A diplomatic post often requires piles of cash more than experience in international relations. In a paper titled “What Price the Court of St. James’s? Political Influences on Ambassadorial Postings of the United States of America,” Penn State professors Johannes W. Fedderke and Dennis C. Jett analyzed diplomatic appointments in the Obama administration through January 2011 and then put theoretical prices on each appointment based on campaign contribution from the appointees. Luxembourg, no surprise, turned out to be the most expensive seat at $3.1 million in personal contributions and $1.8 million in bundled contributions.
Technically, these campaign contributors aren’t buying the ambassadorial seats, but appointing campaign contributors to ambassadorial posts is nevertheless quid pro quo-style politics. Instead of nominating career diplomats who have a deep-rooted understanding of the countries in which they serve as U.S. representatives, presidents pick affluent donors with no experience in foreign relations.
One totally unqualified ambassador was President Barack Obama’s regrettable choice for the embassy post in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. After Obama made the unfortunate decision to appoint the generous campaign donor, Cynthia Stroum, she successfully achieved the superlative of one of the worst U.S. ambassadors ever.
In a report filed by the State Department inspector general, Stroum’s staff called her leadership style “aggressive, bullying, hostile and intimidating,” and some even requested being transfered from a cushy post in a small European country to assignments in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan. If that doesn’t speak to her awful tenure as ambassador, I don’t know what does. The following paragraph from the report summarizes the ambassador’s proclivity for creating a toxic work environment:
The Ambassador’s confrontational management style, chronic gaps in senior and other staffing caused by curtailments, and the absence of a sense of direction have brought major elements of Embassy Luxembourg to a state of dysfunction. These curtailments entail considerable costs to the U.S. Government. Morale among Americans and local staff is very low, and stress levels are high. Most employees describe the Ambassador as aggressive, bullying, hostile, and intimidating, which has resulted in an extremely difficult, unhappy, and uncertain work environment.
In addition to her disagreeableness, Ambassador Stroum also made several questionable purchases. She didn’t approve of the king-size mattress in the ambassador’s residence, so she purchased a queen-size bed at the U.S. taxpayers’ expense. She also spent a considerable sum of money on liquor that was deemed inappropriate.
While Luxembourg’s seat is pricey, one of the most competitive posts to win is in the U.K. In a New York Times interview with the authors of the study, both said the price for the U.S. ambassadorship to the Court of St. James — a.k.a. the United Kingdom — “appears to lie between $650,000 and $2.3 million.”
Who might Obama nominate for this U.K. ambassadorship? According to Bloomberg, it might be Anna Wintour, Vogue‘s editor-in-chief who was the inspiration for the heartless, venomous character Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. Known for her outbursts — dubbed “Nuclear Wintour” according to the New York Post — she probably isn’t the best choice for a diplomatic position that requires patience, tact, negotiation and compromise.
The New York Post would not like to see Ms. Wintour as the ambassador to the Court of St. James. Rather, taking a shot at my favorite and the world’s only remaining Duchy, the Post would not mind Obama relegating the fashion queen to Luxembourg or nearby Liechtenstein.
… selling embassies to donors is more appropriate for invisible little countries like Luxembourg and Liechtenstein, not where long-lasting strategic alliances are on the line, as with America’s special relationship with Britain.
And speaking of Luxembourg — Obama’s first ambassador there was another campaign bundler named Cynthia Stroum.
She didn’t work out too well.
Yes, New York Post, we know all too well about Ambassador Stroum. We’ll have to wait and see who Obama picks for Luxembourg. In the meantime, I will head to the White House and throw this paper airplane with my request for the ambassadorship on it. I will most likely be sniped or tackled by many Secret Service agents.