The article below was written by Barbara Bodine for Politico. Ambassador Bodine is director of the Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative, a program that encourages students to pursue careers in the federal government, at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. She served for more than 30 years in the Foreign Service, including as U.S. ambassador to Yemen from 1997 to 2001.
It's time to stop selling ambassadorships
By BARBARA BODINE
During the Cold War, Malcolm Toon, a career diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service and ambassador to Moscow, was chatting with his good friend, a four-star admiral and head of the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean. They were both coming to the end of long and distinguished careers and mused about what they would do next. The admiral told Toon he thought he might want to be an ambassador — someplace nice, of course. The ambassador paused, considered this and, in response, quipped that he thought he might become an admiral.
The American Academy of Diplomacy, which counts among its members all living ex-secretaries of state, recently called upon Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain to pledge to end this practice and accord the nation’s diplomacy and diplomats the same recognition we accord our senior military officers, who dedicate their careers to national service.
The academy acknowledged that there has been, and will continue to be, notable noncareer ambassadors such as Mike Mansfield and Howard Baker (interestingly, both former senators) and realistically recommends that noncareer ambassadorships be held to no more than 10 percent, down from the current 30-plus percent. But it makes clear that it is untenable for a great power, a global power, to entrust its frontline national security managers — ambassadors — to used car salesmen, hairdressers, art dealers and strip mall developers, as it has in the recent past.
It is not an issue of individual patriotism, loyalty to the president and to administration policies, or personal commitment; politically appointed ambassadors are no more or less patriotic, loyal or committed than are career diplomats. It is a question of experience, expertise and depth of competence. Diplomacy is not an amateur sport or avocation; it’s a skilled profession.
It is imperative to hold the selection of America’s ambassadors to the highest standards of leadership, judgment, national and international knowledge, intellect, and interpersonal skills (just a few of the skill sets the academy set out as the standards for selection). But there is one other less immediate but profoundly important reason for the next American president to recognize and advance professionalism at the top: to attract talent at the bottom.
The American people need our government to attract and promote the very best of the next generation — and our foreign policy and national security demands it. Government service, the Foreign Service, is a calling. Foreign Service officers do it not for the glamour or the lifestyle (and certainly not the money), but out of a sense of commitment to country, of service, and out of a belief — and idealism, perhaps — that they can, through individual efforts as part of an embassy “team,” make the United States and the world just a little safer, just a little better than when they walked in.
American diplomats dedicate their careers, their lives, to developing the skills, experience and expertise necessary to test their mettle daily. Their investment is matched by the investment the American taxpayer makes to develop this cohort of skilled professionals.
How do you explain to a student or any aspirant to the Foreign Service that, while the U.S. government expects that level of commitment, no matter how well and how long you serve, it is likely that a political donor with little relevant experience will end up with the top job of your profession?
You can read the entire piece here.