Department of State

For Sale: Ambassador's Slot. Competence Optional

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Office of Colleen Bell

Colleen Bell (pictured) seems like a nice enough person. She's certainly been successful in the television industry as a producer of "The Bold and the Beautiful" (a spin-off of "The Young and the Restless," which, like the show she produces, was also created by her in-laws). She even speaks conversational Spanish, which might not be as helpful as she'd wish in her new posting as ambassador to Hungary. But she's been really effective at packaging donations to the political campaigns of Barack Obama, which is not the sort of thing that hurts your prospects of a political appointment when Obama is president of the United States.

Bell is certainly not the first political appointee to grace the State Department—nor the least likely. Noah Mamet's appointment as ambassador to politically volatile Argentina, a country he's never visited, seems just as eyebrow-raising. And let's not forget Shirley Temple Black's roles as ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia under President Ronald Reagan (though both countries could, no doubt, have benefited from a cheery rendition or two of "On the Good Ship Lollipop").

In fact, ambassadorships have long been effectively for sale. The American Foreign Service Association—basically the labor union for career diplomats—tracks ambassadorial appointments and breaks them down by career and political, with a note as to whether nominees are political campaign bundlers. Bell and Mamet are both bundlers. So far, 35.2 percent of President Obama's appointments to ambassadorial posts have been political rather than career. That compares to 29.8 percent for George W. Bush and 28.6 percent for Bill Clinton. Yes, political appointments are pay-offs for services rendered. For her part, Bell's services include $500,000 or so in bundled donations, coupled with what is apparently total ignorance about Hungary's role in the greater scheme of things (hint: it's near Russia).

If you're curious, Colleen Bell's Certificate of Demonstrated Competence for the role of Ambassador to the Republic of Hungary is here (a full list for appointees is here). Yesterday, she and Mamet were confirmed by the Senate.

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  1. Caroline Kennedy is our Ambassador to Japan. That’s all the proof I need to know that 90% of ambassadorships are meaningless hack jobs.

    1. As far as I can tell, the job of a diplomat is to get a bunch of parking tickets and DUIs they don’t have to pay for.

    2. All high level government appointed jobs are now meaningless hack jobs that require zero skills, competence, or accountability.

      1. So they defer to the career bureaucrats who continue to accumulate power and push their own agendas.

        I would prefer competent appointees from outside government circles rather than career insiders.

        1. This is my main objection to term limits.

          1. Don’t they all eventually become insiders if they stay long enough?

    3. One of the biggest job responsibilities that an ambassador has is planning and throwing parties. Seriously.

      1. Which usually involves ringing a bell and telling the help to do it.

  2. Apparently they require greater foreign policy knowledge from beauty pageant contestants than ambassadors. I understand political appointments, but you would think that anybody who was going before congress would be smart enough to realize they would be answering a few questions and would have prepared a few answers.

  3. Well, as long as taxpayers aren’t paying the salaries of these political rewards.

    1. As if often the case, Fist is here with my comment before I am.

      What you said.

  4. We can only hope the Chiefs of Mission are solid.

  5. Sending a hack to Argentina seems to be about the respect that it deserves, but Hungary, during a time of shocking Russian aggression? Inexcusable.

  6. Hungary is pretty controversial with the Jobbik moves and Argentina defaulted on debt mainly held by the US. Maybe these political appointments are meant to subtly punish both governments? Or maybe it signals that the US is not interested in serious diplomacy? Alternatively, maybe sending more malleable ambassadors is meant to give State and/or the White House more influence on relations, whereas a careerist would be more confident about personal opinions and influences.

    1. By Argentine debt held “by” the US I meant by US companies and investors.

  7. After Temple died, I heard some old interview with her. She seemed competent, at least in retrospect. What qualifications does one need for ambassador, anyway? Knowledge of the culture and politics, familiarity with diplomatic norms, etc., all seem important, but they also seem like things you can learn, at least to a degree, before even starting the job. Seems like a calm, ass-kissing personality is more important in most cases. Honestly, what is the ambassador to Hungary going to do other than convey what her superiors want to say?

    1. With the internet and tele-conferencing, ambassadors are the buggy whip manufactures of today.

    2. The foreign service has classes for ambassadors and attaches on culture, politics, and diplomatic norms?

      But, yeah, what’s required is the right personality ? a people person and someone who understands that to get X done, you need to talk to person A who’ll talk to person B so you can talk to person C.

  8. For her part, Bell’s services include $500,000 or so in bundled donations, coupled with what is apparently total ignorance about Hungary’s role in the greater scheme of things (hint: it’s near Russia).

    Well, near-ish.

    But what is really required for an ambassadorship, anyway, besides knowing something about the place? I mean, it is not like Bell would think that Hungarians are afraid of losing their souls if photographed… Because they don’t, don’t they?

    1. Hungarians don’t have souls.

    2. Ambassadors do a lot of things. It is an important job. They are the chief US government official in a country. They are in charge of all of our relationships with a nation. In some quiet, friendly country like Ireland or Aruba that is a do nothing job that just requires the ambassador to be just smart enough not to embarrass himself. In a hostile country or a really important allied country, the job is wildly important. The Ambassador is the guy who smooths things over with the local government when Congress or the President does something to piss them off and rides heard over the other agencies operating in the country and makes sure they are not doing something stupid or embarrassing.

