Corruption: American Style. U.S. foreign policy leadership for sale to those who give the most cash
By Nate Thayer
December 4, 2013
Earlier, I posted a link to the excellent blog of my friend, former diplomat turned author, James Bruno, who took exception to wholly vacuous and unqualified political socialites being given an ambassadorship, in an arrangement nothing short of legal political corruption, in exchange for raising cold hard cash for American politicians.
Bruno, who spent 25 years as a career professional diplomat, responded to a recent appointment of an entirely unqualified Hollywood socialite to an ambassadorship by publicly announcing himself as available to star in the Hollywood soap opera “The Bold and The Beautiful”, from whence the new ambassadors money, and therefore political clout came.
You can read James Bruno’s excellent blog (as well as link to his excellent thriller novels based on actual life experience and work) here: http://jameslbruno.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-american-diplomatic-spoils-system.html
Colleen Bell is the latest recipient of corruption doled out in the form of running an embassy and therefore U.S. national interests in a foreign country as a personal glitzy party favour in the stead of national interests and the common good.
Colleen Bell is the wife of the head of the Hollywood soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful” and was nominated to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Hungary.
“I figure if Colleen can become an ambassador with zero foreign affairs credentials, why shouldn’t I be able to break into showbiz? After all, this is America, right?” wrote Bruno.
While her diplomatic credentials are nonexistent, Colleen Bell raised $2,191,835 in 2011 and 2012 for president Obama.
James Bruno wrote me back: “Nate – thanks for the kudos. How about dropping journalism and joining me to make some real money and fame in Tinsel Town? I’m packing my bags. See you there…”
“Thanks for the kind offer, James Bruno, but journalism is really not so much of a choice, but a genetic based disability I am afflicted with. If I ceased being a journalist, my talents would peak at working the night shift in a South Asian owned convenience store or an urban fast food joint.
And a couple tips on your future Hollywood gig scheme: With your experience in the very belly of the beast of the Free World–Washington D.C.—and Hollywood are quite similar, sharing all the insincerity, lopsided lawyer to actual human being-with-more-than-a-circulatory-system-that- doesn’t-include-a-moral-compass-ratio, duplicity, unearned ego’s run rampant, and fraudulent, back stabbing hucksters posing as people of actual substance.
But in Hollywood, they specialize in the fictional, romanticized, blood sport version of the reality practiced here in D.C. At least here in Washington, they are actually in power and in control.
The bottom line: In both towns, don’t count your money until the check is cleared.
However, given your determination to pursue your dreams on Sunset Boulevard–a noble endeavor indeed– I can put you in contact with a number of agents, production companies of Big Screen Names, and lawyers out there who will woo you like a late night street walker, copiously shower you with compliments while plotting to suck the life out of you, occasionally pick up the bar or do-lunch tab, and option your books for the Big Screen with absolutely no risk to them or money in your bank account.
If you are lucky, they might even turn your life work into a made for cable TV movie, which will have absolutely no similarity to the creative work you spent years of angst to create and publish. After deductions, you will receive zero cash, having had to pay off your lawyers to force them to live up to their minimal substandard written agreements.
And you will be embarrassed by your soiled reputation.
Believe me, I know about these things. Oliver North and Francis Coppola called me personally to tell me I was the second coming of Christ. Brad Pitt was so sincere that he wanted to option my book and life story for a movie when he met personally with My People. I presume they remain well. I never saw a penny, however.
At least, when one is in Washington, one can count on living off the bloated dollar flotsam of the tax dollars paid by the average citizen who actually contributes to making the machinery of a properly organized society kept well-greased and turning.
And, occasionally, the world is made a bit better.
Here, at least, they successfully plot to assassinate the Bin Laden’s of the world.
In Hollywood, they make people think that doing so is fun and noble and moral and exciting and without nuance or consequence or repercussion.
I prefer the real blood on my hands when I contribute to those kind of just causes, despite that you can never wash it off and then repair for dinner to a Sushi restaurant.
If you ever need a place to stay in D.C., I have extra hammocks on my urban townhouse roof you are welcome to tie to two trees in this concrete jungle. Not to sound cynical….Really, I am not.”
“To [Ambassador] Greeting:
Reposing special trust and confidence in your Integrity, Prudence, and Ability, I have nominated and, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, do appoint you Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to [country], authorizing you hereby to do and perform all such matters and things as to the said place or Office do appertain, or as may be duly given you in charge hereafter, and the said office to hold and exercise during the pleasure of the President of the United States for the time being.
In testimony whereof, I have caused the Seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed—Done at the City of Washington this [x] day of [x] in the year of our Lord two thousand and [x] and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and [x].’-From the Presidential Commission for U.S. Ambassadors”
The Foreign Service Act of 1980 says ambassadorial nominees “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” and “Contributions to political campaigns should not be a factor” in appointments.
