Unqualified Diplomats Picked as Political Favors?

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WASHINGTON -- Members of the American Foreign Service Association are meeting Wednesday to discuss concerns about some of President Barack Obama's ambassadorial nominees.

They're worried that sending unqualified ambassadors overseas will hurt America's economy and security.

"The ambassador speaks for the U.S. government and the American people and the president," AFSA President Bob Silverman said.

Some of the presidential nominees drawing concern include the following:

  • Soap opera producer Colleen Bell, nominated as ambassador to Hungary,
  • Hotel tycoon George Tsunis, nominated as ambassador to Norway,
  • Political consultant Noah Mamet, nominated as ambassador to Argentina,

All three earned their chances after bundling big money for the Obama campaign.

But after watching their performances during their confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, AFSA members felt they had to speak up to keep Americans from getting ripped off.

"Sir, have you been to Argentina," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., asked Mamet in a February hearing.

"Senator, I haven't had an opportunity yet to get there," he replied. "I travel pretty extensively around the world but I haven't had a chance."

There were several moments when the nominees appeared to need saving. But critics argue the stakes at America's diplomatic posts are too high for failure - as is the case with the crisis in the Ukraine.

"Hungary is a country bordering Ukraine and is a NATO ally," Silverman noted. "Norway is a country that has a very sensitive border in the far north with Russia."

Thirty-seven percent of ambassadors appointed by the president have been political. But career diplomats said problems with political appointees didn't start with the Obama administration.

They also said there are examples of America missing opportunities abroad because her top diplomat in the post wasn't qualified.

"Other countries do not send campaign donors to the United States as ambassadors," Silverman said. "There's no other country that does this."

Silverman noted that federal law says campaign donations shouldn't be a factor in the selection of an ambassador.

In an effort to encourage the selection of more qualified nominees, the AFSA has spelled out a list of guidelines.

"It's common sense," Silverman told CBN News. "It's requiring leadership experience, integrity, strong personal integrity, understanding of the host country, the country to which you're being assigned."

It's the president's prerogative to nominate ambassadors and the Senate's prerogative to confirm them.

Nevertheless, America's diplomatic community hopes these latest gaffes encourage whoever is in the White House to be more selective in these important choices in the future.

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Jennifer Wishon

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Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at Facebook.com/JennWishon.