Well-Trod Path: Political Donor to Ambassador

Strike a poseWhen President Barack Obama hosted dozens of his top donors at White House in late November for a celebratory post-election dinner of chicken and pumpkin pie, few in the room could claim to have done more to elect him than Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue magazine. And after raising millions of dollars for Obama, Wintour had a prize in mind, according to several people close to the White House: appointment as ambassador to Britain, United States’ most prestigious diplomatic post. But by the time Ms. Wintour returned home to New York, officials had told her the job in London would almost certainly go to someone who had done even more for Obama: Matthew Barzun, a genial former technology executive who spent 20 grueling months as finance chairman of the president’s national fund-raising operation. As Mr. Barack Obama begins his second term in the White House, the donors and bundlers who raised more than a billion dollars to get him there are pressing hard for appointments. The sheer scale of Obama’s fund-raising machine has led to an especially intense scramble for plum ambassadorships, with as many as 300 people vying for just 30 or so positions, according to several people involved in process. “The president now has six years of relationships, not two years,” said Andy Spahn, a public relations and political consultant who, along with Jeffrey Katzenberg, the film producer, was Obama’s top Los Angeles fund-raiser. “So I expect that it will be a lot more competitive this time around.” Interviews with more than a dozen donors, Democratic officials and advisers involved in discussions revealed some unspoken rules: Volunteer for more than one country. Be prepared to serve for only two years, so that a second round of envoys can be appointed before Mr. Obama leaves office. Don’t mention how much money you raised for the campaign (but don’t expect much if you didn’t raise at least a million dollars). Let it be known where you want to go, but don’t publicly campaign for the job. “You have to find balance between waving the flag to get your name out there, waving the flag so much you smack people in the face with it,” said Jonathan Prince, former State Department official under Obama. Nearly every aspiring ambassador contacted for this article did not return phone calls or declined to comment about any interest in specific jobs. But speculation about who is in line for what often makes its way into the press; last month, Hollywood Reporter published names of several West Coast donors said to be on Obama’s short list for diplomatic posts, a list as closely scrutinized by Hollywood for who wasn’t on it, other donors said, as for who was (…..)

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/19/us/politics/well-trod-path-political-donor-to-ambassador.html


Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional

8 Responses to Well-Trod Path: Political Donor to Ambassador

  1. cgehner: This, of course, explains why American foreign policy often seems so clueless. “Selling” embassy posts is a self-defeating and disgusting practice. I’m sure we have a lot of career diplomats who are much better qualified for these posts. This sends three disastrous messages: (1) to the countries where these amateurs are sent it says “you are too unimportant to have a ‘real’ diplomat”; (2) to the professional diplomats it says that their training and expertise is worth nothing; (3) to the world in general it says that everything in America is for sale to the highest bidder.


  2. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: The position of US Ambassador is highly overrated. After all, they hold a public ceremonial post in a vast byzantine bureaucracy. At the end of the day, Foggy Bottom has the final word in any meaningful policy making decision, regardless the ambassador’s opinion and feelings. Political ambassadors are good raconteurs and fun to be with. They are not preoccupied either with their image or a career. Normally, they have a better sense of humor than career diplomats. The only exception, of course, is political ambassadors doing personal business deals in the host country. Like very serious bankers, they have no sense of humor whatsoever.


  3. Tom: Not necessarily. Many people do not realize that many countries would like to receive political appointees as U.S. Ambassadors, since they know that that person will have closer and more direct ties to the U.S. president. Do you think a career State Department officer can get the President on the telephone as quickly as a major campaign donor? Also, the career diplomats know that many good postings will go to political types, and they accept that along with the territory (and every political appointee will have a career type behind him, whispering in his ear!)


  4. mford: Come now. These appointees don’t set policy. Their most important function is to serve as hosts for this that and the other thing, which I’m sure they are all VERY good at doing. The embassy staff and career diplomats take care of the real work.


  5. JJ: Do you mean those political hacks like when Benjamin Franklin was appointed by his buddy G. Washington to that cushy post in Paris?


