Looking for a job as an ambassador? Do your homework and travel to that country.

Al Kamen
Columnist February 11

Nomination disasters often add new questions for potential picks undergoing background checks.

For example, after President Bill Clinton’s first choice for attorney general, Zoe Baird, went up in flames over an illegal nanny, folks are now asked about household employees. Last month, at a cringe-inducing performance by mega-bundlers for President Obama before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) apparently added a question to the mix: whether the nominees have ever been to the countries where they hope to be stationed.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

It was a devastating hearing, especially for Chartwell Hotels chief executive George Tsunis, who hadn’t been to — and didn’t seem to know much about — Norway, his intended post.

Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) posed the ever-been question to Noah Mamet , the big bundler picked as ambassador to Argentina. Alas, no.

Remember, however, that such a lack of familiarity is hardly new. A Loop fan recalled the legendary Maxwell Gluck, chosen by President Dwight Eisenhower to go to Ceylon in 1957. Gluck was the wealthy owner of a chain of women’s clothing stores, a major GOP contributor and a breeder of thoroughbred horses. At his Senate hearing, he was asked the name of the premier of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He said, our source recalled, something like “I look forward to learning that when I get to Colombo.”


Chartwell Hotels chief executive George Tsunis hadn’t been to — and didn’t seem to know much about — Norway, his intended post. Above, the Oslo Opera House. (AFP/Getty Images)

Gluck, blistered in the press, later said he knew the name — he just couldn’t pronounce it. In any event, he served one year, apparently without incident. Eisenhower “angrily denied” that he gave Gluck the job because of campaign contributions, according to Gluck’s 1984 obituary, which noted that “the incident prompted the Senate to open up hearings on ambassadors’ qualifications.” (Guess the hearings didn’t amount to much.)

Note 1: To Cassandra Butts, the former White House lawyer nominated Monday to be ambassador to the Bahamas: You may be asked whether you have been there. (Too late to go now. You can hear the outrage: “Mr. Chairman, she hasn’t been confirmed and yet she insults us by going.”) So, if you haven’t been, you’ll have to rely on credentials like Hill and White House experience and your work on the Millennium Challenge Corporation, an international development organization.

Note 2: To future mega-bundlers. Pick the countries you’d like to be appointed to and visit them now, or in the spring, so you can say you’ve been.

But just having been to a country, while certainly a good thing, is neither synonymous with expertise nor a great predictor of success. After all, some of the “experts” who got us into Iraq had been there. Donald Rumsfeld had even hung out with Saddam Hussein.

Also, many career Foreign Service officers rotate from one continent to another every so often — a practice said to have been pushed by former secretary of state Henry Kissinger as a way to ward off “clientitis” or “going native” — and that seems to work out okay, though largely because they are diplomats dedicated to doing the job.

Maybe, to quote Nats outfielder Bryce Harper , the “Have you been?” demand is something of “a clown question, bro.”

A tailor-made junket

Tired of the endless, bitter cold? Looking to go to some countries that are a bit climatically diverse?

Then hurry on down! There may be some seats left on what looks like a fine congressional delegation (codel) leaving Saturday for a 10-day jaunt to Asia.

You and your spouse, flying on a business-class military jet, catered full time by military and embassy staffs, will stop in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and, of course, Hong Kong.

It isn’t all balmy over there, especially in Tokyo, but Taipei should be quite comfortable and Manila’s temps are close to 90 this week.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) will be leading the group, which aims to monitor the administration’s policies over there, the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks, and China’s troublesome — not to mention dangerous — escalation of tensions in the region arising from its claim to islands in the East Asia Sea.

It’s a bipartisan, eight-member codel, with Democratic Reps. Brad Sherman (Calif.), Joe Kennedy (Mass.) — yes, he’ll see cousin Caroline there — and Alan Lowenthal (Calif.) going along. Sherman was something of a surprise, given the way he blasted former congressman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) over travel in that brutal primary back in 2012. (We’re reminded now that he didn’t say “never travel” or suggest that members were completely barred from traveling.) Curiously, Royce declined to give the names of the GOP members.

Meetings with major foreign leaders are on tap, including Japanese former and once-again prime minister Shinzo Abe, South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou, and Philippines President Benigno Aquino (to review assistance efforts in typhoon-ravaged Tacloban). Then it’s on to Hong Kong, which of course belongs to China, to meet with the city’s chief executive, C.Y. Leung, and other folks.

Loop recommendation: The country visits should be interesting, and the Hong Kong stop is an overnight. This is absolutely critical to your shopping requirements, especially if you’ve put on a few pounds. If the tailors have your measurements and you know what you want, you’re all set for a quick turnaround on a couple of suits. But best to give them closer to 48 hours for those superbly tailored wool-blend 150s.

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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