James Gibney: Obama Sells Out U.S. Diplomats (Bloomberg View)

— Domani Spero
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Former FSO, James Gibney writes editorials on international affairs for Bloomberg View. He was previously features editor at the Atlantic, deputy editor at the New York Times op-ed page and executive editor at Foreign Policy magazine. He was a speechwriter for Secretary of State Warren Christopher, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and President Bill Clinton. His latest below on State Department appointments:

The confirmation last week of two spectacularly unqualified political nominees to head U.S. embassies in two budding autocracies (Hungary and Argentina) prompted some predictable tut-tutting.

Sadly, President Barack Obama’s approach to State Department appointments has deeper problems than garden-variety patronage. Political hirelings have been insinuated much lower into the department’s bureaucracy. And after trumpeting tough ethics rules, the administration has carved out loopholes for hiring former lobbyists and “special government employees” who can earn outside income while in their official posts. Never mind the impact this breach of boundaries has on Foreign Service officers’ dreams of future policy greatness. It’s a recipe for flawed, and potentially corrupt, policy making.

Of course, even the uber-diplomatic George H. W. Bush had his undiplomatic appointments. My favorite: Peter Secchia, a Michigan building magnate who, before arriving to take up his post in Rome, said, “I saw the new Italian Navy. Its boats have glass bottoms so they can see the old Italian Navy.”

Read in full here.

For a companion read, check out State Dept Assistant Secretary Positions: How Far Back is “Recent Memory?”

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Donor Ambassadors Are Here to Stay Because — #2 Like ABBA Sings It, Winner Takes It All, Still

— Domani Spero

Donor Ambassadors Are Here to Stay Because — #1 Elections Cost Money, Money, Honey (With ABBA).  The #2 excuse should be —

Winner Takes It All — Still

Article II. Section 2: The President shall be Commander in Chief …He shall have the power , by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law…”

Sometime back, Georgetown professor Clyde Wilcox, who studies campaign finance said, “Rewarding your political supporters is as old as the republic.”

Did you know that when Simon Cameron, who helped Abraham Lincoln clinched the the Republican nomination in the 1860 convention, proved not up to the task as Secretary of War, he was shipped off to Russia  by President Lincoln? After first making him Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in 1862, of course.

Coupled with the presidential authority to nominate ambassadors  is the “Advice  and Concent of the Senate.” And yet the process is mostly pro forma, even after the lawmakers themselves wrote the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 USC 3944) dealing with ambassadorial appointments. The Senators recognize that the authority to nominate his representatives is a presidential prerogative under the Constitution and that the president, therefore, should be able to pick his own team and representatives.  But perhaps, the Senators pro forma advice and consent is to also ensure that when their party’s candidate get to the WH, that he/she, too, would have the latitude to appoint his/her own people.

We had a laugh out loud moment when we saw the GOP released its Ambassadors for Dummies How to Guide. How easily we forget.  Let’s refresh our memories with this gem from 2005,  The Oval: The Price of an Ambassadorship.  How about this 2007 nugget from Scholars and Rogues on Bush’s patronage appointments to ambassador exceed father’s, Clinton’s?

Our  diplomatic spoils system plays out every four years. In the landmark election of hope and change, there was concern that the Envoy Convoy may screech to a halt , but we were just kidding ourselves.

In 2014, the spoils system is alive and thriving. And the winner still takes it all. The system is not going to change because the very people who can change the system will not lift a finger, as they may be next in line to benefit from the same system.

Cynical much?  Oh, absolutely, though mumsie said we were not born this way.

We teach our kids that the golden rationalization, or “everybody does it” excuse is not acceptable; that the number of people who performs an act, does not improve the ethical nature of that act.  But then adulthood happens, and early onset amnesia sometime occurs.  Yeah, it’s a practice as old as the republic; yow, everybody does it, or maybe the next administration will really do better  … sigh.

We recognize that this is a  presidential prerogative. We agree that the President, whether a Republican or a Democrat should be able to pick his/her own representatives and advisers.  But we also believe that the WH should be attentive and judicious with its nominees to represent the United States abroad.  There ought to be one selection panel for ambassadors, not one at the WH for political appointees and another one at the State Department for career diplomats. One panel ought to be tasked with shortlisting potential candidates, no more than three for each country for recommendation to the president.  To help ensure that political contributions will not be the main consideration in the nominations, campaign operatives ought to be firewalled from that selection panel (written by a true blooded resident of Planet Pluto).

Of course, this can only happen if our political leadership has the balls to clean up the system. But who got ’em balls?

So can we agree that this practice will go on like the Celine Dion song?  Okay …. now, while we’re on this subject,why don’t we bring back the OIG report cards for ambassadors and senior embassy officials, hey?! (see IERs: We’re Not Doing ‘Em Anymore, We’re Doing Something Better — Oh, Smashing, Groovy! and State/OIG: No More Ambassador Report Cards Cuz They’re Not as Sexy as Debarments?).

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Officially In: John F. Sopko – from Law Partner to SIGAR

On May 23 President Obama announced the appointment of John F. Sopko as the next Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). The WH released the following brief bio:

Photo from cspan

John F. Sopko is currently a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, a position he has held since 2009. From 2007 to 2009, Mr. Sopko served as Chief Counsel for Oversight and Investigations for the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Previously, he was Deputy Director of the Homeland Security Institute from 2005 to 2007, and Minority General Counsel and Chief of Investigations for the U.S. House Select Committee on Homeland Security from 2003 to 2005. From 1999 to 2003, Mr. Sopko held a number of roles at the U.S. Department of Commerce, including Deputy Director of the National Technical Information Service, Acting Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement, and Chief Counsel for the Special Matters Unit at the Office of General Counsel. From 1982 to 1997, Mr. Sopko was Deputy Chief Counsel at the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and from 1978 to 1982, he was Special Attorney at the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.

He holds a B.A. in Economics and Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania and a J.D. from Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

WaPo writes that the previous inspector, Arnold Fields, a retired Marine major general, resigned in January 2011 after “a review by the Council of Inspectors General found that many of his office’s audits barely met minimum quality standards and that Fields had not laid out a clear strategic vision.”

SIGAR conducts audits and investigations to: 1) promote efficiency and effectiveness of reconstruction programs and 2) detect and prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.  President Obama designated Steven J Trent as Acting Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction on September 3, 2011.

This is a presidential appointment that does not require Senate confirmation. So hopefully, the new appointee will hit the ground running.

Domani Spero

Related item:
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts | May 23, 2012