Still seeking US ambassador to Canada

Wanted: someone to run the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa. Photo: Scott Maentz, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Wanted: someone to run the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa. Photo: Scott Maentz, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Help wanted to fill a current vacancy. Diplomatic experience and fluency in French are helpful, but not necessary for major campaign fundraisers. Must be willing to relocate to Ottawa, extensive travel required.

When U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson was departing his post in early July, I cited media reports that President Obama planned to nominate Chicago financial executive Bruce Heyman as his replacement. (Nominations are just that, senate approval is necessary to gain appointment.)

Well, that needs an update. Ambassador Jacobson is gone and there’s still no firm notion of who may be tapped for that fairly important post. According to this July 5 article for Postmedia News by William Marsden, the initial response to a Heyman nomination was underwhelming. Also, some sources suggest Heyman may not really want the job, which could require considerable re-shuffling of his own holdings and investments to avoid potential conflicts of interest. (There are a host of reasons nominations fizzle out or get derailed – including the considerable hassel and uncertainty of the approval process.)

Marsden is following the story and reports that the U.S. State Department has no reply to questions about when Canada might expect a nomination, let alone an actual ambassador.

Meanwhile, the rumor mill is circulating a new name: Vogue Editor Anna Wintour, though supposedly she would have preferred a post in England or France instead. And why report on mere rumors? Well, sometimes buzz is just that. And sometimes the circulating rumor stage is part of the trial balloon process, to gauge reaction before official nominations are made.

In this July 31st update, Marsden examines the percentage of political verses diplomatic appointments. While some presidents feel practically obliged to award ambassadorships as patronage prizes, not surprisingly, American Foreign Service Association disapproves of that common practice. As Marsden wrote:

The AFSA suggests one alternative: appoint a career diplomat who can speak both English and French, as the U.S. Foreign Service Act requires.

Ambassador nominations, the act states, “should possess clearly demonstrated competence to perform the duties of a chief of mission, including … useful knowledge of the language … and understanding of the history, the culture, the economic and political institutions, and the interests of that country.”

It also states “contributions to political campaigns should not be a factor.”

You can see the American Foreign Service Association’s list of current political verses career appointments here.

There’s a lot to be said for professional training and experience. Still, it seems entirely possible to me that good (or poor) performance can be found among political or career appointments. Ability and enthusiasm should weigh heavily, from either background. In some instances observers see value in an appointment that highlights fame or prestige, as is reportedly a factor in the nomination of Caroline Kennedy as ambassador to Japan (still to be confirmed).

Meanwhile, it does seem odd that this vacancy is not sewn up at a time of fairly important issues, from border security to the Keystone XL pipeline decision.

What kind of person would you like to see named to this post?

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10 Comments on “Still seeking US ambassador to Canada”

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  1. Peter Klein says:

    People are just afraid to move to a foreign country.
    To tell the truth, I think we should close all of our embassies and save the money.

  2. Jim Bullard says:

    What’s the pay? I consider myself half Canadian anyway, grandparents on both sides from Canada, cousins living in Canada and I’m married to a Canadian. And I like Ottawa as well as I like any city (which isn’t that much). I have white hair (what’s left of it) for the dignified look that an ambassador needs. Those are my pluses. My minuses are that I don’t speak French beyond “bonjour” and a risque phrase that was the heart of a popular song some years back. Also I haven’t worn a suit and tie since I retired a bit over ten years ago. But I do remember how to tie the tie with either a ‘four-in-hand’ or a Windsor knot. I prefer the Windsor knot. It looks classier.

  3. You kind of expect “political” appointees to high profile missions like Canada, Britain, Japan and China. But I was surprised to see them in places like Belize, Morocco and Tanzania.

    Disagree with you Pete. Diplomatic missions offer a valuable service. I’d much rather close the military bases we have in over half the world’s nations. Save LOTS more money AND make use less vulnernable.

  4. Peter Klein says:

    Brian I agree with closing many of the military bases throughout the world.
    I forgot to add is I would like to see all of the foreign embassies removed from the USA.
    We are pretty good at protecting embassies in this country but often don’t get the same treatment for our embassies.

  5. Michael Greer says:

    Weird…They didn’t even ask me…

  6. Jim Bullard says:

    I agree that we should greatly reduce our military presence in other countries but the ambassadors are the ‘face’ of the US in other countries (and vice versa), the means through which we communicate not only to the leaders of those countries but to a degree, the people as well. The notion that we should end face-to-face dialogue is somewhere between naive and silly. No relationship worth having has ever been maintained without regular dialogue.

  7. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Anna Wintour? Why would we do that to Canada?

  8. Peter Klein says:

    What I am trying to get at here with some off the wall comments is to break the illusion that we have any true allies. We don’t.
    Of course we need to have dialog with other countries and we do need embassies to provide a safe haven for Americans who are traveling or working in other countries. But we fool ourselves when we think other countries are our allies.
    In fact, some of our so called allies put us at greater risk than some of our “enemies.” Here I would put Israel at the very top of our very dangerous allies.

  9. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Peter, you make a good point in that the general public thinks of other nations in terms of allies and enemies when in reality other nations are simply sovereign entities with unique sets of circumstances. That is why we should be keeping our diplomatic posts in the hands of professionals who are trained to think about international relations in a complex way. They should be our best early warning system about changes that shape other countries in terms of security issues, trade, human rights, famine, etc.

    But even if we have good people in the diplomatic service we also need thoughtful, informed leaders in Congress and the Presidency.

    All that said, Canada is our biggest trading partner and “best” neighbor and we shouldn’t insult them by foisting an amateur diplomat on them.

  10. Sorry Peter, I’ve always thought we should give more influence to diplomats precisely to facilitate diminishing the influence of the military-industrial complex. With the trade globalization, we’re not going back to political isolationism any time soon. I’d rather diplomats be present to keep the lines of communication open.

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