President Obama has been taking flak of late for giving fat-cat donors cushy ambassadorial posts. Despite some early signals that merit — knowledge of the local language, culture or region, or perhaps foreign policy experience — might play a role in determining who gets those jobs, big donors and bundlers seem to have grabbed the lion’s share of the most coveted spots.
Obama had specifically said he would continue the tradition of sending political picks overseas. Historically, around 30 percent of envoy positions are filled by politicals, the rest go to career Foreign Service folks, and Obama, when the dust settles, is likely to be in that range. In addition, many countries prefer non-career people who are said to be able to pick up the phone and speak directly to the U.S. president.
But a comparison of Obama’s early picks with President Clinton’s, for example, indicates substantial differences between the two Democrats. Clinton tended to pick people with experience in public policy — if not international policy — for the important embassies. His big donors were generally given jobs in smaller countries in eastern or northern Europe where they could do little lasting harm.
There is a nice chart that accompanies the story in the print edition of the Post. Support your daily newspaper and check it out.