Thursday, July 30, 2009

How Much Is That Ambassadorship In The Window

Scott Horton pulls together several pieces of recent reporting that describe the apparent process of handing out ambassadorships by the Obama administration. It isn't so much that these posts are given to successful fundraisers but that these individuals seem to have little else to recommend them for these diplomatic posts.

And for generations, one unseemly aspect of fundraising has been the de facto sale of ambassadorships. As the Los Angeles Times noted in a recent editorial, the United States is the only major country that regularly hands out choice ambassadorships as a favor for campaign funding bundlers. The process cheapens our diplomatic relations and sends a bad message to the states to which these ambassadors are sent. And it’s getting cruder and greedier. A cynic studying the latest batch of nominees might conclude that the price of an ambassadorship has soared from roughly $200,000 under the Rovian regime to $500,000 under Rahm Emanuel.

I agree with this assessment of the facts, and find myself in agreement with Horton. Unfortunately it appears he does make one error in his piece and he has either misread the articles linked to in the following paragraph or is using a source to which he provides no link.
Another is Phil Murphy, a Goldman Sachs executive who served as the Democratic Party’s national finance chairman, tapped to represent the United States in Berlin. The Murphy appointment so troubled German leaders that they held up agrément–the diplomatic process under which the receiving nation agrees to accept the ambassadorial designee–so that Chancellor Angela Merkel could press the case for a career diplomat or serious political figure. Merkel made her appeal at the G-8 meeting at L’Aquila, but Obama was unswayed. The Germans finally relented and grudgingly accepted the appointment.

The linked piece specifically states:

Apparently there were no objections to Murphy, 52, a former banker at Goldman Sachs. He could be officially named by Obama as his pick for Berlin as early as this week. Obama has already announced his postings for other important European cities like Paris and London.
The fact that it has taken so long to officially name Murphy, whose Berlin ambitions were first reported in May, has created an atmosphere of astonishment in diplomatic circles.

Acknowledging how awkward it has been not to have an ambassador in place yet nearly six months into the Obama presidency, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the director of policy planning at the State Department jokingly quipped during a speech at the American Academy in Berlin on Tuesday that the pick for Germany would "be in place before the end of the first term." The remark sparked laughter throughout the room. "Everybody in Washington knows how important a post this is," she added. "It's not just because the Russians have a good ambassador, but because our own relationship with Germany is very important."

Sources close to the White House have attributed the delays to a comprehensive new review for top posts in the Obama administration. As a result of a tax scandal earlier this year, this procedure has become even stricter. In Murphy's case, there was a lot to review. During his more than two decades at Goldman Sachs, he built up a fortune estimated at several hundred million dollars. More recently, he served as the Democratic Party's national finance chairman, helping to fill the party's coffers.

The Merkel did not hold up the Murphy appointment, it was a choice made by the Obama administration when they increased the scrutiny of all appointments after some early missteps. With that said it is at least troubling that it appears to be business as usual when it comes to the appointment of our ambassadors.

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