At the end of any government, all chief of missions abroad, customarily submit their resignations to the new Chief of State who may request some of them to hold on until further notice. This may happen if the president in consultation with the secretary of State and other government personalities considered it necessary, for reasons of State, to keep this chief of Mission at that particular post. When a Chief of Mission who has the rank of ambassador leave his post, the deputy-chief of Mission becomes chargé d’affaires until the appointment of a new ambassador.
In these United States, a new president will make what is called political nominations apparently to reward a friend, a party donor, a CEO, an influential politician or other important personalities. Some critics have already reminded President Obama of his campaign promises not to make such nominations, calling the assignments “plum ambassadorships”. These observers seem to think that such appointments provide opportunities for the designees to have an easy life in a country of choice. In fact, outside of the diplomatic circle, few people have any idea about the functions of an ambassador and the impact of such assignment on his personal life.
One critic has listed ten countries that can be considered as “plum posts”, namely, Canada, France, England, Japan, South Africa, Ireland, the Bahamas, Denmark, Argentina and the Vatican. Why not Italy, Bonn, Russia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and the rich Arab countries? President Obama’s spokesman explained that the ambassadorial appointments include “a group of committed individuals and proven professionals that are eager to serve their country “.
He added, “among the appointees, there are career ambassadors”, and cited as a case in point: the appointment of Utah Republican Governor Jon Huntsman as ambassador to China. Mr. Huntsman is a former ambassador to Singapore. He speaks Mandarin, worked as deputy trade representative in Asia and was a Mormon missionary in Taiwan.
Although, there might be special adjustments made in expense allocations depending on the cost level of the post, the personal wealth of an ambassador, or his wife sometimes, become an important factor in the dimension of the representation. In the countries mentioned earlier and some others, diplomatic life is very expensive and no less tiresome. One veteran diplomat once said that, “in that line of duty, a diplomat dedicates to his country his stomach and his pocket”. He was right all the way.
The financial burden is even heavier for a married ambassador with children. As the personal representative of the U.S. president, he must insure the most prestigious and respectable appearance while maintaining friendly relationship with members of the press as well as promising and influential citizens of the host country. That includes participation in official events, lunches, receptions, banquets, and reciprocities. These activities often involved personal disbursements and can affect ones health.
During the confirmation hearings of a newly appointed ambassador, the senators in the foreign affairs committee are not generally concerned about the nominee’s knowledge of the history, language and culture of the assigned country. Each nominee however goes through a briefing period at the State Department with access to the assigned country’s dossier. In some cases, there might be opportunity and time for familiarization with the language and culture of the assigned country.
In the embassies of the countries mentioned above and most others, U.S. ambassadors are assisted by a deputy-chief of mission and a number of experienced diplomatic attachés, assistants and secretaries that carry the daily diplomatic and administrative operation of the embassy. Thus enabling the ambassador to maintain the necessary contacts with the diplomats of other countries, the officials of the government, some interesting citizens and members of the press, in addition to regular staff meetings, reading of voluminous reports and other administrative concerns while providing attention to wife and children.
A political ambassadorial appointment is not only a simple favor, but a commitment to service in the highest possible ethical and patriotic way, as understood and accomplished by professional and experienced diplomats.
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