  6. DIPLOMACY is dead. Effective diplomacy — the kind that produced Nixon’s breakthrough with China, an end to the Cold War on American terms, or the Dayton peace accord in Bosnia — requires patience, persistence, empathy, discretion, boldness and a willingness to talk to the enemy. This is an age of impatience, changeableness, palaver, small-mindedness and an unwillingness to talk to bad guys. Human rights are in fashion, a good thing of course, but the space for realist statesmanship of the kind that produced the Bosnian peace in 1995 has diminished. The late Richard Holbrooke’s realpolitik was not for the squeamish. There are other reasons for diplomacy’s demise. The United States has lost its dominant position without any other nation rising to take its place. The result is nobody’s world. It is a place where America acts as a cautious boss, alternately encouraging others to take the lead and worrying about loss of authority. Syria has been an unedifying lesson in the course of crisis when diplomacy is dead. Algeria shows how the dead pile up when talking is dismissed as a waste of time. Violence, of the kind diplomacy once resolved, has shifted. As William Luers, a former ambassador to Venezuela and the director of The Iran Project, said in an e-mail, it occurs “less between states and more dealing with terrorists.” One result is that “the military and the C.I.A. have been in the driver’s seat in dealing with governments throughout the Middle East and in state to state (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq) relations.” The role of professional diplomats is squeezed. Indeed the very word “diplomacy” has become unfashionable on Capitol Hill, where its wimpy associations — trade-offs, compromise, pliancy, concessions and the like — are shunned by representatives who these days prefer beating the post-9/11 drums of confrontation, toughness and inflexibility: All of which may sound good but often get you nowhere (or into long, intractable wars) at great cost.

    Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, wrote in an e-mail that, “When domestic politics devolve into polarization and paralysis the impact on diplomatic possibility becomes inordinately constraining.” He cited Cuba and Iran as examples of this; I would add Israel-Palestine. These critical foreign policy issues are viewed less as diplomatic challenges than potential sources of domestic political capital. So when I asked myself what I hoped Barack Obama’s second term would inaugurate, my answer was a new era of diplomacy. It is not too late for the president to earn that Nobel Peace Prize (…..)


  7. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Regarding US foreign policy in the Middle East, a fresh start for Obama begins with choosing politically-neutral negotiators to deal with the Iran-Israel-Palestine question. Very much like what Richard Nixon did during his tenures.


  8. First, my congratulations and condolences to John Kerry for being nominated to be our next secretary of state. There is no one better for the job today and no worse job to have today. It is no accident that we’ve started measuring our secretaries of state more by miles traveled than milestones achieved. It is bloody hard to do big diplomacy anymore. Why? Well, as secretary of state today you get to deal with Vladimir Putin, who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. That is, even though Russia’s economy is hugely corrupt and nowhere nearly as innovative as it should be, Putin sits atop a huge reserve of oil and gas that makes him think he’s a genius and doesn’t need to listen to anyone. When recently confronted with his regime’s bad behavior, his first instinct was to block American parents from adopting Russian orphans, even though so many of them badly need homes. If there were an anti-Nobel Peace Prize, Putin would win hands down. When Putin isn’t available to stiff us, China, to whom we owe a gazillion dollars, is ready to stand in. Those two are the real nations, where there’s at least someone to answer the phone — and hang up on us. Elsewhere, the secretary of state gets to deal with failed or failing states, like Mali, Algeria, Afghanistan and Libya, whose governments cannot deliver for their people, let alone for us. If he is looking for a break, Kerry could always call on our longtime ally Egypt, whose president, Mohamed Morsi, we find out, in 2010 described Jews as “descendants of apes and pigs.” Who knew? So what’s a secretary of state to do? I’d suggest trying something radically new: creating the conditions for diplomacy where they do not now exist by going around leaders and directly to the people. And I’d start with Iran, Israel and Palestine. We live in an age of social networks in which every leader outside of North Korea today is now forced to engage in a two-way conversation with their citizens. There’s no more just top-down. People everywhere are finding their voices and leaders are terrified. We need to turn this to our advantage to gain leverage in diplomacy. Let’s break all the rules (…..)



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