Should aspiring young diplomats today make career plans to become ambassador by charting their rise as a major donor? It appears to work well for political players under the Obama administration.
Political appointees as ambassadors are on the decline among major countries–and that is a good thing. They may not be as effective as their professional/career counterparts–although there are a few that I would point out as exceptional diplomatic leaders. The process of appointing top donors has been compared to the “selling of public office.”
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.