Presidents Obama and Hollande at the 70th anniversary D-Day celebrations. Obama’s recent appointment of a new ambassador to France may test the relationship between both countries.

By: Alan Berlind

Several days after delivering the strongest and most sensible foreign policy address that we’ve heard or read in a long time – and, as the gathering of allied leaders and some others in France drew to a close – President Barack Obama seemed to be at the peak of his presidency with respect to the formulation and management of U.S. foreign affairs and America’s proper role in the world.

How grossly disruptive of that image, then, was the White House’s announcement of yet one more appointment of a wealthy rank amateur to a key diplomatic post. As the Washington Post headline aptly put it, “Obama To Send  Bundler to Paris.” One Jane Hartley – who, with her mate, is described as “a power couple in the finance world” – will succeed one Charles Rivkin, trained in diplomacy in Hollywood. And the latter, we are to assume, performed well enough as a wealthy trainee ambassador to France to merit his new job as Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs. Rivkin’s talent and qualifications are, however, beside the point, and we can only hope that his generous successor will perform as well as he reportedly did in France. The central point, lost on nobody at home or abroad, is that money talks loudest among the supposed qualifications required of official senior American representatives abroad.

French President François Hollande, seated at the dinner table with Obama, Merkel, Putin and others, may have been amused, or embarrassed, or flattered, or angry, or grateful – who knows? Most important, however, is what we Americans must face again: our diplomatic representation to a number of important governments abroad is about nothing but money and whose coffers it fills at home. Bundling is the name of the game in Washington, the need for experience and professionalism consigned to a minor role.  Sadly, Obama has outdone his predecessors in this respect.


  1. F A Harris June 11, 2014 / 3:36 AM

    A NEW NADERESQUE MOMENT (his new book) when the blogosphere on the RIGHT and the LEFT join together..

    France is a most important European Nation in the diplomatic fight vs Russia. The USA needs an Ambassador there who can be a person of great influence to French Policy Makers, its Political Class, French Elites and Media, and the Public.

    The days when Paris was a fine place to rusticate a rookie bundler as a thank you gift from the White House are over. Paris is now a front line state in the diplomatic engagement vs Russia.

    for a view from the Right see.. National Review OnLIne..

    June 10, 2014 1:03 PM
    No Way on Norway Ambassador
    Minnesota Dems Turn on Obama’s Norway Ambassador Nominee

    • Harry C. Blaney III June 11, 2014 / 12:41 PM

      Just to set the record straight, the practice of sending campaign bundlers/funders to diplomatic posts is a long and fully bipartisan one. In fact President Reagan had more political appointments than does President Obama. Where was the GOP and foreign service voices when this happened? That does not however make sending unqualified people to Ambassador posts right. In this I agree with Mr. Harris and Mr. Berlind.

      I remember not long ago that during Republican control over the State Department they placed political appointees into positions that were legally for civil service and Foreign Service and heard hardly any voice against this. Some even transferred into the career service.

      The problem is this issue has become one that the right wing and the GOP in general has been using to undermine President Obama with great hypocrisy. I do not see any effort to ban this practice by the Republicans once they get in power. They support this money dominates approach to make their advantage in big hidden money the key in our politics and getting in power in so many contexts that are far more serious to harm our nation. Citizens United being one, the other the use of big money by the various right wing and bigoted billionaires to buy state legislators and to then redistrict states to effectively eliminate the influence of Democratic voters, by disenfranchising African-Americans, Latinos, the poor, the old, and students who vote often Democratic.

      I wonder why our professional American diplomats do not often speak out about this much more serious problem which has undermined in basic ways our fundamental democracy? If we got money out of politics this question of bundlers would fade…. .but where are the voices for this in the American diplomatic community, indeed in our society?

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