Obama Ambassador Follies

President Obama is rewarding unqualified hacks who raised huge sums for his campaign with ambassadorships.

President Obama is rewarding unqualified hacks who raised huge sums for his campaign with ambassadorships.

Henri J. Barkey, head of international relations at Lehigh and a State Department staffer at the tail end of the Clinton administration, took to the Washington Post last week to proclaim, “Obama’s ambassador nominees are a disservice to diplomacy.

Two Norwegian lawmakers have nominated Edward Snowden, the bête 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.

President Obama does a disservice to Norwegians, to himself and, above all, to the people of the United States by sending such an unqualified person to represent him and us in the capital of a long-standing NATO ally. (I wonder if Tsunis knows that Norway is a member of NATO and not the European Union.) Instead of goodwill, he is engendering anti-American sentiment. Norwegians are likely to conclude that all they are worth to Obama is about $1.3 million — the sum Tsunis bundled or contributed to Obama’s reelection campaign and other Democratic efforts in 2012.

Tsunis is no isolated case. NPR’s Michele Keleman notes “More Ambassador Posts Are Going To Political Appointees.”

The nominee to be U.S. ambassador to, say, Hungary should be able to explain what the U.S. strategic interests are in that country — right?

But Colleen Bell, a soap opera producer and President Obama’s appointee to be U.S. envoy to that European country, struggled to answer that simple question during her recent confirmation hearing.

“Well, we have our strategic interests, in terms of what are our key priorities in Hungary, I think our key priorities are to improve upon, as I mentioned, the security relationship and also the law enforcement and to promote business opportunities, increase trade …” she responded, grasping for words, to a question by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on Jan. 16. (You can see the full hearing here.)

As McCain tweeted later about the confirmation hearings that day: “You can’t make this up.”

President Obama used to say that he wanted to rely more on career diplomats to serve as U.S. ambassadors. But the State Department’s professional association, the American Foreign Service Association or AFSA, says that he has named a higher percentage of political appointees than his predecessors. He’s given plum assignments to political donors such as Bell, who have made headlines recently with embarrassing gaffes at their confirmation hearings.

The WaPo editorial board (“Ambassadorships are President Obama’s political plums“) weighs in against the practice with yet another embarrassing example:

NOAH BRYSON Mamet is a political consultant who raised at least $500,000 for President Obama and the Democratic Party in the 2012 election cycle. As of last week, he had never visited Argentina — which helps explain the ambassador-designate’s spotty performance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his confirmation hearing. Mr. Mamet repeatedly described Argentina as a U.S. ally, said it was “a mature democracy” and praised its record on human rights.

That provoked a bipartisan tongue-lashing from Sens. Robert Mendendez (D-N.J.), the committee chairman, and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who pointed out that the Argentine government under Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has compromised freedom of the press and the judiciary, refused to pay debts to the U.S. government and American bondholders, seized equipment from a U.S. military training mission, undermined an investigation of an Iranian-sponsored terrorist bombing and aligned itself with the rabidly anti-American governments of Cuba and Venezuela. “This is the most unique ally I think we have in the world,” Mr. Rubio dryly noted.

Rubio apparently hasn’t followed Afghanistan, Pakistan, or much of the Middle East. But I take his point. 

Max Fisher links to  ”This very telling map shows which U.S. ambassadors were campaign bundlers.”

Slate and the Center for Public Integrity put together this excellent interactive map showing them all (in green), as well as a selection of other political appointees (in red) and actual career diplomats (in blue). Here is a static grab of the map :



Barkey finds this problematic:

The United States claims to value the efforts of diplomats — a point the president reiterated in his State of the Union speech last week. So why do so many seem to think that diplomacy is a profession that anyone can engage in? If you had a plumbing problem, would you call your friendly ambassador to fix it? What message is the president sending to Foreign Service officers and to former and current ambassadors of distinction?

The Obama administration’s appointments suggest that the president isn’t being honest when he says that diplomacy is important to him. Yet the administration clearly values diplomacy — officials, including the president, have emphasized that the ongoing negotiations with Iran are the way to resolve the nuclear impasse. Would Obama consider making Tsunis our negotiator? Of course not. Yet it’s illogical, and insulting, to presume that Norwegians are such wonderful and civilized people — and hence unlikely to cause any problems with Washington — that we can afford to send someone on a taxpayer-funded three-year junket to enjoy the fjords.

