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More than 100 politically appointed ambassadors from eight presidential administrations are urging Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama to use their “common sense” when either of them enters the White House and reject calls to limit the number of political supporters named as foreign envoys.
In a letter to the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, the ambassadors representing the Council of American Ambassadors criticized groups that are advocating holding the number of politically appointed ambassadors to no more than 10 percent of the U.S. diplomatic corps. Politically appointed ambassadors have averaged about 30 percent of the diplomatic corps since the Kennedy administration.
“We urge that neither candidate depart from common sense and the constitutional framework set forth by our Founding Fathers,” the 108 ambassadors said in their letter.
They noted that John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were all politically appointed ambassadors. The professional Foreign Service was not formed until the turn of the 20th century.
“The history of the early republic [of the United States] is bristling with examples of non-career ambassadors,” the letter said. “Since the ratification of the Constitution [in 1788], there have been over a 1,000 presidential nominees appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate. This simple procedure has served America well for over two centuries.”
Earlier this year, the American Academy of Diplomacy sent both candidates letters, urging them to reduce the number of political ambassadors to 10 percent of the total nominations.
“Given the demanding tasks ambassadors confront daily in leading our diplomatic missions, the academy recommends the candidates commit to appointing only the most qualified ambassadors, preferably from the career Foreign Service,” the academy said.
Politically appointed ambassadors, often top campaign fundraisers, frequently get plum posts like London or Paris and bring a special quality to their assignments because they are close to the presidents who selected them.
While praising the career diplomats as “excellent representatives of the Foreign Service,” the political ambassadors in their letter urged the next president to defend his prerogative to appoint as many political ambassadors as he wishes.
“Our nation has prospered as its ambassadors have brought their backgrounds in business, academia, law and politics to the service of the American people,” they said.
“We must continue to allow the president the unhindered capacity to nominate the best and brightest to the position of representing and negotiating the interests of the United States.”
The letter was organized by Bruce Gelb, ambassador to Belgium from 1991 to 1993 and currently president of the Council of American Ambassadors, a committee that promotes activities for politically appointed ambassadors.
The signatories of the letter included nine currently serving ambassadors: Cesar B. Cabrera in Mauritius; James P. Cain in Denmark; Thomas C. Foley in Ireland; Ford M. Fraker in Saudi Arabia; Brenda LaGrange Johnson in Jamaica; Robert D. McCallum Jr. in Australia; Vincent Obsitnik in Slovakia; Mary M. Ourisman in Barbados; and David H. Wilkins in Canada.
They also included William McC. Blair Jr., who served as ambassador to Denmark under President Kennedy and ambassador to the Philippines under President Johnson; and Robert Ingersoll, who served as ambassador to Japan under President Nixon.
About the Author
James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...
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