Submitted by Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
Recent nominations highlight the continuing spoils system of politicians returning favors for fundraising. A few appointments highlight this practice has not ended. Appointing the unqualified to the diplomatic service on the mere reward for political fundraising raises the question of importance our government places on foreign policy between the United States and other Nations. Some recent appointments highlight the fact that diplomatic credentials are not necessarily the most important criterion.
President Obama nominated Noah Mamet to become the next Ambassador to Argentina. In a meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last Thursday Mr. Mamet stated that though he traveled extensively around the world he had not the opportunity yet to travel there. He was successful in generating much cash for then Candidate Obama’s first election campaign, reported to be in 2008 $500,000.00 and for the re-election campaign of President Obama another $500,000.00 in 2012.
Yet Mr. Mamet is not unique in his past travels. In January George Tsunis, President Obama’s nominee for the Ambassador to Norway, stated to Senator John McCain during questioning that he had not been to Norway but more importantly the hotel magnate showed his lack of complete knowledge of Norway’s government when he made reference to Norway as having a president, it is a constitutional monarchy, and earned the ire of at least one Scandinavian newspaper referring to what it described as a “’faltering, incoherent performance.” Another mistake was to declare the Norwegian Progress Party as being having “fringe elements” that “spew their hatred” when in fact seven of Norway’s cabinet ministers are members of this party. But despite this he won Senate confirmation. He too is a successful bundler of campaign contributions: $50,000.00 to Senator John McCain’s campaign and over $1,000,000.00 for President Obama’s.
George Tsunis has demonstrated success in business and other charitable causes. His bio on Chartwell Hotels’ website:
“George James Tsunis is the Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Chartwell Hotels, LLC; which owns, develops and manages Hilton, Marriott and Intercontinental hotels throughout the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states.
Prior to founding Chartwell Hotels, Mr. Tsunis was a partner at the law firm of Rivkin Radler LLP, Long Island’s largest law firm, representing both private clients and municipalities in the practice areas of land use and zoning, real estate, corporate, municipal law and commercial litigation. Mr. Tsunis’ public service includes time as a Legislative Attorney at the New York City Council, Special Counsel to the Town of Huntington Environmental Open Space Committee, and as Counsel to the Dix Hills Water District”
Certainly these qualifications are meritorious for a business leader, but are these the skills transferable in diplomatic circumstances? Would a keen knowledge of Norwegian history, geopolitics, or even the Norwegian language be important? Or, are political contributions the requisite requirement.
But the person who has attracted particular interest is the nomination of Soap Opera Producer Colleen Bell as Ambassador to Hungary. Ms. Bell produced The Bold and the Beautiful television program. In addition, she was nominated by President Obama as a Trustee to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and has served on boards of directors for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Rape Treatment Center of UCLA Medical Center at Santa Monica and the Children’s Institute Inc.
Ms. Bell has been listed according to the New York Times as one of President Obama’s largest campaign fund bundlers, reportedly to at least $800,000.00 and has hosted several large fundraising events at her residence and other initiatives. Again, certainly qualified in philanthropy and business but what of her diplomatic credentials? At the hearing when asked by Senator McCain to describe American strategic interests in Hungary, she replied:
“We have our strategic interests, in terms of what are our key priorities in Hungary. I think our key priorities are to improve upon, as I mentioned, the security relationship and also the law enforcement and to promote business opportunities, increase trade … Our strategic interests are to work collaboratively as NATO allies…To work to promote and protect the security, both for both countries and for and for the world, to continue working together on the cause of human rights around the world, to build that side of our relationship while also maintaining and pursuing some difficult conversations that might be necessary in the coming years.”
In the proper sense traditionally diplomats have at least brought governmental and foreign policy or relevant academic experience to their ambassadorship and at least a well founded understanding of the countries to which they will represent the United States. But the credibility of the United States begins to be questioned when appointments for to various ambassadorships are often by political or fundraising patronages. Certainly there are ambassadors nominated and confirmed who have expertise in the countries they will be stationed, but if a particular individual is a major campaign contributor do these qualified potential nominees get bumped from the position to favor a political contributor?
It is not only a credibility issue for the United States it is also frankly perceived by some nations as an insult to their government and nation. That is the United States did not respect their nation enough to provide the best diplomat available to them but instead toffered a much less diplomatically qualified ambassador they view as a crony. The ambassador was not offered to benefit their nation but reward a political ally, and certainly not a highly capable diplomat as their country has endeavored to provide to the United States.
And it remains a question as to how well these candidates would control a diplomatic crisis in these nations, such as when a civil disorder or upheaval faced the country and consequently the United States. It is one thing to be successful in handling public relations and business crises, but it is much more magnified in geopolitical politics where entire nations are involved. Could these candidates be successful in such circumstances and are the United State’s interests best served by a less than the best candidate available?
It would be of benefit to rely more on a merit system to staff our diplomatic corps rather than the spoils system often used. Outcomes are certainly indicative of priorities in our government.
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