Obama's poor record on ambassadorial picks

  • Article by: EDITORIAL , Washington Post
  • Updated: February 14, 2014 - 6:52 PM

It seems the president is most focused on repaying political favors, not qualifications.

Noah Bryson Mamet is a political consultant who raised at least $500,000 for President Obama and the Democratic Party in the 2012 election cycle. As of last week, he had never visited Argentina — which helps explain the ambassador-designate’s spotty performance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his confirmation hearing. Mamet repeatedly described Argentina as a U.S. ally, said it was “a mature democracy” and praised its record on human rights.

Mamet probably was only retailing, clumsily, talking points given to him by the State Department, which has a policy of avoiding criticism of Latin America’s populist authoritarians. But his glaring lack of familiarity with the nation where he will soon be the top U.S. official was another illustration of the cavalier nature of Obama’s recent ambassadorial appointments.

Obama’s new ambassador to Norway, George Tsunis, raised $1.3 million for the Democratic Party in 2012 but didn’t know at the time of his hearing last month that Norway has a king but not a president. Ambassadorial appointments for small allies such as Norway or tough partners including Hungary and Argentina matter because their governments rarely receive the attention of high-level officials in Washington and yet require skilled diplomacy. It’s no wonder that Argentina, the third-largest economy in Latin America but a perennial trouble spot, was tended by career diplomats under the four presidents who preceded Obama.

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