The Post has been on this story for some time. They published an op-ed by Susan R. Johnson, Ronald E. Neumann and Thomas R. Pickering last April titled “Presidents are breaking the U.S. Foreign Service.”

American diplomacy is facing a crisis. The professional career service that is intended to be the backbone of that diplomacy no longer claims a lead role at the State Department or in the formulation or implementation of foreign policy. The U.S. Foreign Service is being marginalized — just as military efforts to resolve major diplomatic challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan have failed, and as diplomacy has become both more complex and more important to our national security and prosperity.

The Foreign Service is being relegated to a secondary status: staff support to political elites who set and manage policy. Long-held concepts about the disciplined, competitive, promotion-based personnel system are being called into question.

The Rogers Act established the Foreign Service as a merit-based, professional diplomatic service in 1924. This concept was reemphasized in 1946, after the U.S. experience in World War II ratified the need to model the Foreign Service’s personnel system after that of the military rather than the domestic civil service. The 1980 Foreign Service Act reiterated that “a professional career Foreign Service based on merit principles was necessary to meet the challenges of a more complex and competitive world.” The importance of a professional diplomatic service has been underscored by our national experience in the simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the broad array of current and foreseeable challenges.

What is wrong at State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, our embassies and other agencies that together are the vehicles for American diplomacy? What accounts for the Foreign Service being marginalized?

The most visible factor is the overwhelming — and growing — presence of political appointees in mid-level and top leadership positions at the State Department. For all their merit, political appointees are short-term officials, subject to partisan, ­personality-specific pressures. They do not notably contribute to the institution’s longer-term vitality, and their ascension creates a system inherently incapable of providing expert, nonpartisan foreign policy advice.

When the bulk of its leadership positions are held by transient appointees, the Foreign Service is undermined. This situation spawns opportunism and political correctness, weakens esprit de corps within the service and emaciates institutional memory.

‘Now, I think this goes too far. As Neumann notes in the NPR story linked above, his own father was “an enormously competent appointee who served four presidents, three embassies and two parties” as ambassador to Afghanistan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia. But, like Barkey, the elder Neumann was an international relations scholar with deep expertise and experience in the region, not a political hack. Further, as our own John Burgess, a retired career foreign service officer, has noted, an appointee can be an enormous asset if he has the ear of the president.

But filling this many ambassadorships with people whose sole qualification is having raised a lot of money for the president not only smacks of corruption but undermines our foreign relations. As the WaPo editorial puts it,

All presidents appoint some ambassadors who are not professional diplomats. Most have been harmless; a few have been stellar. Mr. Obama, however, has considerably stretched the boundaries of previous presidential records, both in quantity and in apparent disregard for quality. The president promised in 2009 to increase professional appointments, and the State Department said last Friday that it aims for a 70-30 split between career and political ambassadors. Yet, so far in his second term, 53 percent of Mr. Obama’s appointments have been political, according to the American Foreign Service Association. A third have been fundraisers for his campaigns.

The bundlers are going not just to London, Brussels and Vienna, where their roles may be largely decorative, but also to countries where relations with the United States are troubled.


Ambassadorial appointments for small allies such as Norway or tough partners including Hungary and Argentina matter because their governments rarely receive the attention of high-level officials in Washington and yet require skilled diplomacy. It’s no wonder that Argentina, the third-largest economy in Latin America but a perennial trouble spot, was tended by career diplomats under the four presidents who preceded Mr. Obama. His use of the Buenos Aires embassy and so many others as political plums signals a disregard for U.S. foreign interests.

Even Jon Stewart is taking note:

This has now literally become a joke.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. john personna says:

    Two Norwegian lawmakers have nominated Edward Snowden, the bête 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.

    Dumbest opening, ever. It is completely oblivious to the global politics of Snowden.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: Fair point.

  3. john personna says:

    Looking at the map, the only one that would worry me slightly would be Morocco. On the rest, I think the primary role of a US Ambassador is to attend parties. Anything serious would be negotiated by state or trade officials.

