This is a good read…

When hotel magnate George Tsunis, Obama’s nominee for Oslo, met with the Senate last month, he made clear that he didn’t know that Norway was a constitutional monarchy and wrongly stated that one of the ruling coalition political parties was a hate-spewing “fringe element.” Another of the president’s picks, Colleen Bell, who is headed to Budapest, could not answer questions about the United States’ strategic interests in Hungary. But could the president really expect that she’d be an expert on the region? Her previous gig was as a producer for the TV soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. She stumbled through responses to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) like, well, a soap opera star, expounding on world peace. When the whole awkward exchange concluded, the senator grinned. “I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees,” McCain said sarcastically.

For the purposes of comparison, Norway’s ambassador to the Washington is a 31-year Foreign Ministry veteran. Hungary’s ambassador is an economist who worked at the International Monetary Fund for 27 years.

The resumé imbalance, of course, owes to a simple fact: The United States is the only industrialized country to award diplomatic posts as political spoils, often to wealthy campaign contributors in an outmoded system that rivals the patronage practices of banana republics, dictatorships and two-bit monarchies. A similar system once allowed political allies to become military officers, but Congress outlawed the practice after the Civil War, during which the public recoiled at the needless slaughter brought on by incompetent cronies who had been appointed generals (men like Daniel Sickles, whose insubordination at Gettysburg caused more than 4,000 Union casualties). Representing the United States in a foreign capital, however, is a privilege still available to any moneyed dolt with party connections.

And President Obama—who entered office promising to limit the practice and instead appoint more Foreign Service professionals to ambassadorial positions—has arguably done more to exacerbate the problem than his recent predecessors. His second-term appointments have gone to political allies more than half of the time. Since World War II, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, that number has been lower: About a third of the ambassador posts have been offered to non-professional diplomats.

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