The Foreign Service Journal - October 2016
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and U.S. Elections

I’d like to share a few thoughts about

ambassadorships that anyone in the For-

eign Service might want to ponder during

this electoral season.

First, there was considerable kvetch-

ing at the start of President Barack

Obama’s second term, including by the

former president of AFSA, about how

Pres. Obama was appointing a much

higher percentage of political appointees

as ambassadors than the historical aver-

age of the last 50 years (which is around

30 percent).

This is to be expected. All ambassa-

dors must present their resignations at

the start of any presidential term. Those

from career ambassadors are almost

never accepted, and they get to finish

out what is left of their normal three-year


Those from political appointees are

almost always accepted: the president

has a new crop of people to thank for

helping him get elected or reelected.

Some want ambassadorships, and that is

one way the president can reward them.

So the frontloading of political appoint-

ments early in any term always happens

and then quickly decreases until the

percentage returns to normal historical


Foreign Service Act of 1980 guidance

notwithstanding, the 30 percent is not

required by law or regulation. It is more

of a tradition, with the real limitation

being the number of comfortable embas-

sies, with neither hardship nor danger

pay, to which a political appointee would

like to go.

President Ronald Reagan managed

to push the numbers up to 38 percent

by sending non-career ambassadors to

exotic places like Malawi and Rwanda

where normally only a career officer

would be found. Pres. Obama’s second

term percentage was at just below 29

percent in August and won’t go up, given

that the congressional appetite for confir-

mations withers dramatically as elections


That raises a second point. What can

be expected from the president who takes

office on Jan. 20? Given Hillary Clinton’s

experience, and the precedent set by

previous presidents, it seems very likely

that as president she would continue the

30/70 ratio.

That is not to say there won’t be con-

troversial appointments. One prediction:


Editor Anna Wintour—high school

dropout and British citizen—will be

nominated as ambassador to the United


What would a President Donald

Trump do? There is no way to judge.

One story in the

New York Post


he had promised an ambassadorship to

the publisher of the

National Enquirer

in return for all the favorable coverage

he has received from that epitome of

responsible journalism.

One could argue that

with few mega-donors,

Trump might make fewer

political appointments. He

is a nontraditional candi-

date, the first ever of a major

party in American history to

have no experience in either

government or the military.

The anti-insider candidate

might appoint only outsiders

as ambassadors. Think of the

possibilities for a new reality TV show

called “Ambassador Apprentice.”

On the other hand, lacking any

background in foreign affairs, a President

Trump might make all his nominations

from the career ranks to compensate.

From the perspective of those FSOs

with near-term chief-of-mission ambi-

tions, both the downside risk and upside

potential are much higher for a President

Trump than for a President Clinton.

One thing about which there is no

doubt is that the foreign policy of the

former would be far more challenging to

represent than that of the latter. And if

one wanted to make American embas-

sies and ambassadors bigger targets for

terrorism, it would be hard to think of a

more effective way to do that than sug-

gesting policies like banning Muslims

from entering this country, torturing

terrorist suspects and murdering their


Dennis Jett

Ambassador, retired

Professor of International Affairs

Penn. State, School of International


University Park, Pennsylvania

Writing Skills Required

In his article “Examining State’s Foreign Service Officer Hiring Today,”

in the July-August issue of

The Foreign

Service Journal

, Glenn J. Gui-

mond notes: “Those who have

worked with the State Depart-

ment’s entry-level profession-

als in recent years can attest

to their outstanding skills and


Yet early on in the article

he states: “In response to dis-

satisfaction among Foreign

Service managers over the

quality of entry-level officers’ writing

ability, BEX [the Board of Examiners] is

seeking ways to better measure a candi-

date’s business writing skills.”

Well, now. The ability to write well

has always been considered one of the

critical elements required of a Foreign

Service officer. One can analyze informa-