Fletcher in the News

Prof. Drezner Weighs in on the Role of Ambassadors in a Bilateral Relationship

Washington Diplomat

Daniel Drezner is Professor of International Politics at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.

In U.S., Selling Ambassadorships To Highest Bidder Has Long History

Despite a flurry of media speculation earlier this year, Anna Wintour is unlikely to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. But the fact that the iconic Vogue editor and prolific Obama fundraiser apparently received consideration for the post despite having zero diplomatic experience says a lot about how U.S. presidents make diplomatic appointments.

For more than a century, U.S. presidents have often used diplomatic appointments to reward contributors, political operatives and other allies. Roughly 30 percent of diplomatic postings abroad go to political appointees over career Foreign Service officers. But with elections becoming increasingly expensive over the decades, the trend of rewarding donors with cushy appointments, both ambassadorships and high-level jobs at the State Department, has intensified. ...

... Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, thinks that the president can always work around an ineffectual ambassador and argues that ambassadors don't hold the same clout they once did.

"Even a truly incompetent ambassador isn't going to disrupt a bilateral relationship that much," he said. "Ambassadors matter more with rival countries, but the president isn't going to name bundlers [as] ambassador to Moscow, Beijing or those types of posts. And the public does not fundamentally care about foreign policy unless you have an ambassador who is thoroughly incompetent and, ideally, with a good sex scandal."

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