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(Non) Expert Emissaries
WRM on Politically Appointed Ambassadors

WRM recently made an appearance on PBS’s Newshour. He and former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns discussed the spate of gaffes made by President Obama’s latest ambassadorial picks.

Burns and WRM seemed to agree that there is a use for political appointees. Foreign government officials and diplomats understand that politically appointed ambassadors carry at least some clout with the President. But they also agreed that presidents have to strike a balance between performance and patronage:

The great thing about a political ambassador, political appointment is, this is somebody who in theory is close to the president. When the president has dozens of bundlers, a bundler is not necessarily the president’s best friend, hasn’t — wasn’t the college roommate or something like that.

And so I think the real question for me is not a numerical quota system, but it’s fundamentally one of quality. We do need very, very intelligent, thoughtful people as ambassadors. I don’t think, in every case, we have had them.

You can find the full transcript here.

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  • Dexter Trask

    Having worked with both ambassadors who are political appointees and ambassadors who were career diplomats, this strikes me as dead-on. A further element of quality to consider is stature. Although he ended up doing okay job as ambassador, the Japanese were keenly aware that John Roos was a bundler and not a Caroline Kennedy or Tom Schieffer (let alone a Howard Baker or a Mike Mansfield). Part of the message we send to other countries about the importance we give the bilateral relationship resides in the choice of the president’s personal representative to that country.

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