    And of course we have the telecommunications ate the world effect. A “plenipotentiary” is no longer required.

  4. john personna says:

    (Re. Argentina. I am sure US Banking and trade regulators have long been active working there. We know about the bond issues.)

    Argentina Gets U.S. Supreme Court Hearing in Bank Case

  5. Neil says:

    I know other presidents have done it, but didn’t 0bama promise his administration would be different?

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    Sadly, it’s nothing new. So, for example, from 1938-1940 Joe Kennedy was our ambassador to the United Kingdom. I don’t know when the custom of naming unqualified political contributors to ambassadorships but it clearly goes back a long time. Sounds like material for a masters thesis.

    Ben Franklin was the U. S. ambassador to France from 1776-1785. His primary qualification for the job was that he was Washington’s campaign manager. He did well at it but Franklin did well at a lot of the things he did. He was also our ambassador to Sweden without ever visiting the country.

    It’s not for nothing that the professional State Department sometimes refers to incoming administrations as “the temporary help”.

  7. Andre Kenji says:

    Argentina is not irrelevant. The Israeli Embassy and a Jewish Center were bombed in Buenos Aires in the 90´s, the country is a large exporter of commodities(Many of them competing with US producers), they have a very complicated relation with the United States.

    Italy, France, Germany and United Kingdom are not irrelevant either.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Neil: Yes. But it’s not just “they all do it;” he’s taken it to a whole new level.

    @Dave Schuler: Sure. We’ve long sent cronies to places like London and Paris. But this is something more than that.

  9. Tran says:

    One has to wonder what the Senate was doing in all of this. Perhaps they should have voted down some of the obviously unqualified nominees?

    Note that the US has no ambassador to France. Why not?

  10. grumpy realist says:

    It’s only relatively recently that we have started demanding competence concerning a country when appointing an ambassador. Plus we still have the annoying habit of rotating people out of a post just as soon as they’ve become partway fluent in the language. The worry is that they’ll “become too native.” Which results, of course, in a task-force that constantly gets taken to the cleaners in negotiations because they have no idea how the system works.

    You wouldn’t believe the lack of knowledge about Japan I ran into at U.S. Embassy shindigs. Not knowing the language is a real handicap. (There were quite a few receptions where I was the only non-native Japanese speaker present. Mumble.)

  11. john personna says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    In contrast, Hugh Robert Wilson, US Ambassador to Germany in 1938 was career foreign service.

    His contributions?

    He attended the congress of the Nazi Party in Nuremberg in September 1938, breaking with the precedent established by his predecessor, William E. Dodd, who had refused to attend. In Dodd’s absence, the embassy’s chargé d’affaires had attended the previous year.[8] President Roosevelt called Wilson home for urgent consultations in November 1938 following the anti-Jewish attacks of Kristallnacht and he never returned to Germany.[9]

    Wilson coined the phrase “pretty good club” while describing the foreign service. When he was the ambassador to Germany he sought to emphasize the positive aspects of Nazi Germany. He accused the American press of being “Jewish controlled” and of singing a “hymm of hate while efforts are made over here to build a better future.” He praised Hitler as :the man who has pulled his people from moral and economic despair into the state of pride and evident prosperity they now enjoyed.” [10]

  12. john personna says:

    @James Joyner:

    Sure. We’ve long sent cronies to places like London and Paris. But this is something more than that.

    In which “green” country to you see the ambassador’s role as vital? Superseding that of trade negotiators?

  13. john personna says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    The journalists’ game here Andre is to accuse Obama of implying irrelevancy, when all he is really implying is that ambassadors have a primarily social role in these countries.

    All of the countries you name have active negotiations with home departments in the US.

    The ambassador is not deciding the Supreme Court case on Argentine bonds. The Supreme Court is.

    [actually more than that, the “bundlers” also imply an “access” to the president.]

  14. john personna says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Wilson might be an example of “gone too native.”

  15. Mikey says:

    @john personna: If President Obama doesn’t care enough to even hint to these appointees “hey, guys, you might want to look at the Wiki on the country I’m sending you to,” how are we supposed to take it? “The ambassador is irrelevant, anyway” isn’t a very positive defense. It’s simply not true.

