Biden’s Political Ambassadorial Appointments Disrupt Career Diplomats

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Joe Biden sticks to tradition as he slowly fills vacancies in the ranks of ambassadors around the world, focusing on mixing longtime diplomats with figures with close ties to himself and the Democratic Party.

Among Biden’s expected choices is Caroline Kennedy, former U.S. Ambassador to Japan, daughter of the former President and friend, longtime ally and donor to Biden, to serve as Ambassador to Australia. He chose Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, who was a prominent Biden deputy during the presidential campaign, to be ambassador to India, despite a relative lack of foreign policy experience. And the president is also expected to appoint former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel as ambassador to Japan.

These picks, which are expected to be offered for confirmation in the coming weeks, and the many others named so far, have gradually answered a lingering question that hangs over Biden’s presidency: how would he approach to top the ranks of ambassadors. and follow through on his pledge to re-engage the world as president.

Biden’s selections appear to thwart pressure from his party’s progressive wing to stray from tradition, in which the new presidents give prime roles to major donors and prominent figures with close ties to the government. President.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Biden’s former progressive rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, is among those who have strongly argued that career civilian diplomats and foreign affairs experts should get ambassadorial posts, regardless of their position. proximity to the administration in power or how much money they give.

Biden’s expected appointments have frustrated some longtime diplomats.

“The frustration of a lot of them is not just that we get a lot of political ambassadors and political appointments in the State Department, but that Biden came in early in his presidency and talked about ‘we’re going to raise. career diplomats, we’re going to hold you accountable, ”and that makes it all the more deceptive and disappointing,” said Brett Plitt Bruen, former foreign service officer and director of global engagement during Barack Obama’s presidency.

“America’s influence in the world is at an all-time low, so the idea that we’re going to send movie moguls, fashion designers, and political donors to fix is ​​antithetical to everything Biden spoke of. . “

Bruen added that the trend among Biden’s choices for political ambassadors is that “they all have a personal connection,” from the best international positions to the less prestigious. For example, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the airline captain who tackled the emergency landing of a US Airways plane on the Hudson River in 2009 with no casualties, served as a surrogate. to Biden’s campaign and should be chosen as ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

“That’s not how it should work. Qualifications to represent the United States should be based on national security criteria, not on a personal relationship with the president, ”Bruen continued.

In the past few days, Biden has appointed former Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona as ambassador to Turkey and former Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico as ambassador to New Zealand. He also chose Cindy McCain, wife of the late Senator John McCain of Arizona, to serve as ambassador to the United Nations food and agriculture agencies. He chose Denise Bauer, former Ambassador to Belgium, to be Ambassador to France.

According to the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) Ambassador Tracker on Friday, out of 45 ambassadorial appointments Biden has made, 48.9% are career appointments and 51.1% are lay appointments. There are a total of 189 positions to be appointed.

“We estimate that 80 ambassadorial posts are still vacant. Some have been named but unconfirmed, about half, ”former Ambassador Eric Rubin, AFSA president, said in an email.

Some observers have noted that Biden’s most high-profile diplomatic appointments have long-career resumes, such as Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the Biden administration’s choice as ambassador to the United Nations, and Jane Hartley, a former ambassador to France. who is Biden’s choice to be ambassador to the UK.

Biden also chose Ken Salazar, a former attorney general and senator from Colorado who served as Home Secretary during Barack Obama’s presidency, as ambassador to Mexico. Tom Nides, a former deputy secretary of state under the Obama administration who recently worked at Morgan Stanley, is Biden’s candidate for ambassador to Israel. Recently, the Biden administration announced that Jill Biden’s chief of staff, Julissa Reynoso Pantaleón, former ambassador to Uruguay, would be ambassador to Spain.

Career managers interviewed by the Guardian also noted that as important as the experience is, closeness to the president is often seen as an important asset.

“You send your best ambassadors to the most important countries,” said Adam Ereli, former ambassador to Bahrain. He ticked off China, Russia and Japan as a few of those Asian countries. In Europe, he said the critical nations are Germany, England, France and arguably Turkey. Nicholas Burns, former Under Secretary for Political Affairs at the State Department, is rumored to be Biden’s choice to be ambassador to China.

One of the most important qualifications, Ereli said, is “closeness to the president – because that’s what countries want, they want someone who can pick up the phone and talk to the president.”

The Biden administration has been relatively slower than its predecessors in filling vital ambassadorial positions, although in other areas of the federal government, the president’s team has moved quickly to appoint and install judges and officials.

“It’s hard to understand why it’s mid-July and a lot of ambassadors haven’t been named yet,” Rubin said. “And honestly, if the White House says it’s because of the scrutiny, then the question is, why have all the other administrations managed to do it faster?” “


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