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No, Obama’s ambassador picks aren’t qualified. But that’s nothing new.

Republicans have taken to attacking President Obama's ambassador picks, after The Fix and others reported that a few of them have basically flubbed their confirmation hearings. (This includes acknowledging they don't know much about or haven't visited the countries they're set to serve in. Ouch.)

"The Daily Show" eviscerated Obama for this Wednesday, and now the Republican National Committee is out with this handy graphic:

Left unsaid in all this discussion: The practice of appointing people with little-to-no business being ambassadors is hardly an invention of the Obama administration.

For decades, political allies -- fundraisers, in particular -- have often gotten what are known as "plum" ambassador posts. These are often sunny or touristy destinations where U.S. diplomacy is hardly a pressing issue.

That's why, according to the American Foreign Service Association, the last 19 ambassadors to Ireland have all been political appointees, but the last 21 ambassadors to Lebanon have all been career foreign service officers. Ireland is a desirable post; Lebanon, not so much.

And while Obama is one of the bigger offenders in this regard, he still trails slightly behind two Republican presidents when it comes to the percentage of his ambassador picks who are political appointees, as opposed to those who have spent their careers in the foreign service -- Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.

While political appointees comprised about 38 percent of Reagan's and Ford's ambassadors, they've been about 37 percent of Obama's, according to AFSA.

The lowest percentage of political appointees over the last four decades came during Jimmy Carter's presidency, when they made up a measly 27 percent of all ambassadors.

Here's how that data looks:

Now, it might be argued that Obama's nominees are especially unqualified for their posts. Republicans can press that case if they like, and they certainly have the ammunition. (Seriously, you can't even visit the country before your confirmation hearing!?)

But rest assured, there is a long line of people who have been appointed ambassadors for every reason but their diplomatic skills or experience.

Update 12:32 p.m.: Some conservatives on Twitter raise a very valid point -- that Obama, shortly after taking office, vowed to "have civil servants, wherever possible, serve in these posts.” Certainly, that lends even more credence to the GOP's case that Obama's use of political ambassador appointees are particularly egregious.

What does it take to get nominated to a plum ambassadorship? Well, it doesn't hurt to have played for the President's favorite baseball team. Oh, and money. (Jeff Simon/The Washington Post)
Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.



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