    I don’t expect newly-appointed ambassadors to know the finest details of the countries to which they’re being sent, but they should at least be able to demonstrate knowledge of things like the system of government or whether the nation is a close ally or not.

    This just screams “I don’t really give a crap.”

  16. Mikey says:

    Also, I hate auto-play videos. Every time I refresh this page, it sounds like I just scored a touchdown. I’m sure my co-workers are wondering who the hell keeps cheering for me.

  17. john personna says:


    I have got to admit that I am surprised that these nominees seem not to have read Wikipedia on their new friends … but I’m not totally sure that’s true. They may actually have been professionally briefed at that point, but just not universally.

    The journalists above are great at reporting the questions they got wrong, but we don’t see the ones that they got right.

  18. Andre Kenji says:

    @john personna: Bonds aren´t the large issue. The large issue is that Argentina is a very complicated country(Specially under Cristina Kirchner), there are even some issues related to terrorism. The ambassador sends relevant information with the State Department, he makes negotiations with local officials.

  19. Mikey says:

    @john personna:

    The journalists above are great at reporting the questions they got wrong, but we don’t see the ones that they got right.

    A fair point, it’s true, and I really don’t think Mamet never having been to Argentina is a huge issue (although his seeming lack of knowledge of some very significant goings-on in that country is more troubling). Extensive travel to other countries broadens one’s perspective and makes one conscious of what’s expected of an international guest.

    Tsunis’ lack of knowledge of the most basic facts about Norway is inexcusable, though.

  20. john personna says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    I don’t believe that is the way it works in our system. The consulate has dedicated staff who report directly to security services. And as I say, I think the days when ambassadors meaningfully “negotiate” are long gone. Especially not in those green countries that are tied to US institutions.

  21. john personna says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    I mean, do you want a Snowden tie-in?

    Do you seriously think that the ambassador is a major information source at this point?

  22. Andre Kenji says:

    @john personna: I´ve read the Wikileaks cables. The US ambassador in Brazil complained that the country did not have a anti terrorism law, and now one is being passed in Congress.

  23. john personna says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    Whatever. Mostly boring. alternate selection

  24. grumpy realist says:

    @john personna: Yes, well, I guess that’s supposed to make up for the 999 times we ended up getting the short end of the stick in a negotiation because we a) had no idea about the country b) no idea about the language, c) no idea how to negotiate in that country, and d) absolutely no realization that the supposed head guy on the other side had no authority to promise what he did.

    But, by god, we’ve saved ourselves from having any of our diplomats “going native.”

  25. john personna says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Remember the map, and the types of interactions we have with “green” countries.

    What was important with Japan? Trade deals, tariffs, import regulations? I’m pretty sure all of those were negotiated directly with Washington.

    I don’t think a charismatic individual was going to break down the rice barrier. We needed to sue at the WTO for that, right?

  26. C. Clavin says:

    President Obama is rewarding unqualified hacks

    Obama appointed Mataconis to an Ambassadorship???
    Oh…wait…wrong party.
    Never mind.

  27. george says:

    @john personna:

    have got to admit that I am surprised that these nominees seem not to have read Wikipedia on their new friends … but I’m not totally sure that’s true. They may actually have been professionally briefed at that point, but just not universally.

    If so, judging by the responses of the new ambassador to Norway, they need new professional briefers. Not knowing the political parties making up the coalition, and thinking they have a President is just sad.

    I tend to agree that serious negotiations are no longer done through ambassadors, but its pathetic to appoint someone who can’t even be bothered to pick up the kind of information that would be in a grade six student’s geography class report.

  28. PJ says:

    There are almost no career diplomats appointed as ambassadors in the Northern Hemisphere, and almost no bundlers appointed in the Southern Hemisphere.

    But, the map is lacking, so who knows. What about the ambassadors in Ireland, Spain, Finland, Sweden, Croatia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, to name a few gray countries in Europe.

  29. C. Clavin says:

    Over the course of his Presidency Obama is 63/37 Professional to Hack.
    Bush 41…69/32.
    WTF is this really about? Cherry picking data to satisfy your ODS???

