Ambassadorships: political payola

The name of Gordon Sondland is about to become a household name.

He is the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. He has testified to House Intelligence Committee members that Donald Trump sought a quid pro quo — a political favor — from the government of Ukraine.

I want to mention Sondland because the media keep reporting that the ambassador “earned” his appointment from Trump because of his political friendliness with the president. As if that’s news? It isn’t.

Sondland is among an interminable list of ambassadors who have zero diplomatic experience. The nature of ambassadorial appointments makes them political payoffs. That’s what they have been since the beginning of the republic.

Perhaps there ought to be a monumental reform in the criteria that presidents use in nominating these individuals to the diplomatic posts. I would love to see ambassadorships awarded to career diplomats, individuals who have spent a lifetime in public service, who know something about the country where they would be stationed to operate on behalf of the United States of America.

That’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

I have known precisely one individual who received a presidential appointment as a U.S. ambassador overseas. The late Teel Bivins of Amarillo got the nod from then-President George W. Bush to become our ambassador to Sweden. Bivins was a state senator from Amarillo.

Did the newly named ambassador have any knowledge of Sweden? No! He had never even set foot in the country. He got the appointment because he had worked diligently on Bush’s winning presidential campaign in 2000. He ventured to early primary states to raise lots of money on Bush’s behalf. Plus, Bivins also was close to President George H.W. Bush, the father of the man who sought the office of president.

Bivins, though, did surround himself with competent staff. He had many career diplomats working for him.

To be sure, presidents of both parties have selected high-profile politicians to serve as envoys to major U.S. allies, such as Great Britain, Japan or China.

My point is that Sondland’s political standing is nothing new or unique as we start to examine his role in the Ukrainian matter that is threatening to result in Donald Trump’s impeachment by the House.

I am hoping the media can let go of this idea that Sondland’s political chops somehow make a big deal out of his EU ambassadorship. They don’t. It’s the norm.

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