Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Diplomat Buyers Club

The other day Jon Stewart did a very funny episode on several new ambassadors who had seem to have been appointed without reference to any qualifications relating to knowledge about the country where they would serve.    He pointed out that the new ambassadors to Iceland, Argentina and Norway had never been there.   He also explained that  the new ambassador to China (former Senator Max Baucus) stepped down from his senate seat early to try to assure that the dems hold on to the Senate in 2014. Baucus admitted in his confirmation hearing that he did not know much about China.  Like much of Stewart's episodes his wry telling of the story was great.

But let me make a slightly different point.   What are the real qualifications of an ambassador?  There is a delicate balance between having a strong understanding of the current administration's positions and knowing the country where the ambassador will serve.  It might well be easier to learn about the country than to understand an administration's propensities.   Remember that in each of the embassies there are always country or region experts on the staff.

A case in point is Dwight Morrow who was ambassador to Mexico from 1927-1930. Morrow was a JP Morgan banker before entering public life.  Morrow's major qualification, when President Coolidge appointed him, was that he had been a classmate in college and he was part of Coolidge's inner circle.    But he ranks as one of the best US ambassadors to Mexico by any standard.   He immersed himself in the country and is credited with giving sound financial advice to the Mexican government.   The beautiful mural in the Palace of Cortez in Cuernavaca by Diego Rivera was commissioned by Morrow, who had a weekend home there.    Morrow helped to mediate the conflict between the Church and the Mexican government through a series of informal discussions between him and the president.  

A second example was Shirley Temple Black - who had been a fringe politician before she was appointed an ambassador, but was credited in stories about her passing this week as being a first rate ambassador.

So while Stewart's point is funny, I am not sure it is right.

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