Elizabeth Warren’s Plan For Rebuilding the State Department

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Click on image to see Warren's plan

Click on image to see Warren’s plan

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Donor Ambassadors Are Here to Stay Because — #1 Elections Cost Money, Money, Honey (With ABBA)

— Domani Spero

On February 14, WaPo did the top 10 reasons to keep political ambassadors. It wasn’t terribly funny. The 10th item on the list, “The system is unlikely to change anytime soon” drove our friends insane.  They haven’t recovered yet from that shock and awe. Meanwhile, the uproar over the nominees who bungled their confirmation hearings continue to make waves.  Despite all that, former Senator Max “I’m no real expert” Baucus was confirmed as our next ambassador to China.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had also cleared the way for the full Senate vote for  the other nominees who did their made for Comedy Central moments at the SFRC.

For those who are shocked that an Obama nominee has never been to Argentina, might they also be awed that a George W. Bush ambassador had only visited Canada once–more than 30 years ago on a trip to Niagara Falls, prior to his appointment and subsequent confirmation?  Another George W. Bush ambassador was out of the country 37 percent of the time. (WaPo reported that the nominee’s mortgage company was investigated by 30 state regulators so that may have something to do with the absences.) Not to be outdone, an Obama ambassador to the Bahamas was also absent from post for 276 days during a 670-day period.

These are not the cringe-worthy parts.  But the thing is, this controversy over the nominations of political donors to cushy ambassadorships is a story that regularly repeats itself every few years.  They are typically followed by quite a rumpus ruckus, only to settle down after a short while, and to reappear after a few years.  We do think that political ambassadors, particularly the sub-group of wealthy donors and bundlers who gets appointed as chiefs of missions to our embassies will not go away anytime soon. We’re going to chop down the top reasons why … well, this piece kept getting longer so we’re posting this in parts.

Donor ambassadors are here to stay because —

#1. Elections Cost Money, Money, Honey

If we were a band, we’d write the song,  Money, Money, Money — ohw, but ABBA did it already!

In 2004, President George W. Bush won his second term over John Kerry with 286 of the electoral votes. That presidential election cost $1,910,230,862.  In 2008, President Obama won against John McCain with 365 electoral votes. That presidential race cost $2,799,728,146. In 2012, President Obama won reelection over Mitt Romney with 332 electoral votes.  That race cost slightly cheaper than the previous election at only $2,621,415,792 but there is no reason to believe that we’re on a downward spiral when it comes to big money in politics.

Here is Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics last year:  “You do not wage a financially viable campaign without hundreds of millions of dollars,” she said. “There is far greater reliance on the bundling operation, and I don’t see any evidence or reason to be hopeful that the donor rewards that are attendant to this system will diminish anytime soon. They go hand in hand.”

We imagine that the cost of the 2016 presidential election will be for the records book. All that money will not come from a money tree.

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Peter Spiro: Donor diplomats are embarrassing. Let’s get rid of them — Wait, What?

— Domani Spero

In 2009, David Rothkopf, a former Clinton deputy under secretary of commerce for international trade policy asked: “If a job is meaningless enough to be entrusted to someone who is unqualified to do it, do we really need to fill that post?”  Mr. Rothkopf is currently the CEO and Editor of the FP Group.  In an interview with NBC then, Mr. Rothkopf gave a two-pronged argument for nixing these posts: “First, if you can appoint someone who has no experience for the job, you can’t really value that job —someone else, who knows what’s going on, is doing the real work of the embassy; and Second, the job is outdated, created hundreds of years ago to bring sealed missives from one country to another.”

Now, Peter Spiro has written an op-ed against ambassadors.  He’s not even asking, he’s just giving it to you straight up — donor diplomats are embarrassing, get rid of them. Excerpt below:

For anyone looking to take a cheap shot at Washington, ambassadors are the gift that keeps on giving. In every administration — Republican or Democrat — individuals of no particular talent beyond their prodigious fundraising skills are picked and sent off to represent the United States in posh locales. Inevitably, some of them will manage to embarrass themselves, either before they leave or, worse, after they arrive.
[…]
Embassy appointments will be decoupled from patronage only after they are turned into less appealing prizes. And in many places, we don’t need ambassadors anymore at all. So here’s a modest proposal: Let’s just get rid of them.
[….]
So, how do we get rid of ambassadors? The drawdown should start with the posts coveted by incompetent fundraisers: Paris, London, Rome. Embassies in key friendly states do have visas to process and play some continuing role coordinating run-of-the-mine policy at the staff level. But the largely ceremonial function of the ambassador has become dispensable. Would our relationship with countries like the United Kingdom, France and Canada be damaged if no ambassador were in residence? Probably not. Ambassadors in those cushy posts are more in the business of cutting ribbons and hosting cocktail parties than toughing it out on the diplomatic front lines. Political ambassadors are like minor royalty — harmless, until they do something silly.

The top job in our European delegations could be rebranded as a minister position, a lower-ranked diplomatic status also recognized under international law. That’s what U.S. envoys were called until 1893, when Congress first authorized the appointment of ambassadors. Ambassador, on the other hand, is a title for life.

This is a tad extreme but would a rich car dealer be happy with a title for life that says “minister” instead of “ambassador?”  Maybe not, doesn’t come with the same dazzle dazzle. Read in full here.

Peter Spiro is the Charles R. Weiner Professor of Law at Temple University.   A former law clerk to Justice David H. Souter of the U.S. Supreme Court, Mr. Spiro specializes in international, immigration, and constitutional law. He is the author of “Beyond Citizenship: American Identity After Globalization.” (Oxford University Press 2008).  In the 1990’s, he was an attorney-adviser in the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Legal Adviser.

We must note that any downgrade in positions for the political ambassadors, would similarly downgrade it for the career diplomats.  We imagine that this would not be a popular proposal for the professional diplomatic service.  It’s like, look this bathwater is dirty, let’s throw away the bath and the baby, too.  Of course, in Congress, there where things occasionally gets done, and where our politicians are already lining up for 2016, this would be double dead on arrival.

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