PERSPECTIVES ON THE AMBASSADOR CORPS : Hypocritical Posturing by Snobs of State : Giving ambassadorships to friends is how the political world spins. Yes, we’ve had amateur dunces abroad, but we’ve had even more professional dorks.
For sheer snobbery and hypocrisy, it would be hard to beat the combination of career Foreign Service officers and U.S. senators who threaten the nomination of M. Larry Lawrence to be America’s ambassador to Switzerland.
It is rather late in the game to be raising issues about rich people getting ambassadorships. They have always gotten ambassadorships, and absent some fundamental change in the way we finance presidential campaigns, they always will. It is the way the political world spins--and it spins equally for both Democrats and Republicans.
The opposition to Lawrence by the snobs in the American Foreign Service Assn. and their cronies in the State Department is not surprising. They needed a show of strength to appease their constituency, and the hotel magnate from sunny California looked like an easy nominee to dump on.
Traditionally, the Foreign Service has argued that ambassadors should be appointed by merit rather than by how valuable they were to the winning presidential candidate. “Merit,” in this case, means that one has standing in the Department of State. To the insular career diplomatic corps, civilians--and, certainly, the wealthy pals of presidents--have no merit for serving their country.
It’s true, of course, that quite a few rich dunces have been appointed to the pin-stripe-and-top-hat brigade, but not a few dorks have come from the State Department, too. Never mind that they had experience in backwater consulates and could speak the language of the nations to which they were appointed as representatives of the United States. Those qualifications guarantee neither immunity from folly nor the assurance of intellectual courage in the face of wrongheaded or, worse, immoral U.S. policy.
The record of careerists at State is one of cowardice where virtually every disaster of American foreign policy is concerned--from Vietnam to Iran-Contra to Bosnia. It is a record of having gone along with whatever State dished up. Dissent is so rare that when it happens it is big news, as in the recent resignation of four junior State officers over our tragic Bosnian policy.
The AFSA and their pals would have us believe they are above politics. Such posturing is laughable. Politics is played fiercely in the service, but seldom in public view where the players might be held accountable.
The appointment of wealthy contributors as ambassadors is a public matter. The financial contributions made by those nominated, from Pamela Harriman to Larry Lawrence, is in the public domain. Their political relationships are open to public scrutiny. And they will be held accountable for their record of service. Unlike April Glaspie, a career diplomat accused of having misled Saddam Hussein, they will not be able to retreat to a safe cubbyhole in the State Department.
In addition, it must be said that career “experts” all too often tilt toward representing their host country’s interests rather than the interests of the United States. Shameless “clientism” is much less evident in civilian appointees, whose careers do not depend on evading controversy and avoiding bureaucratic enemies.
The campaign against Larry Lawrence by the AFSA, fronting for cronies at State, might be less disquieting if it were not accompanied by some of the most egregious display of political hypocrisy witnessed in Washington in sometime.
The opposition of Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Russell Feingold and Paul Sarbanes, Democrats all, to Lawrence, also a Democrat, would be laughable if it were not so ludicrous. Yes, he was an asset to Clinton’s campaign. So was Pamela Harriman. What’s the problem here? There was no objection to making her our representative in France; why the objection to making him our ambassador to the Swiss? Did the senators fear being on the wrong side of Washington’s most powerful hostess? Or is because she raised more money than Lawrence?
Larry Lawrence deserves to be confirmed. As distinct from many of the rich, he came by his wealth the old-fashioned way--he earned it. The gnomes in Zurich will love him.