  30. john personna says:


    I don’t know, maybe someone has a youtube and we can see how bad it really was.

  31. PJ says:
  32. john personna says:

    Video, fairly painful:


    That said, McCain probably knew what he was doing. He had his staff find some hard questions for the political appointee, in order to embarrass him.

    I can guess where Tsunis’ head was at, confusing whatever with Norwegian neo-nazis, who are real.

  33. PJ says:

    @C. Clavin:
    I guess the argument could be made that compared to Carter and Clinton, Obama sure favors political hacks….

    Jimmy Carter – 73.27% – 26.73%
    Bill Clinton – 72.18% – 27.82%


  34. Scott says:

    I guess I don’t understand the motivation in these people wanting to be Ambassadors if they are not interested in the country they are appointed to. These appointed people are reasonably successful and you would think they would have some enthusiasm for the job at hand. I would like to think that Shirley Temple Black is the admirable norm for politically appointed ambassadors not the exception. On the other hand, sometimes I’m too idealistic for my own good.

  35. Franklin says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    He did well at it but Franklin did well at a lot of the things he did.

    Why thank you for noticing!

  36. Just Me says:

    Never visiting is one thing but having no idea regarding the structure of the government or some of the pressing issues in a country is an embarrassment and an indication that Obama’s administration doesn’t even think they have to bother with faking the fact that it’s all about how successful these appointees were at bundling.

    The map does show one thing-bundlers and politically motivated appointees get Europe, South America and plumb Asian posts. The career diomats get Africa and the non plumb Asian posts. Guess career bundlers don’t won’t to go for the arm pit of Africa.

  37. Dave Schuler says:

    @john personna:

    One of the neglected stories of the period is how many of our elite expressed admiration for Hitler or even supported the Nazis. In my first comment I mentioned Joe Kennedy. He was one of those elite.

    And it wasn’t just in the United States. The Duke of Windsor, the former Edward VIII, was believed to have favored an alliance between the UK and Nazi Germany. The general explanation was that they considered communism the real enemy.

  38. James Joyner says:

    @Dave Schuler: That’s both true and a little unfair. In the early days, it was likely easy to see Hitler as nothing more than a German nationalist, helping his people recover their pride after the humiliation of WWI. Germany was a natural ally, given our long ties with them, including a large German immigrant population. This was all long before Hitler invaded France, much less our knowledge of the Holocaust.

  39. C. Clavin says:

    So that’s, what…a 10% difference?
    I still think this post is total nonsense based on intentionally cherry picked and mis-leading data.

  40. James Joyner says:

    @C. Clavin: It’s not like I’m collecting this information from Rush Limbaugh and Fox News; these are stories on NPR, the Washington Post, and The Daily Show. As with a lot of things, numbers aren’t the whole story. The problem isn’t simply that Obama is picking non-FSOs for these ambassadorships but that they’re in some cases completely unqualified.

  41. Andy says:

    @john personna: So appointing people who’ve quite obviously bought ambassadorships is ok because Ambassadors in those countries aren’t important? Well, I disagree on both counts.

    Ambassadors aren’t as vital as they once were thanks to modern communication, but they are still important, particularly when a crisis strikes. Secondly, I have no problem with political appointees – what I have a problem with is the quid pro quo where obviously unqualified fundraisers are rewarded with influential government positions. That is clearly corruption.

  42. john personna says:


    I say it’s boring, and I think it is. I’m willing to toss a few characters into the cloud though because … it’s not like either cloud storage or cloud punditry is in short supply. Consider this (entire thread) to be part of the ephemera of our age.

    First, what’s different? Dave comments that this is nothing new. C. Calvin and PJ link above to statistics showing this business as usual.

    Second, do you have a demonstrable threat? Grumpy would like us to have friendly half-natives as our ambassadors, but to what result? It doesn’t sound like that buys us any advantages or protects us from any threats. The real action is elsewhere.

  43. michael reynolds says:

    Hey I gave Obama a couple grand. Can I have Bermuda?

  44. john personna says:

    I guess I should have called out as “third” that the “green” nation set seems well chosen.

