The price of being an Ambassador

There is a class system within the Department of State, one that might seem obvious to outsiders. There are career diplomats, people who have sacrificed life as an American in order to be in the Foreign Service, and the political appointees, chosen for their contributions to the incumbent administration.

Chris Stevens served in the Peace Corps during college, and went on to earn his JD from Hastings in 1989, He joined the Foreign Service in 1991 and served for ten years before being appointed Ambassador to Libya. He then paid the ultimate price.

Chris Stevens was one of the good guys. When the administration said about Chris and his colleagues “They exemplified America’s commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives.” you would never have believed he had been left twisting in the wind without help during an attack.

It is nothing new for presidents to sell the position of ambassador to the highest bidder, it just seems the price has gone up, the qualifications have been eliminated, and the value of a position in which the folks who sent you may choose to martyr you should have fallen.

At least Joe Kennedy could speak the language of the nation to which he was appointed ambassador, and had actually visited in 1933 (with FDR’s son, James Roosevelt, to buy distribution rights for Scotch whisky). He was an absolute failure as a diplomat and came home before things got too hot in England, leaving others to promote his personal agenda.

Our appointed Ambassador to Norway started his term by apologizing. Not knowing anything about the nation he would be an ambassador to had not prevented him from insulting them, before he ever visited the country. Our Ambassador to Argentina has never visited the country, and doesn’t even speak Spanish. If we were talking about China (and we will be) I would understand, but Spanish? Our new Ambassador to Hungary can’t find the country on a map, and has no clue what she will be doing there. All these people do understand that the base price for a position as foreign ambassador is $500,000. Despite their inadequacies, we should hope they never have to pay the price Chris Stevens paid.

Our newly appointed ambassador to China does fit a time honored tradition. Promoting troublemakers out of the arena so they can no longer cause trouble. Max Baucus, senator from Montana, states openly that he’s no expert on China, but looks forward to this new adventure. Had he been an expert on China maybe he wouldn’t be quite as excited.

Diplomacy is an art, a slimy art of lying and deception but an art none the less. It is increasingly important in our world, where impressions and innuendos are more lethal weapons than assault rifles. Now is not the time to be assigning “ugly Americans”, people with no sensitivity to other cultures, to represent America.

This pattern of assignments indicates a failure in foreign relations, a contempt for the process of statesmanship. It is quite amazing the person making these appointments was recognized in 2009 for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”. Unless that award was for sale as well.


One comment on “The price of being an Ambassador

  1. Mike R says:

    You have fleshed out the real difference between those of who live and reign in the Beltway and those of us who live in reality. They live in a thick fog of hubris; the attention not given to appointing ambassadors gives away their true view of the world and their own power. No political appointee in his right mind would have taken the trip to Libya, so they had to send a real professional. It is unfortunate that Mr. Stevens was not a rich donor instead of a civil servant. Surely he would have been treated differently.


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