Better Diplomats, Please

As I keep reminding readers, I believe that the realist theory of international relations best explains the behavior of nation-states, and as a consequence, I look askance at claims that the management and execution of foreign policy depends in significant part on individual personalities.

But that doesn’t mean that individual personalities don’t play some role in the management and execution of foreign policy. As someone who pays attention to foreign affairs, I certainly am going to pay attention to the identities, personalities, and skills of the president of the United States, the secretaries of state and defense, the national security advisor, and yes, the people who make up our diplomatic corps. And while I don’t believe that the choices other nation-states make are driven primarily by personalities, I do believe that our diplomats should be able to contend with the best other nations–especially adversary nations–have to offer.

And nowadays, in many instances, they do not. Why? Because, as James Bruno points out, many American diplomats are political hacks and bigwigs who get their posts because they gave a lot of money to the winning presidential candidate while the overwhelming majority–if not all–of Russia’s diplomats are skilled professionals who are masters of the diplomatic game, and are significantly more personally impressive than are their American counterparts.

Yes, I have tried to be sanguine about this kind of thing in the past, but perhaps it is long past time to stop being sanguine. If American diplomats are chosen due to the size of their bank accounts because they are expected to entertain and because the State Department is too cheap to increase its entertainment budget, then perhaps the best thing for the State Department to do is to increase its entertainment budget so that we can afford to put professional diplomats on the job and leave less important positions to be filled by political hacks and rich donors. The kind of people we let into the American diplomatic corps are precisely the kind of people who we would find intolerably unqualified for major cabinet posts. So why on earth should we put up with them as ambassadors, especially when the post of ambassador can be a consequential one?

Comments

  1. Thanks for your interesting post.
    Why is it that Russian diplomats are so personally impressive and skillful in contrast to their American counterparts? What are the Russians doing right? Do you mean the entry process into the Russian diplomatic corps is more meritocratic?

    Thanks,
    Rui Volkov
    http://themedfordpact.wordpress.com/

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