    We don’t have political “hacks” in China or Russia.

  45. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I don’t know why bundlers have failed to claim Sweden!

  46. Dave Schuler says:

    @James Joyner:

    In 1933, sure. However, after 1937, the context of both my and jp’s comments above, it was quite obvious just what Hitler was to anyone who cared to know.

    David Windsor and his wife, Wallis, made what was by all accounts a very cordial social call on Hitler in 1937 and continued making pro-German remarks for the next year or so—until the United Kingdom was actually at war with Germany. H. R. Wilson made his remarks in 1938 as did Joe Kennedy. There was no ambiguity at that point so I think my criticism is entirely fair.

  47. george says:

    @john personna:

    That said, McCain probably knew what he was doing. He had his staff find some hard questions for the political appointee, in order to embarrass him.

    Probably, but that’s pretty much fair game – the question didn’t seem at all unreasonable for an ambassadorial candidate.

    Of course, I’m skeptical that previous recent Presidents were much better in their appointments, but geeze, can’t the ambassadors at least do the kind of back ground reading you’d expect from a high school geography student? I’m sure the ambassadors aren’t stupid, so that makes them basically lazy.

  48. Andy says:

    @john personna: What is different? A couple of things.

    First, and most important, is that qualifications no longer matter as the post are clearly tied to fundraising. Again, I have no problem with political appointees, including people who are political allies of whoever happens to be President. But one expects a minimal amount of competence and one should expect these personnel decisions to be primarily based on something more than fundraising. Read around the internet I find it quite odd how some people are up in arms over the influence of money in politics yet think that buying senior government positions is no big deal. I’m all for nominating more Ben Franklins to be ambassador – sadly, modern Franklins don’t seem to have careers as political fundraisers.

    Secondly, this is clearly a campaign promise this President broke.

    Finally, demonstrable threat? I’m not sure what you are talking about – my mention of crises? In that case, the fact is that a lot of diplomatic posts are relatively boring until some crisis happens. When a crisis does occur you do not want your ambassador to be a liability. Not everything can be managed from Washington.

  49. John Burgess says:

    @john personna: You couldn’t be more wrong.

    Take one ‘green country’, the UK..

    The US has over 70 federal agencies represented in that embassy. They deal with issues like agriculture imports to the UK (and from), coordination of air traffic, international taxation, coordination of intelligence activities, major contracts for US businesses, etc.

    Now, an ambassador might not get involved in the nitty-gritty on all of these issues, but he does weigh in — as the personal representative of the President — on many of them. On major contracts, he cannot support one American business over another, but he does support an American business over any other country’s offerings, including those from the UK.

    The political ambassador can call the President in the course of negotiations and ask what emollients might be offered, what quid pro quos are possible. He can do this directly, not having to go through the State Dept. bureaucracy. He can call US Cabinet officers to explain details and work for solutions to conflicts.

    In the entire history of US-UK relations, there has been one career ambassador, Charlie Price (1980-89).

    List of US ambassadors to the UK

    In my four years in London, I worked with two ambassadors. One, Adm. William J. Crowe, could not have been better. He wasn’t a diplomat, but he was a USN Admiral and CJCS. He was an early supporter of Clinton and was important in getting others to support him. Clinton offered him the office of DCI — or practically anything else he wanted — but Crowe wanted London. He did an excellent job and really helped US-UK relations, particularly at the time of the Former Yugoslavia mess.

    He was succeeded by another FOB, Philip Lader (founder of the “Renaissance Weekends“). Lader was a punk and strayed from being truthful on a lot of immaterial things. He did, however, have strong support within the embassy to prevent him from getting into too much trouble (with the British press). But even he was able to pick up the phone and call Bill to kick around issues that were troubling to the Brits. A career ambassador would have had to go through channels and would have been filtered by who knows how many layers of bureaucracy.

    In Saudi Arabia — where the Saudis infinitely prefer political appointees — I worked with Robert Jordan. Jordan was GW’s personal attorney and a personal friend. He was also a very smart man. He worked very well with/against the Saudis in the post-9/11 environment. He was very successful in getting the Saudis to a) recognize the problems they had created for themselves and b) do something about it. He knew next to nothing about Saudi Arabia when he was nominated for the position and never learned Arabic beyond courtesy remarks. Much of his staff at the embassy was fluent, however, and he could call on interpreters and translators as needed. It helped, too, I’m sure, that much of the Saudi establishment spoke or at least understood English.

