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Will foreign policy skills, rather than campaign fundraising, ever matter for ambassadors?
Being good at raising money doesn't make you a good diplomat
However, unlike most of his current and former non-career colleagues, he speaks fluently the language of the county he is posted to -- France -- and is very well plugged-in when it comes to political and social developments there. He has received rave reviews for his performance in Paris both in official State Department audits and from his embassy's employees.
But it wasn't Rivkin's diplomatic skills that landed him the coveted political ambassadorship. Rather, it was his skillful fundraising for President Obama during his 2008 election campaign.
As Obama prepares to make his second-term ambassadorial appointments, America's professional diplomats are asking a familiar, even if futile, question: Will the White House finally consider candidates' actual qualifications when rewarding them with the plushest posts in the world? Or will the amount of money they raised for the winning presidential candidate determine who goes where?
Obama seems to have lucked out with Rivkin. As his 2008 campaign's California finance co-chair, Rivkin was one of his top fundraisers, also known as "bundlers." Along with Rivkin's fellow political ambassadors considered successful during Obama's first term, such as John Roos in Japan, there have been those who were fired or forced to resign -- a familiar occurrence in both Democratic and Republican administrations. Both Rivkin and Roos are expected to leave their posts soon.
Caroline Kennedy was reported by Bloomerg News to be Roos' likely replacement. For Paris, the leading candidate is said to be Marc Lasry, CEO of a global investment firm. After considering Vogue editor Anna Wintour for London, the White House has apparently decided on Matthew Barzun, another business executive and Obama's ambassador to Sweden from 2009 until 2011.
Why is ours the only profession where it's considered acceptable to appoint someone without any experience?
In a recent Pennsylvania State University study on the cost of political ambassadorships, the post in France came out on top in terms of "bundled contributions," with $4.4 million, while London requires $640,000. Bundled contributions are generally considered more important than personal ones.
Read on: The Atlantic
Nicholas Kralev, Diplomacy Expert: Nicholas Kralev is an author, journalist and lecturer on international affairs, diplomacy and global travel. A former Financial Times and Washington Times correspondent, he has traveled around the world with four U.S. secretaries of state — Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright. He has flown over 2 million miles and visited more than 80 countries. He is also the author of Decoding Air Travel: A Guide to Saving on Airfare and Flying in Luxury, as well as... (more...)