Although he promised to put diplomacy in the “hands of genuine professionals,” President Joe Biden continues the swamp tradition of using foreign posts to reward cronies. Donors can still buy positions of influence for about the price of a Hunter Biden painting.
Even the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate has slow-walked Mr. Biden’s unserious nominations. As of his six-month mark, they’d confirmed only a single ambassador. (Barack Obama had 59 at that milestone.) An optimist might’ve thought the White House was carefully vetting candidates but picks like George Tsunis to Greece and Amy Gutmann to Germany dash such Pollyannish hopes.
The Foreign Service Act of 1980 requires that nominees be qualified. But other than contributing a sack of cash to Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) amidst a child sex scandal, what are Mr. Tsunis’s foreign policy bona fides? In his disastrous nomination hearings in 2014, as Mr. Obama’s choice for Norway, he came across as the Hellenic equivalent of Maxwell Smart.
Mr. Tsunis stunk up the Senate chamber like spoiled lutefisk. He confessed never visiting the country and referred to its president when it has a prime minister. Worse, he condemned the Progress Party as a “fringe element” that “spew hatred,” gaining points for using phrases from the Big Book of Beltway Pap but demonstrating ignorance of the fact that the party was part of Oslo’s coalition government.
Dennis Jett, an ambassador for Bill Clinton, wrote, “When an ambassador’s confirmation hearing makes The Daily Show, it is not because it went well.” Republicans, Democrats, Minnesota’s sizeable Norwegian-American population, and the entire Scandinavian nation united in opposition. If they demanded better from a representative of the American president, shouldn’t Mr. Biden?
Former ambassador Chas Freeman told Reuters, “Some have called [Tsunis’s] hearings the most embarrassing in American history,” adding, “Our embassy in Athens should not be treated as a sinecure to be purchased in return for campaign contributions or as a training ground for novice diplomats, still less incompetent amateurs.”
At least Amy Gutmann is president of the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania. Still, the best Politico can say about her is she was “present at the 2018 launch for the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.” Well, I was present for a Bruce Springsteen concert. That doesn’t qualify me to play sax in the E Street Band.
Politico admits, “Gutmann doesn’t have professional expertise in Germany.” Her title is “political philosopher,” which brings to mind Bea Arthur’s response to Mel Brooks’s similar job description in “History of the World Part 1.” “Oh, you mean a bulls—t artist!” So why this choice? Well, on her watch, the Biden Center slurped up $22 million in donations, mainly from China, which she kept anonymous.
Ambassadors, like they say of vice-presidential picks, can only hurt you. Witness FDR’s embarrassingly pro-Nazi ambassador to London, Joe Kennedy, or George H.W. Bush’s rep in Iraq, April Glaspie. The New York Times quoted her telling Saddam Hussein, “We have no opinion on … your border disagreement with Kuwait.” The dictator took this as a green light for the invasion that traumatizes the region to this day.
Outsider Donald Trump was expected to tap guys like Woody Johnson, the hapless New York Jets owner, who he posted to the Court of St. James. But Le Mence Orange kept Obama career diplomats in nations where we had less-special relationships. He didn’t go for the guy whose team brought us such debacles as the Butt Fumble.
The American Foreign Services Association writes, “Most countries no longer sell military rank, having learned that commanders tend to do better if they know the work. The same principle obviously applies to ambassadors, yet America ignores this otherwise universal truth.”
Richard Boucher, another longtime diplomat, told Reuters, “The issue is not career versus political. It’s competent versus not competent.”
We were promised the adults would be back in charge with Mr. Biden; perhaps the best anyone can say about his choices is they’re over 18.
Greece’s status as the cradle of democracy is reflected in the fact that for three decades, presidents of both parties have tapped career diplomats for the post; Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy and center of the E.U., has obvious importance. Such jobs call for seasoned hands, not mere cronies. Nor is tracing your roots back to a nation enough to qualify for the job.
If that’s all it takes, I’m officially throwing my hat in the ring for the post to Athens.
I’ll have my shoe phone ready, Mr. President, waiting for your call.
For one thing, I know Greece has a prime minister — and, heck, I’ve even been to Norway.
• Dean Karayanis is a producer for the Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show, longtime Rush Limbaugh staffer, and host of History Author Show on iHeartRadio Twitter @HistoryDean.