President Barack Obama’s penchant for appointing top campaign fundraisers to cherry positions inside luxe American embassies in the capitals of allied nations isn’t a new abuse of American Presidential power; it’s simply an expansion on a trend that’s begun to tick off our friends and frustrate advocates for reform here at home.
Nile Gardiner of Britain’s The Telegraph summed up the feeling in a column indicting the Obama Administration’s “selling of public office” Wednesday:
The Obama administration will claim this is no big deal. After all, previous US administrations, both Democrat and Republican, have also rewarded major donors with plum diplomatic posts.
But long-standing precedent doesn’t mean the practice of rewarding party fundraisers is in any way ethical or right, and it certainly doesn’t serve American interests.
The appointment of Matthew Barzun and other major fundraisers to key diplomatic posts is an insult to the American people, as well as an insult to the countries to which they are being sent.
Who’s Matthew Barzun? Well, for one thing, he’s not a diplomat; and he certainly lacks any connection to Britain. He’s a former Obama campaign finance chairman who helped the President raise $700 million for his re-election bid, including $2.3 million out of his own funds. That all happened after Obama had rewarded him for similar work in the 2008 race by appointing him as ambassador to Sweden, another honorific that placed Barzun at the front of a line of vastly more qualified career diplomats. Barzun’s nomination still must be confirmed by the Senate.
In all, Obama has sent 18 of his biggest fundraisers to American embassy posts since 2009. But his friends don’t end up in dangerous, destabilized places (like, say, Benghazi, Libya); they go to London, Paris and Rome.
For conservatives, lambasting Obama has become a straw man pastime; it’s too easy. But this sort of abuse of office has been slowly creeping into the culture of the American Presidency, and Obama is only building on a perverse tradition laid down by immediate predecessors hailing from both major parties.
According to the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), 89 of Obama’s 276 ambassador nominations — 32 percent — have been “political” appointees, with the rest going to “real” diplomats. Slain Libya ambassador Christopher Stevens was one such “real” diplomat, having joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1991 and having served in multiple roles in several Mideast countries.
Those numbers are very much in keeping with precedents set by George W. Bush (28 percent political, 72 percent diplomatic); Bill Clinton (26 percent political, 74 percent diplomatic); George H. W. Bush (31 percent political, 69 percent diplomatic); and Ronald Reagan (33 percent political, 67 percent diplomatic).
“Now is the time to end the spoils system and the de facto ‘three-year rental’ of ambassadorships,” the AFSA asserts in a statement on its website. “The United States is alone in this practice; no other major democracy routinely appoints non-diplomats to serve as envoys to other countries.”