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.