After a series of embarrassing confirmation hearings for less-than qualified Obama nominees, the American Foreign Service Association issued a major rebuke Friday. The group that represents America’s Foreign Service professionals is now urging the administration to set minimum qualification standards for its ambassadorial nominees.
“The topic of the qualifications of ambassadorial nominees is of great interest to AFSA’s membership,” The American Foreign Service Association said in a statement. “All Americans have a vested interest in ensuring that we have the most effective leaders and managers of U.S. embassies and missions advancing U.S. interests around the globe.”
The American Foreign Service Association have always held the position that ambassadorial nominees should largely be filled with career professionals, rather than political donors. However, the signal that the organization is sending shows a level of concern never before heard. They further announced Friday that the group will actually propose new guidelines for “the necessary qualifications and qualities” for diplomatic candidates.
The statement said the group has been “closely monitoring” recent confirmation hearings.
The remark was a reference to several problematic appearances by Obama donors who had been given diplomatic appointments in what appears to be payback for contributing money to the president. At confirmation hearings, they have shown little to no knowledge regarding the countries in which they were appointed to serve and would be residing in.
The less-than acceptable performances heightened concerns the Obama administration is appointing too many politically connected donors, and not enough Foreign Service professionals.
The American Foreign Service Association further fueled those concerns when it reported that a whopping 53 percent of Obama’s second-term appointments have been political.
Contrary to what many Americans might guess, the United States is one of only a few stable democratic nations that still give diplomatic posts as a way to reward political friends, and definitely not democracies as large as the Unite States. But historically, just less than a third of these appointments have been political payback, so to speak. For instance, former President Bill Clinton appointed 28 percent diplomatic posts that were political, while under former President George W. Bush it was 30 percent.
However, under President Obama, the number has shot up to 37 percent overall, and at this rate by the time he leaves office the number will likely be much higher.
Though this is a bipartisan practice, the performance during confirmation hearings of some of Obama’s latest picks has raised concerns that the United States may be sending the wrong message abroad.
Last week, his nominee to Argentina felt out said he’d never been there. The Obama nominee to Norway also incorrectly cited key facts about the Scandinavian nation at his confirmation hearing. George Tsunis referred to Norway’s “president,” even though the country is a constitutional monarchy.
Sen John McCain (R-AZ) said in response that it was particularly damaging abroad, noting how Tsunis’ answers are going viral on video in Norway.
Tsunis also downplayed the importance of the country’s Progress Party. In what could only be characterized as an embarrassing parental-like moment, Sen. McCain was forced to firmly remind him that the party is part of the center-right coalition government there.
Colleen Bradley Bell, who is a soap opera producer Obama nominated for ambassador to Hungary, could not answer when asked what America’s strategic interests are in that country.
Thus far, Obama has appointed at least 44 political bundlers, who are people who gather political contributions for a candidate. The 44 politically motivated appointments are already nearly the entire amount Bush appointed in his two full terms as president.
The cushy posts in western European countries, the Caribbean, and places like Singapore and Canada, typically are set aside for the politically connected nominees. France, Great Britain, Germany and Italy are a few of the most sought-after jobs.
“I would encourage people to give those who have had tougher hearings a chance to go to their countries and see what their tenure will entail,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said last Friday. “And the judgment can’t be made about how effective they’ll be or how appreciated they’ll be by the government until we have that happen.”
Psaki cited that many esteemed U.S. ambassadors have come from outside the Foreign Service career path, including former Vice President Walter Mondale in Japan, and Sargent Shriver in France.
The AFSA did acknowledge that some “outstanding ambassadors” have come from outside the ranks of Foreign Service professionals, but also that “individuals who have spent decades in the United States Foreign Service are uniquely qualified for the job of Ambassador given their years of training and hands-on experience.”
The statement suggested that the guidelines would seek to establish minimum qualifications for nominees, rather than rule out political nominations altogether.
Though the guidelines have technically been in the works for months, supposedly prepared by 10 ambassadors during eight presidential administrations, they have never pushed their implementation. The group’s Board of Governors recently adopted them, but whether the administration would remains unclear.