By Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 18, 2011; 9:09 PM
Still depressed that you didn't get that cushy ambassadorship? Able and willing to donate and bundle ginormous amounts of money for President Obama's reelection and for the D's in 2012?
Then buck up! If history is any guide, there could be some fine ambassadorial openings starting toward the end of this year, and even more next year. These jobs are getting very, very expensive - the really plum ones are likely to go for upward of $1 million. So you'd best be preparing, getting your lists together.
Right now, though, pickin's are mighty slim. There are only 10 openings (in places you don't want to go to anyway, such as Bolivia, Burma, Belarus, Sudan, etc.), and foreign policy issues block many of them from being filled.
Only two of the open jobs are in the traditionally-for-sale category - one in lovely Barbados (which includes a group of West Indies isles with phenomenal beaches, scuba diving and such) and, as of just last week, one at the embassy in Luxembourg, where mega-donor Cynthia Stroum quit after less than a year on the job.
Career foreign service folks were concerned in the early months of the Obama administration about what appeared to be a deluge of political - vs. career diplomat- nominations to big embassies.
But the administration's share of political appointees to 187 ambassadorial posts came in at 30.05 percent, according to data collected by the American Foreign Service Association. That's under the average (30.47 percent) for the previous five presidents. (The quality of Obama's appointees is another matter.)
The Obama percentage of fat-cat ambassadors is likely to decline over time, generally because if he wins reelection, he won't be in fundraising mode, and because he has a huge pool of losing House and Senate members and governors who may need work.
Get those wallets out.So long, farewell . . .
Speaking of ambassadorships, Stroum, a venture capitalist from Seattle, said in a statement last week that she had decided to return home from Luxembourg "to focus on my family and personal business."
She noted that she'd "traveled throughout the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg." (Not that hard to do, since it's the size of Rhode Island, with a population of half a million.)
She's being replaced temporarily by the deputy chief of mission, Arnold Campbell, a veteran career diplomat who arrived just a few weeks ago to take that job. We're told he's the third deputy in that post in the past year - which may be why Stroum had something of a reputation among the career folks of being hard to work with. On the other hand, she was said to be most unhappy with her posting.
(Note to donors: Luxembourg, a NATO ally and a very wealthy country, is less than a couple hours by train from Paris.)The buzz in Beijing
A critical ambassadorship - in Beijing - should be opening soon. Jon Huntsman, a popular former Utah governor and a fluent Mandarin speaker, raised a few eyebrows last fallwhen he bought a fine, 5,100-square-foot, five-bedroom bungalow in Kalorama for $3.6 million.
It's a little 13-room rowhouse with five fireplaces, but Huntsman, with seven kids, needs some room. The purchase created buzz that Huntsman might be looking at a presidential run against Obama in 2012. We were waved off that at the time, but there are indications of late, including a recent Newsweek interview, that he may be reconsidering.
The poll had Huntsman at 48 percent; Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Huntsman's 2004 gubernatorial campaign manager and then chief of staff, at 23 percent; and Hatch at 21 percent. It's a very early poll and includes all voters, not just Republicans, but it's created major buzz in Utah and among the political chatterers.
Either way, the ambassador will have to leave Beijing by early spring at the latest to give himself time to put together a campaign. And if he wins, he'll either have a pied-a-terre in Kalorama or the equally fine house on Pennsylvania Avenue.Hu do you think we are?
There's been much press chatter in recent days, what with the arrival Tuesday of Chinese President Hu Jintao for a series of meetings and a state dinner, about how difficult it is for Washington to deal with Beijing, given that country's opaque governance and its various contending sectors - the fractious Communist Party, the military, a rising oligarchy and so on - seemingly holding sway from one issue to another.
The meetings this week may give the Obama administration a chance to get a better look at the workings of the Middle Kingdom.
But no, we are not going to write that the administration will then have a clearer idea of Hu's in charge.
Way too cheap, even for this column.