Friday, February 14, 2014

Jon Stewart Blasts Obama's U.S. Ambassador Choices

There was a time when the bulk of U.S. ambassadors were career diplomats. Yes, there were some political appointees, but most were culled from the State Department's diplomatic corps. At least that's how it was when my dad was in the Foreign Service. However, it seems that more and more are now being appointed by the man living in the White House.  Called 'political appointees' these people are given leadership of an embassy in a foreign land often without any qualifications. According to NPR, Barack Obama had said he wanted to rely on career diplomats for ambassadorships, but that isn't quite how things turned out.  The State Department's American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) claims that Obama has named more political appointees in his second term than any prior president, including soap opera producer Colleen Bell who was recently assigned to Hungary. Bell apparently had no clue what the U.S. "strategic interests" are in Hungary, but was a big-time donor to Obama's presidential campaign. In response to that question by Sen. John McCain, Bell responded:

"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 ..." 
In response to gaffes like the above, the AFSA is writing up a list of qualifications for non-career ambassadors: including knowledge of what our strategic interests are.

Or what about having traveled to the country where they are about to be assigned?  Not the case with several recent Obama appointees. Businessman George Tsunis has never been to Norway, Noah Bryson Mamet has never been to Argentina,  Robert Barber has never been to Iceland.  However, they all raised beaucoup bucks for Obama:  Tsunis raised $850,000, Mamet $500,000 and Barber $1.6 million. Watch Jon Stewart poke fun at this corruption.

Not all political appointees are unqualified, however.

Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, doesn't have anything against political appointees: His father was one.

However, unlike some of the campaign "bundlers" — wealthy fund-raisers who bundle contributions from a variety of donors — getting nominations in the Obama administration, Neumann's father was a professor of international relations, who had traveled and written extensively about the Middle East before serving as ambassador to Afghanistan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.

"He was an enormously competent appointee who served four presidents, three embassies and two parties, which is kind of unusual," Neumann says of his father. The two men used to joke that they "came into the foreign service together" — his father at the top and Neumann at the bottom.

Neumann believes all ambassadors need to be vetted.

"There is a law, which both parties ignore, about ambassadors needing to be qualified: the Foreign Service Act of 1980,"  "People still get through even if they are manifestly not qualified."
Obviously no-one pays much attention to that law.

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