    Being a career ambassador is not necessarily a promise of success. The Peter Principle is very much alive and well. I’ve worked with ambassadors who made great Political or Economic Officers but sucked at being ambassadors.

  50. Rob in CT says:

    A shitty (long-standing, IIRC) practice that needs to end.

  51. C. Clavin says:

    @michael reynolds:
    I’m still waiting for my appointment to the Death Panels .

  52. C. Clavin says:

    @James Joyner:
    And unqualified Ambassadors is a problem unique to Obama?
    Somehow I doubt it.

  53. john personna says:

    @John Burgess:

    I was following you part way there, until I googled Philip Lader and looked at his resume. In part:

    Under President Clinton, Lader initially served as Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget. In December 1993, when he became White House Deputy Chief of Staff, The New York Times described him as “a longtime friend” of Clinton’s.[3]

    Lader served in President Clinton’s Cabinet during his service as Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration from 1994 to 1997.

    In addition to his role as chairman of WPP Group and a senior adviser to Morgan Stanley, Lader is a partner at Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough, a South Carolina law firm.

    Lader is an Honorary Fellow of London Business School and Oxford University’s Pembroke College, an Honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple (British Inns of Court), a member of the Council of Foreign Relations, Harvard Law School’s Visiting Committee, Yale Divinity School’s Board of Visitors, and Columbia University’s International Advisory Board. He previously was a trustee of the British Museum and St. Paul’s Cathedral Foundation, a director of the American Red Cross, president of Business Executives for National Security, chairman of the Royal Academy of Arts American Trust, and a member of the founding council of the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford University. In South Carolina, he is a trustee of Middleton Place Foundation and Liberty Fellows and was chairman of the South Carolina Small & Minority Business Council, a trustee of South Carolina State Colleges, and a director of the South Carolina Jobs/Economic Development Authority and the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

    Now I suppose the British might have showered all those honors on him because, though they detested him as “a punk” … they wanted to make Bill happy?

    Is that your argument?

  54. John Burgess says:

    @michael reynolds: Surely, you jest! For Bermuda (like the Bahamas) you’ll have to come up with more than a couple million. Talk to your friends and neighbors and bundle.

  55. John Burgess says:

    @john personna: Yes, the British took him because he was an FOB. He had no obvious defects (and the bio you provide shows that he at least had something on the ball, at least some of the time).

    It turned out, though, that he was a gross exaggerator of both his actual accomplishments (as opposed to his ability to get a job through networking) and utterly ineffective because the Brits didn’t trust him after they caught him out in a few of those “exaggerations” I hesitate to say “lies” because he’s litigious as hell and has an ego that you can’t dent with a shovel.

  56. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: Looks like Bermuda isn’t for sale…the Consul General (no Ambassador because Bermuda is a British overseas territory) is a career Foreign Service guy.

  57. al-Ameda says:

    Two questions:

    (1) Hasn’t this – presidents rewarding donors (aka “hacks”) with anbassadorships – been going on since 1776?

    (2) Does Norway even remember who the previous ambassadors to Norway were?
    I believe that Bush appointed a Texas donor who owned fjord dealerships in the Dallas area to Oslo.

  58. LAgraves says:

    These people don’t know how to use Google?

  59. grumpy realist says:

    @john personna: I don’t think it’s crazy to expect people we post at embassies around the world to at least know the local language.

    The problem is that if you don’t know the local lingo, you’re at the mercy of the translators and the information that any bilingual native wants to feed you. I saw it over and over again in Japan–certain Japanese to be considered far more important by the U.S. than they really were in the local sphere simply because they spoke English. So their ideas and comments about “how Japan works” were treated with far more deference than deserved. Certain Japanese politicians were also treated by the US as being far more important and considered “easy to work with” because they spoke English, even though they were the lowest of the low in the Japanese Diet.

