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US: Political appointees at State Department



Paul Simon answers the question from Raśl Escalante: "Yes, of course we have political appointees at State. These include Ambassadors and a large number of the "top brass" at the Department. Virtually all Secretaries of State are appointees. The only exception I can think of is the brief tenure of Larry Eagleburger in 1992. There are also many appointee Undersecretaries, Assistant Secretaries, and Deputy Assistant Secretaries, and even some office directors. They can't be lumped as all good or all bad. Many FSOs would prefer an all-professional diplomatic corps. However, some appointees bring in special skills and a fresh outlook.I know one appointee ambassador who I am sure prevented a war by virtue of his personal close relationships with both the President and a legendary peace negotiator.

In general, political appointee ambassadors get posted to the "nice places", be they Switzerland, Barbados, or Costa Rica. Career Ambassadors end up in less swell spots like Sierra Leone or Guyana. That creates a LOT of friction. However, FSOs are well-aware that the Constitution specifically enshrines the President's prerogative to choose anyone he wants as an ambassador. What's more, not all career US Diplomats are wonderful. The Foreign Service has inept people, odd fellows, and poor managers, too".

My comment: In most Western countries, including Brazil, political appointees are rare. The "best" US embassies often go to individuals who have made large contributions to the government party funds. How will that be affected if we ever enact electoral reform? For many Latin America countries, diplomatic or consular appointments are often a form of exile, removing individuals from the scene without a fight. This is in line with the Spanish proverb "Al enemigo, puente de plata"--a silver bridge to let the enemy escape.

Ronald Hilton - 2/7/02


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