What’s it take to become an ambassador in the United States? A lot of money. More specifically, a lot of money that’s been donated to the President’s campaign efforts. Despite Obama’s previous pledge to break Washington tradition and not just award ambassador positions to friends and donors as a type of thank you gift, he continues to appoint a lot of check-writers to these jobs anyway.
So what happens when someone who has no qualifications to be an ambassador (other than deep pockets) gets the job? Inevitably, some of the results are pretty embarrassing. Hitting the headlines this week, we have…
1. George Tsunis
George Tsunis, a man who has given more than $500,000 of his own money to the Democratic party in the past four years, has magically lucked into receiving a nomination for Ambassador to Norway by Obama. While you’d think Tsunis would take some time to brush up on Norwegian facts before attending his confirmation hearing, he put his ignorance on display.
In addition to saying that Norway has a president (it’s a constitutional monarchy), he claimed that one of the country’s major political parties was a “fringe” group that has been denounced by the government, while it actually plays a significant role in the Norway’s governmental coalition. Sadly, because politicians seem to consider ambassador positions jokes and a form of favor currency, Tsunis is expected to be officially confirmed anyway.
2. Cynthia Stroum
Obama appointed Cynthia Stroum as the ambassador of Luxembourg. A “philanthropist,” Stroum’s main qualification seemed to be that she raised more than $500,000 for Obama’s 2008 campaign.
Employees complained that she had no idea what she was doing and called her leadership “aggressive, bullying, hostile, and intimidating.“ Some found Stroum so difficult to work with that they offered to leave their extremely safe country to work at the Iraq or Afghanistan embassies instead.
After directing her staff to spend several days picking out patio furniture and use the remainder of her budget to purchase a stockpile of alcohol, it’s no surprise that Stroum soon resigned to spend more time with her family.
3. Scott Gration
During Obama’s first presidential race, former Air Force major general Scott Gration forged a special relationship with Obama by becoming “one of his most vocal military advocates on the campaign trail.” Gration’s allegiance earned certain perks – in 2012, he was named ambassador to Kenya. When performance reviews of American ambassadors revealed that Gration ranked dead last, Gration hastily resigned, all the while maintaining the polls were wrong.
The real question is how Gration was awarded a second major foreign diplomacy position after his previous failure. In 2011, Gration served as the special envoy to Sudan, but shied away from addressing the country’s human rights atrocities occurring in Darfur. Furthermore, he likened the Sudanese people to children, insisting he could win them over with a condescending reward-based system. “We’ve got to think about giving out cookies,” Gration said. “Kids, countries – they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement.” Surprisingly, gold stars and cookies didn’t solve problems for an area marked by genocide.
4. Nicole Avant
Music industry executive Nicole Avant was appointed as the Ambassador of the Bahamas after fundraising half a million for Obama’s first presidential run. According to the State Department, her two-year stint is categorized as “an extended period of dysfunctional leadership and mismanagement.”
The main problem seems to have been apathy. Avant spent 40% of her tenure out of the country, unheard of for an Ambassador, and even when she was in the country, she preferred to work from home rather than the office, leaving her staff without guidance. By 2012, Avant had resigned her post and milked her Hollywood connections to secure funds for Obama’s second presidential race.