James Joyner complains about President Obama’s ambassadorial appointments:
Now, I think this goes too far. As Neumann notes in the NPR story linked above, his own father was “an enormously competent appointee who served four presidents, three embassies and two parties” as ambassador to Afghanistan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia. But, like Barkey, the elder Neumann was an international relations scholar with deep expertise and experience in the region, not a political hack. Further, as our own John Burgess, a retired career foreign service officer, has noted, an appointee can be an enormous asset if he has the ear of the president.
But filling this many ambassadorships with people whose sole qualification is having raised a lot of money for the president not only smacks of corruption but undermines our foreign relations.
In my comment on that post, I mentioned that appointing unqualified political allies as ambassadors was nothing new, going back to the beginnings of the Republic.
Recently, we marked the death of Shirley Temple Black. Mrs. Black served with distinction as our ambassador to Ghana, possibly the best ambassador we’ve ever sent to Ghana. She had no formal qualifications for the job—she was distinctly a political appointee. However, in her role as ambassador she applied the same skills and energies that informed her work on the screen as a child to her new post. She learned the language. She became familiar with the culture, customs, and politics. She harnessed her new knowledge to the recognition that her movie stardom brought along with it and her distinctive qualities of mind and spirit and became a unique asset to the United States as ambassador.
Will President Obama’s appointments fare as well? Frankly, I doubt it. The greater question, perhaps, is should we be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt?
A persistent criticism I have had of the present administration is that for the Obama Administration politics overwhelms every other consideration. IMO that was true of the ARRA, the PPACA, it has been true of the president’s public statements, and it has been true of his foreign policy. When the politics doesn’t play out as he had thought it would, he reverses course. This is most apparent in the action he’s being criticized for him some circles: delaying the enforcement of the employer mandate for mid-sized firms. To date no one has presented a coherent defense of the action either from a legal or a policy standpoint. If you believe the PPACA is good policy, you should also believe that the administration has erred in its repeated postponements of the employer mandate. The administration’s move as well as the defenses of its actions are purely political in nature.
Politics always influences policy. It is a major consideration in every presidential administration. They wouldn’t be presidential administrations if that weren’t the case. Is there some point at which a difference in degree is a difference in kind?