Last night, the White House conducted a state dinner for President François Hollande of France, complete with star-studded guest lists and, er, breathless coverage of the red carpet. Practically everyone was on hand, except the US Ambassador to France. Why? Because we don’t have one, as Jake Tapper points out, and haven’t had one for months:
In years and administrations past, the ambassador to France is a role that goes not to a career diplomat, but to the president’s biggest fundraisers.
The last one, Charles Rivkin, formally left the post on November 19, 2013. The position has remained open because the White House has had a tough time vetting these fat cats.
Take Marc Lasry, a hedge fund manager and top Obama fundraiser whom the president picked for the post. He was suddenly out of the running in April, amid reports that he was connected to an alleged poker ring run by the Russian mob.
Among those who passed the vet, of course, are the President’s nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Argentina, who has never been to Argentina, and others with similar qualifications.
It’s a great takedown of the recent spate of diplomatic embarrassments on the appointment end at the White House for the State Department. Besides our new Ambassador to Argentina — who also doesn’t speak the language — we’ve also had an appointee display utter ignorance of the form and composition of the government to which he’d represent the US, and another who claimed ignorance of one of the most strategic complications with a nation that might be our most critical foreign-policy point for the next generation or more.
This is what happens when we prioritize fundraising over expert diplomacy. It’s not a new problem, but it’s getting a lot worse in this administration, and it’s going to result in very bad outcomes. It certainly insults our host countries when we send the ignorant out as our top representatives while they usually send professionals to represent themselves in the US. What does it say about American politics that half of our Ambassadors more or less buy these sinecures? Nothing good, especially abroad.
However, since we’re on the subject, I noticed last week that the post of Ambassador to Ireland remains open. Now, I realize that my experience may be disqualifying, since (a) I’ve actually been to the country, (b) speak the official language of Gaeilge (although I’m very rusty at it now), and (c) have read the State Department brief on the strategic interests in the US-Eire relationship. However, while I wouldn’t be so crass as to promise donations for an appointment, I can say that it would make me a lot more amenable to those e-mails from OFA that flood my inbox asking for a $3 contribution on behalf of President Obama’s agenda. I might even skip a Jimmy John’s to fund that request.
Feel free to promote my efforts on Twitter with the #Morrissey4Ireland hashtag. And if that one doesn’t work out, I’d settle for Liechtenstein, for which I’m at least as qualified as Noah Mamet.
Addendum: For that matter, I used to speak French too, so the post to France is an option, but my French is even rustier than my Irish. My only time in France was a few hours at the Charles de Gaulle Airport last November on my way to Jordan, which … still makes me more qualified than Mamet.
Update: Jeffrey Goldberg wonders just how much it costs to buy a post to Hungary — and notes that John McCain threw one of his colleagues under the bus while touring the country:
When a reporter, early in the press conference, asked McCain about Bell, a devilish smile played across his face.
“We’re very fortunate,” he said, “to have with us today the chairman of the committee that holds the hearings that these nominees come before, and that is Senator Murphy, and he is very knowledgeable about these issues.”
Three things then happened. First, most everyone at the press conference laughed. Second, one of the people who didn’t laugh, the aforementioned Senator Chris Murphy, a freshman Democrat from Connecticut, approached the podium as if it were covered in rat poison. Third, McCain winked — not at all subtly — at the three American journalists sitting in the front row.
McCain had set up a test for Murphy, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on European Affairs. Would the Connecticut Senator tell the truth? Would he skirt the truth? Or would he defend the fiction that Bell was a qualified nominee?
You can probably guess the answer, but I won’t spoil the surprise.