Monthly Archives: June 2019

What’s Up with American Ambassadors to Canada?

Trump is switching from one strange woman to another as ambassador to Canada.  Don’t we have somebody more professional to send?  In the process we are sending an ambassador who did a questionable job in Canada to be the new US ambassador to the UN.

The outgoing US ambassador to Canada, Kelly Knight Craft, was absent from Canada during much of her tenure.  Politico reports that at her confirmation hearings for the UN job, the Democrats displayed a chart showing that she had been outside of her post in Canada for over 300 days, about half of her tenure in Canada.  Craft’s main qualification for the Canada post seems to be that she is married to Kentucky coal billionaire Joe Craft, a big political donor.  Globalnews reported that in 2016 she gave $265,400 to Trump’s campaign.   Her husband gave $2 million to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads Super PAC in 2016 and hundreds of thousands to other super PACs in the last few years.

The incoming US ambassador to Canada is another political donor, Aldona Wos from North Carolina. The Toronto Globe and Mail says she is a retired physician and philanthropist who was born in Poland and whose father was survived the Holocaust.  She served on the board of the US Holocaust Memorial and as Ambassador to Estonia from 2004 50 2006.  Her husband is technology executive Louis DeJoy.  The Charlotte Business Journal says he has a long history as a Republican supporter and contributor and has been raising money for Charlotte to serve as the site of the Republican National Convention in 2020.

On its HBO TV show, Axios reported on how badly the Trump administration had handled vetting for senior administration officials.  According to the show, Chris Christie had prepared many briefing books with potential candidates for all the top jobs, but Trump fired Christie and threw out his work, probably because Christie had prosecuted Jared Kushner’s father and put him in jail.  Junior staffers and the Republican National Committee then took over the job of vetting candidates, and according the Axios (and the rapid turnover of senior officials), they did a poor job.  The high number of “acting” officials in the Trump administration indicates that Trump is still having a hard time finding qualified personnel for important jobs.

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Hard Times at the State Deparment

I listened to part of the webinar by outgoing AFSA president Barbara Stephenson.  She said the temporary draw-down at the embassies in Iraq and Afghanistan are being made permanent. Other embassies are also being reduced.  The Iraq reduction is something like 75%.  This means that many positions will not be filled, and that many officers will not be going to the posts they were assigned to.  In addition, it sounds like the administration has requested further budget reductions for the State Department.  Even after the many senior Foreign Service officers who left because of polity disagreements under Secretary Tillerson, there still many senior officers who do not have assignments because of the staff reductions at many embassies.

I would guess that at least part of the problem is that the Republican administration views the career Foreign Service as too liberal.  There is probably some truth to that perception.  But while many officers may personally lean Democratic, they do let their personal politics enter into their work representing the US overseas, just as military officers perform their duties without reference to their personal politics.  Within the US government, Foreign Service officers will argue for policies that they believe are best of the US, which might mean arguing against some conservative policy proposals, but once the internal debates are over, the officers will soldier on and argue for the policies that have been agreed on when they represent the US to foreign governments.

It’s sad that after the Iraq war, the Defense Department under Sec. Robert Gates argued for more State Department officers in Iraq.  He pointed out that there were fewer FSOs than there were members of military bands.  He argued that often diplomacy was better than military force.  Now, we don’t even have a Secretary of Defense.

It’s hard to replace senior Foreign Service officers because much of their value comes from years of serving in countries that are of concern to US foreign policy.  They know the language, the culture, and often many of the senior officials running the country.  When they leave with their 20 or 30 years of knowledge and experience, it will take 20 or 30 years to replace them.