Several Feb. 18 letters noted that the selection of ambassadors to represent the United States in foreign capitals is more nuanced than the question of whether they are diplomatic careerists or political appointees [“What makes a good ambassador?”]. That’s indisputable.
But is it too much to ask that ambassadorial appointees familiarize themselves with the countries where they are designated to represent the president and the American people? For instance, should a political appointee not be expected to know before his or her confirmation hearing that Norway is a constitutional monarchy? Ideally, a week-long orientation tour to the country to which a person is being designated — and maybe a short course in the country’s primary language — wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Failing that, for reasons of time or cost or whatever, how about requiring the appointee take a quiz based on, say, the contents of the CIA Factbook’s description of the country in question and its government? I’ve always found this unclassified resource to be reliable, and the country analyses are short enough to be learned, even verbatim, by anyone intelligent enough to be considered for a diplomatic appointment.
Lynda Meyers, Arlington
The letters defending politically appointed ambassadors missed a crucial point. In a highly developed country of some 310 million people, it would presumably be possible to find broadly suitable candidates for every ambassadorial post. But, in that case, the United States should give up the notion of a career diplomatic service with promotion from within based on merit and proven competence and experience. The United States stopped selling military commissions during the Civil War. We cannot maintain a professional, career diplomatic service if we continue to fill a third or more of our ambassadorial positions with people whose principal claim on such positions is their monetary contribution to the party in power.
Allan Wendt, Washington
The writer is a retired Foreign Service officer.