Biden Should Break from Tradition for Ambassador Appointments

Keegan Brooks, Staff Writer

The United States is one of the few countries in the world where more than a third of ambassadors to other countries are political campaign donors with no previous relevant job experience. In contrast, most other countries appoint people as ambassadors who have previous diplomatic and government experience.

According to the American Foreign Service Association, out of all of Trump’s ambassador appointments, 56.5% were career appointments and 43.5% were political appointments. Many people are surprised when they learn that buying ambassadorships can be tourism for wealthy political donors.

A career appointment means appointing a Foreign Service Officer who has worked under the Department of State to formulate and implement foreign policy, whereas a political appointment means that the president appoints a wealthy political donor who has donated to the president’s campaigns, donated to the president’s inaugural committee, or is owed a favor. 

While more political donors were appointed by Trump than previous presidents, this isn’t a new occurrence. Historically, since the 1950s, the number of political appointees has been around 30%.  It has been reported that Biden will likely nominate fewer donors as ambassadors than his predecessors. This is good to hear. However, fewer isn’t enough — it should be none.   

Political donors appointed as ambassadors are less qualified than career foreign service officials, with most having no diplomatic experience and some having never even traveled to the country they have been appointed to. Trump’s appointee to be Ambassador of the United States to the Bahamas was a political donor who didn’t even know that the Bahamas were an independent country.

If Biden only appoints qualified candidates to become ambassadors, it also sends a message to the world that the United States actually cares about our relations with other countries. Effective diplomacy with other nations should take precedence over personal favors to party donors.

In my US history class, we learned about the spoils system, the practice of a political party or politician nominating supporters to government jobs. The phrase originated during the presidency of Andrew Jackson and was treated in class as a historical concept. However, the system is still around today in the case of the corrupt practice of buying ambassadorships.

If Biden wants to make change in our country, then how he appoints our ambassadors is an important first step.