[Washington Babylon ]A Foreign Service Guide to the World’s Hot Spots and Hellholes | Harper's Magazine

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A Foreign Service Guide to the World’s Hot Spots and Hellholes Issue [Washington Babylon]

A Foreign Service Guide to the World’s Hot Spots and Hellholes


As Scott Horton recently noted a few months back, no country in the world but the United States “regularly hands out choice ambassadorships as a favor for campaign funding bundlers…A cynic studying the latest batch of nominees might conclude that the price of an ambassadorship has soared from roughly $200,000 under the Rovian regime to $500,000 under Rahm Emanuel.”

Scott noted that more than half of Obama’s early ambassadorial appointments were political appointees (as opposed to career appointments). They included Louis Susman, an early Obama fundraiser who also drummed up $300,000 for the inaugural festivities, who was named as ambassador to the Court of St. James, and Phil Murphy, a Goldman Sachs executive who served as the Democratic Party’s national finance chairman, who was picked to represent the United States in Berlin. The list goes on and on.

What’s notable also is that political appointees tend to get plum positions (think glamorous European capitals and tropical beaches) while career appointees (think war, famine, and general hardship) are shuffled off to embassies in the least desirable spots. Consider here the list of appointees to different countries since 1960, as compiled by the American Foreign Service Association.

Since then, there have been a total of 94 ambassadors collectively appointed to Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, the Holy See, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent/Grenadines and to UN positions in Rome. Every single one has gone to a political appointee. Another 56 ambassadors were shipped off to the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Bahamas and Switzerland. Fifty-one of those were political appointees.

At the other end of the spectrum, since 1960 not a single political appointee has been sent as an ambassador to 43 other countries, including, among other places, Albania, Belarus, Burma, Chad, Laos, Togo and Yemen. A coincidence no doubt.

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