      Sending this broad to do that job in a place like Hungary is total professional malpractice on Obama’s part. Russia is trying to woe Hungary back under its influence. If Hungary ever became allied with Russia, it would be a huge problem for the US and Europe.

      1. Even in lower tier ambassadorships, there’s more to do than not embarrass yourself (and, by extension, the US)? you throw parties for local dignitaries and business owners, etc., you show up for all the important host government functions, visit schools, civic organizations, and such? all to give warm feelings from the host government and its people to the US. Plus, the US ambassador to, say, Aruba might be asked to go talk to, say, the Iranian ambassador to Aruba and try to make nice.

        Really, the type of person who would do well as an ambassador is a people person who’s really good at making the connections to get things done? which a campaign bundler might be very good at it, since they’ve proven they have the people skills to get lots of people to donate money.

        1. But you have to have more than that. You have to understand the country and the US interests in it and also understand how the US government works. A bundler is likely to have none of that.

      2. Are we sure Obama even understands the importance of Hungary? I know Bush was the stupid one and all, but I sense Obama has that academic-flavor smarts, which is to say his knowledge isn’t all that broad, and pretty dogmatic as well.

        FWIW, I’d hate it if we fuck up with Hungary. I go there many times per year, and it is a wonderful place.

  9. This is how I picture all ambassadors:

    “Hi there. Nice to see ya. Bumblebee tuna. Bumblebee tuna. Excuse me, your… balls are showing. Bumblebee tuna!”

  10. It is just amazing how Obama has so much overt contempt for the country and the government. I expect the Republicans to be pissed about this. They are the opposition and that is their job. What surprises me is how the Democrats meekly take being insulted like this. If you are a Democratic Senator, this nomination is nothing but Obama saying “fuck you and your institution, now go out and defend this shit”.

    Really, Obama is humiliating the Democrats in the Senate more than the Republicans. Sure, he is telling the Republicans “fuck you there is nothing you can do about it.” That is infuriating and insulting but it is no where near as humiliating as what he is doing to the Democrats. At least the Republicans get the self respect of objecting. The Democrats have to defend and support this shit. Obama might as well go to the well of the Senate and expect every Democratic Senator to kiss his ring or lick the soles of his shoes.

    1. I’m thinking the Democratic Senators accept you have to throw bones to the people who pay for the campaigns.

      1. Sure they do, but you do that by making them ambassador to places like the Bahamas or Lichtenstein not important countries like Hungary.

        Ambassadorships have always been for sale, but never the important ones. This is a new low and an insult the entire country. Obama is saying he just doesn’t give a shit.

  11. “The American Foreign Service Association?basically the labor union for career diplomats”

    UNION PRESIDENT: “OK, folks, management’s latest offer is a joke. They want to cut our salaries and benefits. It’s like they don’t take these labor negotiations seriously. Are you going to stand for it?”

    MEMBERS: “NO!!!”

    UNION PRESIDENT: “It seems we have no option but to…send management a sternly-worded note.”

    MEMBERS: “Yeah! Give ’em Hell!”

    UNION PRESIDENT: “And I propose a resolution Expressing Deep Concern.”

    MEMBERS: “That’ll teach them to mess with us!”

    1. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
      This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.jobsfish.com

      1. Okay, that fit really well.

        1. Maybe anonybot is suggesting they leave the Foreign Service for jobfish.com?

  12. Good alt-text though.

    I suspect that the Argentina appointment is within the realm of the realistic. The Hungary choice does seem a poor choice. As others have said, let’s hope the staff there really knows their shit.

  13. Look = most ambassadors are idiots. We reserve a few posts for actually-experienced, competent diplomats. Most are plum gigs that allow people to live like temporary-royalty abroad.

    Argentina? Fuck em. I think we should have sent someone even less qualified. Sent kirschner a message = “you’re a bankrupt botox experiment with legs No one is ever going to deal with you.” Send her an ex pro-wrestler, or maybe a TV evangelist.

    Hungary actually will necessitate this bimbo dealing with the CIA. Its basically always been a jump-off point for intelligence going either east or west.

    To be fair, it makes for a good Action-Comedy-film premise. I’m thinking Sandra Bullock.

  14. Shirley Temple Black was an excellent ambassador by all accounts, JD Snarktastic. Come up with a better example.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. She actually had a couple of jobs at the U.N. (yes, I know–but its still experience in the international relations world) before she got her first Ambassadorship. And most donors don’t choose to “buy” an Ambassadorship in Ghana. Finally, she didn’t get to be an Ambassador to a cool place like Czechoslovakia until she’d earlier been chief of protocol of the U.S. And even then, it wasn’t all that cool, being still commie and all that.

      I’m all for dissing bubble headed famous or rich people buying Ambassador positions, but sheesh–at least recognize some of them put in the work to actually earn it, and don’t mock somebody just because they were famous. That’s almost as bad as revering somebody just because they are famous. You just kill your own credibility.

  15. Competence might well prove a handicap. Political appointments have always been a payoff.Nothing much has changed, for as the French were wont to note, The more things change, the more they are the same.

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