The Foreign Service Journal - January/February 2017
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No civilian commands troops, planes or

ships. The U.S. military used to sell com-

missions, until familiarity with warfare

was recognized as a better qualification

than money. Generals do not command

aircraft carriers; admirals never lead

infantry divisions.

COMs only need a good deputy chief

of mission and staff to do an effective


Blatant sophistry. If anything, this

argument describes a figurehead ambas-

sador, whose most meaningful contribu-

tion would be to do as instructed and

stay out of the way. If it were true, any-

one could be given a title like “Performer

of Open Heart Surgery.” Good deputy:

“OK, now you can snip off the little ... No!

Not that!”

There have been some excellent

political ambassadors.

True, but this

underlines the fundamental problem:

nominees are not chosen on the basis

of qualifications or anticipated perfor-

mance. And even if they occasionally

perform well, the accolades should go

to their deputy chief of mission and

staff. The usual result is the installation

of non-performers, at best, and genuine

embarrassments at worst.

The Smart Money Is on

Career Professionals

America has at least some interests in

every country in the world. Maintenance

and advancement of those interests

requires the presence of diplomatic


No law of nature automatically makes

career ambassadors more capable than

novices, but they know the business,

have been tested and proven deserving

of increased responsibility. A politi-

cal appointee may possess numerous

commendable and meaningful skills,

but those often have little to do with the

specialized work of an ambassador, both

in terms of managing the embassy or

conducting outreach in the host country.

The smart bet would be to stop plac-

ing responsibility for managing our day-

to-day bilateral relations in the hands of

neophytes. Instead, presidents should

turn to the men and women of the

Foreign Service, who are ready, willing

and able to represent America across the

globe, to carry out that function.