Over the last 30 years, 85 percent of ambassadorial appointments to major European countries and Japan, and 60 percent of appointments to global powers such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China, have been bald exchanges for raising cold cash for elected politicians.
Obama has only ratcheted up the trend of appointing wholly unqualified hacks to head U.S. interests abroad.
When he appointed Louis Susman, a retired Chicago investment banker and lawyer who raised more than $500,000 for Obama’s 2008 campaign as ambassador to London, the White House press secretary defended his qualifications saying “he speaks the local language.”
The U.S. Office of the Inspector General reported U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg Cynthia Stroum, a socialite who got her wealthy friends to donate $500,000 to President Obama’s 2008 campaign, was “aggressive, bullying, hostile and intimidating,” and said numerous professional diplomats volunteered to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan to stop working for her. The report said she made “several” employees spent “several days” searching for a patio umbrella.
Another OIG report said Obama campaign finance chair Nicole Avant, made Ambassador to the Bahamas led “an extended period of dysfunctional leadership and mismanagement, which has caused problems throughout the embassy”. Avant, former head of Interior Music Publishing, was absent from the embassy 276 days between September 2009 and November 2011, according to the report.
Obama has given his top fundraisers numerous ambassadorships, similar to his predecessors. The average amount raised is now $1.8m, according to the London Guardian.
Obama’s campaign finance chairman, Mathew Barzun was made ambassador to London after he raised $70 for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign–$2.3m which was raised by Barzun. He was ambassador to Sweden after giving large amounts of money to Obama’s 2008 campaign.
Since last year, Rome has gone to John Phillips, a Washington lawyer who raised $500,000. John Emerson was made ambassador to Germany after he raised $1.5m. The ambassador in Paris, Charles Rivkin, raised $800,000. The ambassador in Lisbon, Allan Katz, raised $500,000.
Of 12 choice ambassadorships in Europe and the Caribbean, the average amount raised by each is $1.79m.
The appointees to the same embassies raised $5m in 2013, compared to $3.3m in 2009, $1.3m under George W Bush in 2005, and at $800,000 for Bush in 2001, according to the New York Times.
Studies show that the price tag for political contributions includes Luxembourg at $3.1 million, while Portugal costs $602, 686. London is an estimated $1.1 million in personal donations. Bundlers — who raise money on behalf of a candidate–get a discount to $686,583. France and Monaco cost personal contributions of $6.2 million, and bundled contributions of about $4.4 million, a report found. Norway is cheapest at $119,900 for personal, and $85,756 for bundled contributors.
In the last 60 years, 72 percent of U.S. ambassadors in Western Europe and the Caribbean have been political appointees while 86% of ambassadors in Africa and the Middle East have been career diplomats, according to the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA). No political appointee has ever been sent to Central Asia as an ambassador. The failed states, dangerous assignments, serious work, and the mandatory mundane routine actual important work of fostering mutual understanding through words rather than conflict through bullets, are left to the career officers.
The industrialized democracies of Europe and Asia and the island nations of the Caribbean are the destinations of the political appointees.
The exchange of allowing incompetence to lead on the ground U.S. foreign interests for cash money in the metaphorical under the table slipped envelope, is wholly bipartisan. Both Obama and George W. Bush had a 70 percent career/30 percent political appointment ratio. Gerald Ford was 62 percent career professional Ambassadorial appointments record and Jimmy Carter was 73 percent,
George W. Bush gave nearly 50 top donors, designated “Rangers” or “Pioneers” ambassadorial posts. “Pioneers” raised more than $100,000 and “Rangers” forked over at least $200,000 for the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaign.
No other properly organized nation sells its ambassadorships to the guy who gives the political leader the most cash money. Most European countries have all career ambassadors with a smattering of political appointees who have significant real connections to the halls of power.
Sexual, ethical and incompetence scandals are routine with politically appointed ambassadors.
Records show Richard Nixon routinely sold ambassadorships for hard cash to unqualified rich people. In a tape recording of then president Nixon about an ambassador to Belgium, he said: “Anybody who wants to be an ambassador must at least give $250,000. I’m not going to do it for political friends and all that crap.”
A 2008 report by the Center for Public Integrity’s “Checkbook Diplomacy,” said Vincent de Roulet, a rich guy made ambassador to Jamaica, publicly called Jamaicans “idiots” and “children” and promised to support one candidate if he did not nationalize Jamaica’s bauxite industry. He was expelled by Jamaica, which then tripled taxes and royalties on bauxite purchases by U.S. companies.
Former diplomat James Bruno, now a best-selling thriller author, responded to my post: “Nate – I’ll take you up on your offer to host me only if it also comes with anti-malarial meds. As for all the other stuff you said, you’re absolutely right. Tinsel Town is a sea of sharks. That’s why, when they come knocking on my door (so far it’s dead silence – go figure!), I’ll put on my Don Corleone hat and, quoting my great hero and fellow goombah, live by his dictum: “A friend should always underestimate your virtues and an enemy overestimate your faults”