If presidents didn’t value ambassadorial appointments as payoffs for political favors, would we still have them? Two centuries ago, when communication between Washington and foreign capitals took weeks, ambassadors had an important role that sometimes had them making vital decisions. In recent decades, though, ambassadors have just carried the mail, but some say they help the United States to win friends. Maybe that’s worth the cost—but what if the ambassador causes us to lose friends?
Case in point: Last week our ambassador to the Dominican Republic arrived at his new post and hurt the United States by flaunting behavior that most Dominicans find abhorrent. New Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster may be a very nice man. He is certainly a successful reelection fund-raiser for President Barack Obama. (One report, though, says he raised only $500,000: An ambassadorship to the Dominican Republic doesn’t cost as much as a European one.) But why should he show off in his introductory video (see below) “my spouse, Bob”?
Yes, Brewster’s arrival in the Dominican Republic last week became front-page news in many of the country’s newspapers, with church leaders such as Roman Catholic Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez attacking the appointment, and many others joining in. Youth ministries director Luis Rosario said the appointment showed that Obama has no respect for the Dominican Republic. That’s the crucial issue. If a country had a strong anti-divorce position, would we send as our ambassador a person who had been divorced five times? Not if we think it important for an ambassador to be successful.
The Brewster appointment shows once again the Obama administration’s belief that domestic politics is more important than foreign policy. Dominicans are right to rebel against Washington’s patronizing attempt to change the views of supposedly benighted people: neo-imperialism? The only positive aspect: It’s proof that ambassadors are a waste of money, except as a way to repay political money men.