Obama Appointing More Inexperienced Diplomats as Political Favors

Monday, 10 Feb 2014 02:23 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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More than half of President Barack Obama's second-term ambassadorial appointments have been political — not from the career Foreign Service pool — far outpacing his predecessors when it comes to rewarding supporters and donors with diplomatic posts.

According to the American Foreign Service Association, more than 53 percent of Obama's second-term appointments were political, while 47 percent came from the career pool. Overall, Obama's number of political appointees has climbed to 37 percent and is expected to go higher before he leaves office.

In comparison, Fox News reports, under former President Bill Clinton, 28 percent of diplomatic appointees were political, and under former President George W. Bush, 30 percent were political.

It's not uncommon for U.S. presidents to use diplomatic posts to reward political friends, but most other major democracies no longer award ambassadorships to non-career diplomats.

"Obama is pushing the envelope," Christian Whiton, former State Department adviser in the George W. Bush administration, told Fox.

Obama has also appointed at least 44 political contribution bundlers to diplomatic posts since taking office, almost as many as Bush appointed during his two presidencies, Fox reports.

Such posts are often to plush locations in western European countries, to the Caribbean and other highly sought spots, such as a post to Japan that recently went to Caroline Kennedy.

Career diplomats, according to the American Foreign Service Association, tend to go to less popular locations, including Armenia, Bangladesh, and Mongolia, which have never had political appointees assigned.

As a result of the political appointments, the Obama administration is facing difficult questions from critics. Last week, for example, the president's nominee to Argentina admitted he had never been to that country.

"I would encourage people to give those who have had tougher hearings a chance to go to their countries and see what their tenure will entail," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. "And the judgment can't be made about how effective they'll be or how appreciated they'll be by the government until we have that happen."

Psaki said many noteworthy ambassadors have come from outside the Foreign Service, including former Vice President Walter Mondale, who served in Japan, and Sargent Shriver, in France.

But the inexperience of Obama's political nominees is riling foreign policy experts.

"The Obama administration's appointments suggest that the president isn't being honest when he says that diplomacy is important to him," Henri J. Barkey, Lehigh University professor and former State Department policy staffer, wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece.  "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."

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