Biden faces pressure to end practice of rewarding allies with privileged foreign positions Biden administration


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Joe Biden is under pressure from former State Department career staff to match the diversity of his cabinet and leadership positions in overseas posts – and to reform long-standing practice in States -United to reward political supporters with plum ambassadorial posts.

More than three months into his first term, Biden’s foreign diplomatic list remains open, with only one prominent ambassador – Linda Thomas-Greenfield, to the United Nations, appointed and confirmed.

The appointments, typically made soon after a new president was inaugurated, took longer to fill under Biden, in part because of a balance between three competing and interconnected groups of potential candidates: diplomatic staff who endured the chaos of Trump who feels he should be rewarded. ; the return of Obama’s staff; and Biden political supporters and donors.

But in recent days, the White House has signaled that it is ready to act after quitting the posts of all but one of Donald Trump’s political members – US Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan – and resupplying the State Department in the past. Undersecretary, Assistant and Assistant Secretaries level. At the state level, these staff typically manage policy and administration in a department of 13,000 foreign services, 11,000 civil servants and 45,000 local employees with a budget of $ 52 billion.

With Biden’s soft power leanings exemplified by his pledge to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 9/11, the burden of U.S. foreign policy will fall on a foreign service corps that has been undermined by the unpredictable approach of Trump’s diplomacy.

The first order, says a seasoned ambassador, has been to restore the function and morale of the ministry; second, reforming the balance between political appointments and career appointments.

“It is clear that they are going to appoint political ambassadors, but it will not be as many and they will be more interested in quality,” said Ronald E Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, who notes that Trump nominated only two career officers out of 50 appointments at the assistant secretary level or above.

“The administration is trying to rebuild American diplomacy – but not from scratch because they already have good career officers,” Neumann said. “The job is to bring them in and use them.”

In doing so, the administration must choose between officials who served under the Obama and Clinton administration and existing State Department staff who endured the turmoil of Trump’s four-year tenure.

“There are a number of nibbles among career leaders who have held on through the Trump administration who feel they need to recognize and not just bring back career people,” added Neumann.

But the administration’s willingness to follow America’s political custom of rewarding non-foreign allies with overseas appointments has become clearer in recent days.

On Monday, Politico reported that Cindy McCain, widow of Republican Senator John McCain, is in the process of being selected for the United States Ambassador to the United Nations World Food Program, a Rome-based mission.

McCain, who was rumored to be heading to London, gave Biden an electoral boost in critical Arizona with his Democrat endorsement of Trump – helping Biden become the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since Bill Clinton 25 years. since. Other rumors are said to be online for an overseas assignment, including former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is seen as too controversial for a job in the national administration.

Rahm Emanuel is rumored to be in line for an overseas assignment.
Rahm Emanuel is rumored to be in line for an overseas assignment. Photographie: Kiichiro Sato / AP

The pressure to conform to a once-subtle Washington administration’s diversity hiring model is now evident. As it stands, 60% of American diplomatic posts are held by men and 40% by women. In an April 9 letter, a group of 30 former ambassadors and national security officials urged Biden to prioritize gender parity.

“Our vision of gender parity means that a man or woman has an equal opportunity, at all times, to access every Ambassador. This should be true in all geographic regions, in both large and small positions, ”the Executive Council for Women in National Security (LCWINS) said in the letter.

The letter concludes, “We hope you will pay attention to the growing allies in the US government who will also focus on the diversity that US officials around the world are expected to demonstrate.”

Piper Campbell, former Ambassador to Mongolia and the US Mission to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), later told PBS that the timing of the letter’s sending would influence the selection process underway. “This is something that we hope can still be impacted,” she said.

But the pressure to dismantle long-standing fee-for-service transactions is also on the administration. “Giving ambassadors to privileged campaign donors is a sordid bipartisan tradition in Washington,” Matt Ford wrote in The New Republic in February, adding, “President Joe Biden has a chance to break with this unseemly past.”

While political appointments are typically one-third, Trump has taken the practice to the next level. The American Foreign Service Association found that 43.5% of Trump’s choices were political appointments, compared to Barack Obama’s 30%, George W. Bush’s 31%, and Bill Clinton’s 28%.

Trump spared some of his candidates even superficial knowledge of the distant lands in which they would serve their country. Fourteen of Trump’s ambassadors to Canada and the European Union went to people who donated at least $ 1 million to his inaugural committee.

Some have been tasked with doing unusual diplomatic errands. After his appointment to Britain, Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets and Republican fundraiser, was reportedly invited to campaign for the British Open to be held at Trump’s Scottish golf resort, Turnberry.

Following complaints, Johnson was discovered in August last year by a State Department watchdog for “sometimes making inappropriate or insensitive comments” and was asked to watch a video about workplace harassment .

We just never made it to their post. Mark Burkhalter, a real estate developer from Georgia, has had his candidacy for ambassador to Norway fired after failing to disclose his involvement in spreading a racist leaflet in a political contest in Georgia.

While the practice of rewarding supporters with ambassadors was oversized by Trump, the Biden administration’s willingness to create the light of day between itself and its predecessor could help usher in reforms of the practice. Echoing Neuman, Axios recently reported that the White House is “tempering the expectations of the ambassadors of its big donors.”

According to Sarah Bryner, research director at the Center for Responsive Politics, “Trump was a deviation from the norm with patronage appointments” and the Biden administration is likely to reduce but not eliminate the practice.

“While the whole concept of favoritism is problematic, the problem with Ambassadors is that they are a fairly inexpensive way to reward supporters and allies by placing them in overseas positions that aren’t likely to have serious consequences. negative, ”Bryner told The Guardian. .

But, said Bryner, “A lot of pressure has been put on Biden to restore the morale of the State Department and restore America’s image abroad, which might lead him to be a little more careful. Does that mean we’re not going to see Rahm Emanuel or other Democratic donors and supporters named? No, but there is still a lot of pressure in this space.

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