    Heck, a lot of my (unofficial) job where I worked was simply letting the gaijin higher-ups know what was REALLY going on, as opposed to the pretty picture their intermediaries were giving them.

  60. grumpy realist says:

    @john personna: I also have to say that for Japan, since everything gets done by the civil servants anyway, might as well let both sides of the politicians (US and Japan) spin out their days having photo opportunities, receptions, and the chance to make as many boring speeches via translators as they want.

    One reason why I’ve never been interested in the Foreign Service. It was much more fun to be a local hire, work completely in Japanese, and go out carousing with my workmates.

  61. PJ says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I don’t think it’s crazy to expect people we post at embassies around the world to at least know the local language.

    That would restrict the pool of candidates rather severely, especially if you would want them to be fluent in the language. For example, how many in the state department or in the US for that matter are fluent in Finnish? And how many of these are suitable as ambassadors?

  62. PJ says:

    @C. Clavin: @C. Clavin:

    So that’s, what…a 10% difference?
    I still think this post is total nonsense based on intentionally cherry picked and mis-leading data.

    Actually, it would be a 16% difference. 10 percentage points. 😉

    But I agree, it’s all nonsense.

    This just proves that Obama (63/37) is more like Reagan (62/38) than Carter (73/27)… 😉

  63. Grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:
    You are several thousand short.

  64. PJ says:

    Using the data from the site C.Clavin linked to, here’s a map showing the share of career diplomats appointed as Ambassadors since 1960. The darker the color, the higher the percentage.

    The map clearly shows that what Obama is doing is nothing new.


    It’s no wonder that Argentina, the third-largest economy in Latin America but a perennial trouble spot, was tended by career diplomats under the four presidents who preceded Mr. Obama. His use of the Buenos Aires embassy and so many others as political plums signals a disregard for U.S. foreign interests.

    Since 1960, only 50% of the appointed Ambassadors to Argentina have been career diplomats.

  65. bill says:

    ironic, norway gives obama a nobel peace prize (for what?) and he sends them an idiot ambassador.

  66. PJ says:

    To add about Argentina:

    It’s no wonder that Argentina, the third-largest economy in Latin America but a perennial trouble spot, was tended by career diplomats under the four presidents who preceded Mr. Obama.

    That is not correct, Reagan appointed Theodore E. Gildred in 1986 and Gildred who served until 1989, was not a career diplomat.

  67. MarkedMan says:

    Since this was James and not Doug, I clicked on it. Maybe there really is something to this latest “Obama is the worst ever meme”. But, James, you got suckered. This is just more Repub BS. It turns out that Obama does this about the same amount as every other president going back at least 50 years. The fact that they have NPR talking about it doesn’t make it any more earthshaking then BENGHAZI! or the IRS or any other Repub BS meme of the month.

    The fact that he said he wasn’t going to do it as much but did it anyway IS something to get on his case about. But contrary to what you said, he hasn’t taken this to a whole new level. Are his appointments uniquely unqualified? Who the hell knows? But given the shifting goalposts I can safely assume that absent some real analysis and comparisons even that is just more Repub BS thrown across the wall in the hopes that it will stick.

    Oh, and even the numbers presented are not very useful. Equating political appointees with campaign contributors is not useful. Max Baucus in China is certainly a political appointee but equating that with some socialite appointed to be US Ambassador to Fiji doesn’t make any sense.

  68. bill says:

    @MarkedMan: but i thought we were going to get “change” from obama? no more “business as usual” under him! sucks when reality sets in and you have to deal with others…..poor guy.

  69. MarkedMan says:

    Bill, FWIW I am overall satisfied with Obama. Given the realities of politics I didn’t expect him to change the world every day, but in retrospect felt that he has gotten a fair amount of good accomplished despite having an opposition that is, literally (and I mean the use of that word literally), delusional. You meet people everywhere who will shoot holes in the bottom of the lifeboat because they can’t stand to see the other guy dry, but we live in an era when the entire Republican party is effectively controlled by such people.

    My one great disappointment with Obama? His acquiescence to the torturers who preceded him. Cheney et al should be tried as the traitors they are. The fact that Obama has helped coverup the CIA’s and Militaries war crimes is a disgrace.