Friday, July 19, 2013

Diplomats for sale

Diplomats for sale

By Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA) July 19, 2013 12:20 pm practice of presidents awarding ambassadorships to big contributors or political supporters is not new, but President Barack Obama may be carrying it to an all-time low.

An analysis by The Hill, a congressional newspaper, said Mr. Obama has named 19 of his major campaign helpers to such posts, including a college classmate of his wife, Michelle. Nominations have gone to at least eight campaign donation bundlers, who raised between $477,000 and $2.36 million; a top prospect for the ambassadorship of Switzerland raised $3.15 million for the Obama campaign.

The relationship between the cash and the jobs, and the fact that big donors know during the campaign that if their candidate wins, London, Paris or Rome could await as a reward, indicate that Mr. Obama and other presidents who have done the same are perilously close to selling government positions for campaign dollars.

The fact that it has become common practice doesn't make it any better in terms of its impact on diplomacy. The American people get the raw end of the deal in terms of the quality of diplomatic representation they receive at the top level of U.S. embassies overseas. Instead of an experienced professional, who may have served in the country before and probably speaks the language, the United States gets someone who has been proficient at working the phones and shaking down deep-pocketed donors for a successful political candidate.

That doesn't mean that all noncareer diplomats are ineffective, unqualified and taking a free, fun ride. One of the well-regarded political ambassadors in recent years was Jon Huntsman, a former Republican governor of Utah who served as Mr. Obama's ambassador to China, spoke Mandarin Chinese and afterward competed for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Former Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield served successfully as the ambassador to Japan for 11 years.

The other argument for naming ambassadors of substance is that the United States profits from having in key diplomatic spots people who can pick up the phone to the president and get through when things get rough. Mr. Obama has named his donors and bundlers to easier posts such as Australia, Belgium, Denmark, the Dominican Republic and Italy. None of the political fundraisers seem to want to go to hotspots such as Lebanon, Mali or Myanmar.

This practice is corrupt. It does not serve the American people well and should end before it goes any further.


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