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Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Ambassador Ivana Trump Loading?

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Ivana Trump, the Czech-born former wife of the president-elect, recently told the New York Post that she thought her ex-husband should appoint her as U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic. “[That] is where I’m from and my language, and everybody knows me,” she explained.

Ivana is just one of a number of rumored and hopeful ambassadors who could be appointed by Donald Trump’s White House despite having no diplomatic background. There were reports, now denied, that Trump had picked former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee to be ambassador to Israel. On the other end of the scale, another Trump ex-wife, Marla Maples, was reported by the New York Post to be angling for an ambassador gig “somewhere in Africa.”

Trump’s campaign has made little comment about potential ambassador picks, and it
remains unclear whether Ivana or any other non-diplomat has any realistic shot. But a president picking someone with little or no diplomatic experience to be an ambassador certainly wouldn’t be unusual. In fact, it’s a largely accepted norm in the United States — although few other countries follow suit.

Over the past few decades, about 30 percent of all ambassadors appointed have been “political” appointments, according to information from the American Foreign Service Association. The other 70 percent were career diplomats who worked their way up through the Foreign Service.

Although many political appointments may be chosen because of their suitability for the job, there is also a questionable but long-standing tradition of awarding ambassadorships to campaign donors or bundlers, too. President Richard M. Nixon can be heard telling his White House chief of staff that “anybody who wants to be an ambassador must at least give $250,000” in a 1971 recording released decades later as part of the “Nixon Tapes.”

Sometimes these appointees don’t necessarily seem qualified for the job. When President Obama nominated hotel magnate and campaign bundler George Tsunis to become U.S. ambassador to Norway in 2014, Tsunis was publicly grilled about his knowledge, or lack thereof, of the nation by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). His response, one Norwegian outlet said, was “faltering, incoherent.”

Tsunis’s bid to become ambassador to Norway eventually failed, but most political appointees make it through. Many perform their few years in the job without incident, but some do not. Cynthia Stroum, who served as the ambassador to Luxembourg between 2009 and 2011 after being a major Obama donor, was later accused by officials from the State Department’s Inspector General’s Office of bringing “major elements of Embassy Luxembourg to a state of dysfunction” with her confrontational management style, among other problems.

When Obama headed to the White House in 2009, he pledged that he would “change the ways of Washington,” but he has stuck to tradition when it comes to ambassadors: The AFSA’s records suggest he almost exactly matched the 30-70 split between political appointees and career diplomats set by previous presidents. Trump has pledged to “drain the swamp,” but his policy on ambassadors remains in the making.

There is some good news for Ivana, though. There hasn’t been a career diplomat appointed as U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic since 1995. And she may get a warm welcome. “They could not send a better U.S. ambassador to Prague,” Czech President Milos Zeman told her in a statement last week, according to Zeman’s office.

Washington Post.

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