U.S. Ambassadorships and Obama’s Big Campaign Donors

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For all the money small donors brought to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, I doubt a small donor’s name will ever be floated for an ambassadorship. Small money donors are not rewarded with access or ambassadorships.

The Washington Post is reporting Louis Susman, a “mega-fundraiser” for Obama, may get “primo” ambassador job. Susman, “who gave and bundled some major bucks” for Obama’s campaign is likely to be nominated as the next U.S Ambassador to the United Kingdom, pending the outcome of “negotiations”.

What makes Susman qualified to represent our nation to one of America’s closest allies? First, he raises gobs of money for Democratic candidates! Last year alone, he contributed $118,187 to 36 different candidates or political action committees.

In 2004, Susman helped raise $247 million for John Kerry. “Susman was an early backer of Obama’s — getting on board even before Obama declared his candidacy in early 2007 — and was one of the campaign’s biggest bundlers.”

Second, Susman helped contribute to the global economic financial crisis! Up until he retired on February 1, 2009, Susman was vice chairman of Citigroup Global Markets.

According to ABC News, Citigroup lost $8 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008 while Citigroup took in $45 billion in bailout money from U.S. taxpayers (aka small donors). But that’s okay, because “Susman raised $300,000 for Obama’s inaugural committee.”

Last month, as the president-elect, Obama said he would still appoint big donors to ambassadorships. As Bloomberg News reported, Obama said:

“There probably will be some” political appointees serving abroad, Obama said at a news conference yesterday. “It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that there are not going to be some excellent public servants but who haven’t come through the ranks of the civil service.”

While this isn’t a new practice, George W. Bush, for example, rewarded Sam Fox, a major Republican fundraiser, with the ambassadorship to Belgium after Fox donated $50,000 to Swift Boat Veterans For Truth in 2004, I think it is a sad slap in the face of American taxpayers who have to bailout Citigroup and a tin ear to small donors who contributed to a campaign of change that promised to limit the influence of money in politics.

In June 2007, Obama said:

“I refuse to accept the Washington logic that you cannot find thousands of talented, patriotic Americans willing to devote a few years to their country without the promise of a lucrative lobbying job after they’re done,” Obama said.

So what about the reverse? Can a patriotic American raise millions of dollars for a presidential campaign without the “promise of a lucrative” ambassadorship after they’re done? What about the millions of dollars raised by the small contributions donors to the Obama campaign? Where are their ambassadorship rewards?

Obama has more than 170 ambassadorships open to nominate truly qualified men and women to represent our country. Does Obama think the change we voted for last November means continuing to have our democracy being represented by the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans?

I think that a wealthy, well-connected banker, such as Susman, who has been part of the collapse of the financial system of the entire world is a horrible choice to represent our United States of America.

In 1997, George Kennan, a retired U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union and career officer in the U.S. Foreign Service, challenged America’s “Diplomacy Without Diplomats?” in Foreign Affairs. According to Keenan:

Heading the diplomatic mission is always the chief of mission, normally the ambassador or, in his absence, the charge d’affaires. The principal concern that the ambassador, as the personal representative of the president, must have at heart is of course the promotion of the national interest of the United States.

Is it in the national interest of the United States to hand out ambassadorships as spoils of a hard fought political campaign? No. Is American diplomancy best served by having Susman in Britain? No.

What American foreign policy needs demand is ambassadors be appointed based on their diplomatic merit and achievement. We need the best diplomats representing us, not political moneymen. Keenan wrote:

There is, first, the perennial resistance of the Washington bureaucracy to the creation or operation of any civilian government institution not fully amenable to its influence, and its jealousy of rivals that might share in its privileges and prestige abroad. Then there is the widespread ignorance, throughout the government and beyond, of the traditional institutions of diplomacy, along with a sweeping unawareness of even the reasons why a professional diplomatic and consular apparatus for representation of the U.S. government abroad should exist at all. These deficiencies of knowledge and understanding affect the press and other media no less than they do wide circles of the government.

Finally, there are the strong egalitarian tendencies in contemporary American society, tendencies that prefer a relatively low level of uniformity — if necessary, even mediocrity — to any hierarchical differentiation that suggests one person might be better than another for any particular government job. And on top of this, Americans persist in the notion that the diplomatic service is dominated by effete snobs from monied and socially distinguished backgrounds, serving in places where there ought to be only “real Americans” attached exclusively to popular standards and scorning diplomatic niceties and conventions.

I think President Obama, who attracted the support of notable foreign policy Democrats, such as Madeleine Albright, Richard Holbrooke, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden, should do better in his ambassadorial nominations.

I think Obama, who majored in international relations at Columbia University, should know that U.S. diplomacy and thus our American democracy would be better served by having professional diplomats as ambassadors representing our nation’s image and best interests. Last year in Berlin, Obama said:

True partnership and true progress requires constant work and sustained sacrifice. They require sharing the burdens of development and diplomacy; of progress and peace. They require allies who will listen to each other, learn from each other and, most of all, trust each other.

That is why America cannot turn inward. That is why Europe cannot turn inward. America has no better partner than Europe. Now is the time to build new bridges across the globe as strong as the one that bound us across the Atlantic. Now is the time to join together, through constant cooperation, strong institutions, shared sacrifice, and a global commitment to progress, to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

As small donors for change to Obama campaign and as American taxpayers, I believe we should demand the best diplomats as ambassadors and not reward the wealthy elite. For this is not building a new bridge across the globe, but rather such appointments continue to use the old bridge of political spoils. I think the president does not signal to the nations of the world he values a democracy where merit matters more than wealth if he appoints wealth over merit to represent the United States. I believe America does not signal its respect to another nations by sending a campaign supporter to represent us.

There is still time for President Obama to change course on his ambassadorial nominees. As the story in the Post notes, negotiations are still in the air.

Keenan quoted Jules Cambon, a former French diplomat, who noted in 1925 that:

Democracy will always have ambassadors and ministers; the question is whether it will have diplomats.

Will our democracy have diplomats as ambassadors? Are ambassadorships tacitly for sale to the highest campaign fund raiser?


Cross-posted at European Tribune and Daily Kos.



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  1. is desired and appreciated. Please poke holes in my essay and if you know of better Obama quotes, please link to them to share.

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