President Obama has continued the practice of selling ambassadorship off to wealthy friends and donors — a practice that many used to denounce during Republican administration but has been dismissed with a shrug in this Administration. I have long been critical of the practice which places a president’s and a party’s interest ahead of that of the nation. I was at a dinner party a few years ago where an Obama donor spoke openly how the White House gave him an ambassadorship and he decided to just give it to his wife who he said is delighted that she is now called “ambassador” wherever she goes. As discussed this weekend, donor Noah Bryson Mamet has been nominated for ambassador to Argentia but has never even visited the country. This follows an embarrassing hearing with Obama bundler George Tsunis, who was nominated for ambassador to Norway. Tsunis showed as striking lack of knowledge of that country.
Mamet simply told the committee that “I haven’t had the opportunity yet to be there. I’ve traveled pretty extensively around the world, but I haven’t yet had a chance.” Putting aside the lack of diplomatic experience of these friends and donors, what is more remarkable is that Mamet knew he was going to be nominated for many months but never thought it might be a good idea to just go there once, even on vacation. The same can be said bout Tsunis who did not appear to view it as necessary to actually learn about the country in which he would serve as ambassador for the United States.
Mamet is the founder of political consulting firm Noah Mamet & Associates, and used to work for former House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt. He was given the ambassadorship after serving as a bundler for Obama and the Democratic Party in the 2012 campaigns. While he did serve on a delegation to monitor elections in Sierra Leone as part of the National Democratic Institute, he has no diplomatic experience and obviously no connection to Argentina — a major diplomatic posting.
The silence from Democrats and liberals over the continuation of corrupt practice is a disgrace. Many countries only use professional diplomats for such high positions. It is not only to serve their countries better but as a sign of respect to the other nation. The United States has had a long and sordid history of embarrassing nominees who are given ambassadorial positions as payback. This has continued with Obama with donors who often embarrass the United States for their sense of entitlement.
Now, after years of tense relations, Argentina is watching Obama send someone who has not even bothered to visit the country — fulfilling a stereotype of insular Americans. This is not like some distinct, dangerous spot like Yemen (which no bundler would want). Argentina is hard to miss for people traveling in the region. That is really going to help relations. The most we can say is that Mamet was not just some wealthy guy but forked over serious money to Obama and the Democratic Party to achieve this distinction. My problem is that, if we are going to sell top diplomatic posts, I would prefer to do it the honest way and just have bidding on Ebay with the money going into the U.S. Treasury rather than either of the parties. At least we would then get some value for our government positions.
Mamet strikes me as an intelligent person. However, he is no diplomat and Argentina is a major player in the region. The solution is simple: limit ambassador positions to career diplomats or at least people who have held prior diplomatic posts. I understand that we could lose a few talented people but we would eliminate a far greater number of incompetents. If a president wants to reward wealthy friends, I suggest the Lincoln bedroom — there is a virtual credit card machine attached to the door.