career diplomats:
    United Kingdom 6.25%
    France 12.5%
    Japan 28.6%
    Germany 29.4%
    China 31.25%
    India 33.3%
    Brazil 72.2%
    Russia 81.3%

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. gVOR08 says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    … standards change over time. A lot has changed since the Reagan Administration.

    True enough. But it sure did seem like a lot of them changed when we elected Obama. And would change back if we elected a Republican.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  25. stonetools says:

    @PJ:

    Touche.

    :-(.

    Should have looked, instead of relying on memory. Oh well, I’ll do better. After all, it wasn’t over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor or when the Iraqis attacked on 9/11.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  26. PJ says:

    @gVOR08:

    But it sure did seem like a lot of them changed when we elected Obama. And would change back if we elected a Republican.

    I fail to see that the critique from the AFSA would have anything to do with the fact that he’s a Democrat, it’s just looking out for its members.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  27. C. Clavin says:

    @gVOR08:

    “…A lot has changed since the Reagan Administration…”

    You ain’t kidding.
    Then he raised taxes…now he didn’t.
    Then he grew government…now he didn’t.
    Then he cut and ran from Beirut…now he was for strong defense.

    A lot has changed since the Reagan Administration.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  28. stonetools says:

    @C. Clavin:

    I enjoy this site and the back and forth…I even miss the nonsensical lies from Jenos…hate to see it go the way of the Polar Bear

    I think what’s happening that this slowdown relates to the fact that the online discussion is slowl but surely moving from blogging to Twitter.
    Now, that’s easier for the original posters, but it makes for less informative discussion, IMO.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. stonetools says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I don’t think it’s just a binary decision—political appointees vs. no political appointees. Is there a case to be made that the ambassadors to, say, UN Security Council members plus Japan, Germany, India, and Brazil should always have diplomatic experience and country or area expertise?

    Agree that there probably needs to be a restricted list where appointments shoud probably be based on merit. But even on your list- the appointment of Kennedy might fulfill an element which doesn’t go to merit but to the important east Asian concept of “face.”
    For the Japanes it is not so important that she is not fluent in Japanese and that she can’t locate Tokyo on a map [and yes, Tokyo IS in Japan-I know this much :-)].Matters is that she is a member of the famous Kennedy clan. Now a lot of Americans might shrug this off, but the Japanese might see this as a coup. In case we think that is a silly Asian affectation, contemplate the phenomenon of Kardashians.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. Tyrell says:

    This system has been criticized for as long as I can remember and is not confined to Obama appointments. Certainly there should be high requirements for any position. Candidates for ambassador should be fluent in the language of the country they will work in, as well as knowledge of the history and culture. Federal Reserve chairman should have experience, expertise, and a proven success record in investing, banking, monetary policy, and have run a business. They should make yearly inspections of Ft. Knox. The secretary of energy should have a background of physics, chemistry, and engineering. They should have an up to date drivers license and own a car. They should know the difference between a spark plug and an oxygen sensor.They should know how to pump gas and know their way around convenience stores. The secretary of the dept of education should have at least eight years working as a teacher in a public school. They should also have experience supervising the lunchroom, going on field trips, and selling tickets at football games. They should know how to use a Smartboard © , fix pencil sharpeners, rules of dodgeball, and how to clean dry erase boards. The health secretary should have extensive experience in the health field. They should know how to operate a computer.They should also have experience in an emergency room, including supervising the waiting room.
    We need the best qualified and top quality people in these positions. They should be experts in their fields, have practical experiences, and understand the Byzantine Federal bureaucracy maze.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. al-Ameda says:

    It is interesting that AFSA finally gets concerned enough to complain about these “political” appointments when Obama is president.

    What else is new?

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  32. wr says:

    @C. Clavin: “Republican Dave Camp has come out with Tax Reform that makes sense…”

    It slashes taxes on millionaires and tax away deductions for the middle class. Oh, and wipes out the EITC.

    It makes sense if you’re a Republican.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  33. bill says:

    @john personna: is that “common core” math, john? where i schooled 37 could be rounded up to 40, just saying! i think any “news” in this article stems from that guy we sent to norway- who’d never been there. kind of an insult to them i think.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. al-Ameda says:

    @bill:

    i think any “news” in this article stems from that guy we sent to norway- who’d never been there. kind of an insult to them i think.

    That may not be a negative factor at all.
    There are probably many countries – in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, the Baltic States, in Africa, etc – that well-qualified ambassadors have been appointed and where they have never been to. I’m not sure that that is a disqualifying factor, or that it is insulting to that country.

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