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July 10, 2014

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nick s

American presidents have been sticking their mates in Nice Capitals for decades while the career diplomats at State get to be ambassador of West Civilwaria and Shitholistan, because the working assumption is that the leaders of Nice Countries can pick up the phone and call the president on short notice, and the embassy's non-ceremonial stuff can be run competently by the career diplomat deputy and the spooks. (Of course, leaders of Nice Countries still generally send their most senior diplomats to DC.)

The general signalling from the US has been that once you no longer need a career ambassador and instead get a junketeer leading the mission, you're on the Nice Safe Country list. Germany had career people in charge during reunification, but they're now considered Nice and Safe.

Perhaps the main trend is that the leaders of Nice Countries now think that if they pick up the phone and call... anyone, the NSA's listening. As dsquared suggested re: Ukraine, the usual channels for slightly grubby statecraft have been slammed shut by Wikileaks and Snowden.

Chris Williams

Off topic: happy Saint Olga's day!

"The Drevlians sent twenty of their best men to persuade Olga to marry their Prince Mal and give up her rule of Kievan Rus. She had them buried alive. Then she sent word to Prince Mal that she accepted the proposal, but required their most distinguished men to accompany her on the journey in order for her people to accept the offer of marriage. The Drevlians sent their best men who governed their land. Upon their arrival, she offered them a warm welcome" ...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olga_of_Kiev

bert

Nick's right. 'Ambassador' is one of those terms (like Conservative or Liberal) whose meaning in the States has become completely warped through misuse.

In part it's a desire to maintain the pretense of egalitarianism. In Europe the heads of government run honours systems. They print the currency in which prestige is totted up and accounted for, not unlike central bank governers. This gives them tremendous advantages in the market for fawning, brownnosing and snobbery - advantages which can be exchanged for cash or for favours in kind. American presidents don't have this. So they have chosen to take something of value - the Nice Country posts Nick talks about - and repurpose them as currency.

Once, under John Major, for some reason they accidentally appointed a career diplomat, and it turned out this wasn't interpreted as a snub at all. He was very popular in London. People were surprised and delighted that the US Ambassador wasn't a tedious moneyed halfwit. I think it helped that he was very anglophile and a natural Tory, despite starting life in Hawaii. Spent much of his time hanging out with Nicholas Soames.

Speaking of whom, a classic example of US ambassador is Pamela Harriman, who fucked her way through the Churchill family, wartime London, postwar America, and ended up, thanks to a dead husband's money, buying herself the ambassadorship in Paris. Impressive in a way, that kind of dedication.

ajay

bert: yes, I remember - Ray Seitz. I met him just after he'd stepped down for Crowe (who wasn't a moneyed halfwit either, but a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs). Nice guy. Crowe, not so much.

Chris williams

Isn't the point not that this has always happened, which of course it has, but that under BHO it's become significantly more prevalent? Here NPR estimate it's gone up from about a third to about half. http://www.npr.org/2014/02/12/275897092/more-ambassador-posts-are-going-to-political-appointees

bert

That's not an estimate by NPR, but by the career diplomats' trade association. That said, it wouldn't surprise me. Last I heard, Obama was using signing statements (remember those?).

Seems to me the problem might be fixed by finding two different words for the two different things we're discussing.
A well-informed, well-trained professional sent abroad to represent his or her country could be called an ambassador.
Someone sent to occupy lavish accommodation as a reward for political services, who could be depended on to achieve little other than fatten up their self-esteem, expand their network of contacts and pick up the occasional laid-on-a-plate opportunity for riskfree graft, could be called an envoy. Example usage: Middle East Peace Envoy.
I think it could work.

chris y

I suppose there may be a case for sending a genuine political appointee to particularly sensitive postings, acting as a detached member of the government rather than a senior civil servant. Which is not, of course, the same thing as a pig ignorant political donor. And which should only be done in exceptional circumstances and for the duration of the sensitivity.

nick s

I'd like to see which posts have shifted from career to political appointees since 2008 or 2012, just to see what might be getting AFSA's goat there: perhaps it's the marginal cases where it was previously a nice long service award for a career diplomat who'd worked in dodgier parts of the world, and now goes to some moneyed ignoramus.

bert

... "Nice guy. Crowe, not so much." ...

Interesting in the current context that he so adamantly defended the shooting down of a civilian airliner and the resultant deaths of 290 passengers and crew.

http://www.afn.org/~dks/vincennes/v2-crowe.html
The polling at the end offers a parallel with Russia [t]oday.

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