For most of U.S. history, presidents of all political parties have used ambassadorships to other countries for political reasons. Sometimes they reward friends. Sometimes they get political rivals out of the way.
Now the American Foreign Service Association, a group of professionals at the State Department, is insisting ambassadors should meet certain qualifications. Some knowledge of countries where potential ambassadors want to serve would be helpful.
The AFSA recommendation comes in the wake of embarrassing Senate hearings for President Barack Obama’s nominees as ambassadors to Argentina, Iceland and Norway. All three men – being rewarded because they raised money for Obama – confessed they know little about the countries. In fact, none of the three has ever visited the country where he is to serve.
Obviously, members of the association would prefer every ambassador’s post be filled by someone from the Foreign Service.
But remember the Victoria Nuland flap? Nuland, a career Foreign Service diplomat who has served under both Republican and Democrat presidents, was talking on the phone with another U.S. official recently, unaware Russian spies were recording the call.
At one point during a conversation on trade issues, Nuland alienated European Union officials by remarking, “– the E.U,” using a profanity that begins with “F.”
So no, being a career diplomat sometimes is no guarantee things will go smoothly between the U.S. and other countries.
Still, the AFSA members have a point. Political appointees always will be part of the mix of ambassadors. Next time Obama nominates one, however, he may want to give him a current affairs quiz.