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Obama awarding diplomatic gigs to bundlers and contributors - more now than ever

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 11th, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In spite of pledging in 2008 to shake up Washington's back-scratching ways, U.S. President Barack Obama's awarding of  diplomatic gigs to reward bundlers and contributors is becoming more frequent than ever. In one telling incident last week, Obama's pick for Argentina admitted that he had never visited the country. 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A string of gaffes by Obama's recent nominees has thrust the Washington practice of appointing donors to foreign posts back into the spotlight. Obama is using diplomatic gigs to reward bundlers and contributors seemingly more now than ever before.

Tracking ambassadorial appointments, the American Foreign Service Association found that in Obama's second term, more than 53 percent of these appointments were political. Less than half have come from the career Foreign Service pool.

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"Obama is pushing the envelope," Christian Whiton, former State Department adviser in the George W. Bush administration, said.

The only major democracy that still uses diplomatic posts to routinely reward political friends, the United States has historically used less than a third of these appointments politically. Under former President Bill Clinton, 28 percent were political; under former President George W. Bush, that number was 30 percent.

Under President Obama, that number has climbed to 37 percent overall. By the time he leaves office, it could well be higher.

There are concerns that the United States may be sending the wrong message abroad. "Sending donors to be ambassadors -- not that uncommon," Whiton said. "Sending them that have no idea what they're doing or about the regions they're going to, that is new."

In its defense, the administration says it's too early to say based on scattered confirmation hearing performances, what competency these nominees would do in their jobs.

"I would encourage people to give those who have had tougher hearings a chance to go to their countries and see what their tenure will entail," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said last week.

"And the judgment can't be made about how effective they'll be or how appreciated they'll be by the government until we have that happen."

Psaki noted that many esteemed U.S. ambassadors have come from outside the Foreign Service career path, including former Vice President Walter Mondale in Japan, and Sargent Shriver in France.

The chief issue is whether Obama's picks are coming into their jobs with little connection at all to the country they would represent.

One particularly embarrassing situation involved Obama's nominee to Norway, George Tsunis, had a few cringe-worthy moments during his hearing last month.

During the hearing, Tsunis referred to Norway's president, although the country is a constitutional monarchy. He also downplayed the importance of the country's Progress Party but was sternly reminded by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that the party is part of the center-right coalition government there. "I stand corrected," Tsunis responded.

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