Barack Obama came to Washington saying he would bring “change you can believe in.” If you are one of his campaign donors, he has delivered on that promise. He has dramatically increased the number of our ambassadors serving overseas who are political appointees.
Ever since Ronald Reagan, presidents have filled about 70 percent of ambassadorial posts with career diplomats and the remainder with political types, a.k.a Those Who Need to Be Rewarded.
But the Los Angeles Times now reports:
Since the beginning of his second term, President Obama has appointed campaign fundraisers, party allies and other political figures as ambassadors at a level that is now almost double what has prevailed in the last few administrations.
More than 56% of Obama’s 41 second-term ambassadorial nominations have been political, compared with an average of about 30% for recent administrations, according to U.S. government figures compiled by the American Foreign Service Assn. Of the political nominees, at least half have had fundraising roles.
Even when fundraising is behind an Obama political appointment, the contrast with previous ambassadors can be jarring. Patrick Gaspard, the Obama White House’s former political director is the nominee to become ambassador to South Africa, a post which at least half the time in the past has gone to a career diplomat. Gaspard is anything but that. Before his White House stint he was political director of a top Services Employees International union local, an official in Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, and a left-wing community organizer working with New York’s left-wing Working Families Party.
In the past, a key ally such as Japan has often been sent envoys who were political figures. But they were usually of very high caliber: Mike Mansfield and Howard Baker were distinguished former Senate majority leaders. Obama’s new appointee is Caroline Kennedy, a former book editor who doesn’t speak Japanese and has no special knowledge of Asia. When she was considered briefly as someone who could be appointed to Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat in 2009, she was revealed as an inarticulate, shy woman who was simply not up for the job.
Douglas Paal, a former U.S. diplomat in Asia now with the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, told the Times that given Japan’s importance and the growing tensions it has with China and North Korea it is ”a bit of an unusual time to send a person whose value is more symbolic than substantive.”
Hmmm . . . after five years that description could be used about President Obama himself. Maybe he’s just appointing people he can identify with to represent us overseas.