by Ambassador (ret.) Ed Marks
The perpetual, but usually under the radar, policy of political appointments to ambassadorships surfaced recently inside the Beltway and even beyond from the Daily Show to San Francisco. The ostensible reason was a trio of nominees of a blatant political character, blatant even by traditional standards going back to the “Hostess with the Mostest” and beyond. These examples have also brought to public notice the extent to which the Obama administration, despite the campaign promise not to do so, has succumbed to the pressure if not temptation to rewards friends, acolytes, and financial supporters by the distribution of these plum jobs in desirable capitols. In a sense, we of the career foreign service ought to feel gratified by this attitude. After all, the willingness of deep-pocketed people in the private sector to disburse what is, at least to us, enormous sums of money to join us—if only for a few years—indicates that the practice of diplomacy meets the test of the marketplace.
Unfortunately, much of the media discussion, as the following articles show, tends to focus on the question of individual qualifications and whether or not such and such a political appointee served well or was an embarrassment. There are many examples of the latter and some of the former. Most, however, are lackluster causing little surface turmoil and reminding one of Mark Twain’s comment that the interesting thing about a dancing dog was not that it danced well, but that it danced at all.
The more important question is, or ought to be, the systemic damage to the professional career diplomatic service of the nation, the Foreign Service, of a large number of partisan and amateur senior officials. This process frustrates and corrupts the effort to create, maintain, and improve professional standards of the professional cadre despite the clear injunction of the Foreign Service Act of 1980. The law of the land calls for a professional diplomatic service, yet our political leaders quite brazenly ignore their own handiwork. Perhaps this current scandal will lead to improvement, especially if we all make and effort to influence our political representatives. So write and email and call and question. There is little to lose.
The following articles provide much of the details.
Plum posts if you can afford them
Obama ambassador nominees prompt an uproar with bungled answers, lack of ties
A Fix guide on How Not to Pick an Ambassador
The Top Ten Reasons to Keep Political Ambassadors