Dan Smith: Ambassadors often have been political donors

Aug. 06, 2013 @ 11:04 PM

Just recently, Caroline Kennedy was appointed to be the new Ambassador to Japan. How did that come about? Was she an expert on Japan? No.

Has she lived there and intermingled with the culture, and felt such a part of the people that she was at the top of the class for the position? No, again. She has never even worked in the foreign service before.

Well then, how was she chosen to represent the United States to the third largest economy on earth? She was given the job by President Obama to return a favor.

The favor: She campaigned for him and helped to get Obama elected. This is how presidents in this country behave. George W. Bush appointed 30 percent as political appointees; Bill Clinton 28 percent. Obama, so far, is at 35 percent doing the payback gig to friends and contributors.

Some of the ways you can get yourself one of these appointments is to give a lot of money to the candidate and wait until you are called to go to a foreign land to work in an embassy. Charles Rivkin is ambassador to France and is a rich donor. Fay Hartog Levin is rich and is ambassador to the Netherlands. Alan Solomont is a Boston affluent constituent and is ambassador to Spain.

Obama’s appointee to Belgium is Howard Gutman. He is having a few problems though with prostitutes and underage girls. But of course, he gave a big donation to Obama to help get him elected.

Can an editor to one of the biggest magazines in the world become an ambassador? Sure, ask Anna Wintour. She was being considered for the job in either the United Kingdom or France.

The whole process is ridiculous. With no real qualifications, you might see anyone doing the job, anywhere in the world. I for one wasn’t aware of how this worked until I did some research.

The message is: You do not need to take any college courses to help yourself get a job like this. No education is required. And like I said, both parties do it, so they share the blame equally.

Has there ever been a real qualified person that has actually earned the position? Yes there has. Jon Huntsman was ambassador to China. He was fluent in Mandarin. Michael McFaul was ambassador to Russia. He was an expert on that country.

William Dodd, who was ambassador to Nazi Germany, was fluent in German, and was a historian. He actually blew the whistle on Hitler and what he was doing in Germany.

If you read my articles on a regular basis, you know that I wrote about another ambassador recently named Christopher Stevens. He, along with three other people right in the embassy itself, was murdered while in Libya by thugs. That debacle is still under investigation. That kind of work can sometimes get very dangerous.

Remember the taking of our embassy in Iran back in the ’70s? They were held for 444 days.

Three ambassadors have resigned under the Obama administration after their professional conduct came under criticism. I for one want the highest degree of honesty and professionalism in posts that represent my country.

If I were tapped for one of those spots as an ambassador to a foreign country, I would pick Ireland. I know the history very well and the problems they have had. My roots go back there (as well as Scotland) and I think like they do in many ways.

I would do an honest job and uphold the United States as their representative in the land of the green. I doubt that I’ll hear from the President or from any future President, but I would serve with honor and pride and not embarrass my country.

I’ll check my phone messages tomorrow and see if they read this column.

— Dan M. Smith is a Cincinnati native and Gatlinburg resident. He is the author of two novels. His son is serving in the Air Force. E-mail to dan0729@yahoo.com.