Noah Bryson Mamet, who bundled $500,000 for President Barack Obama hoped the Senate would pave the way for his first trip to Argentina – by confirming him as ambassador.
Mamet made the admission to having never been to the country on Thursday about a month after two other Obama nominees for ambassadorships had embarrassing confirmation hearings. The nominee for ambassador to Norway, George J. Tsunis, who raised $1.3 million for the president, and the nominee to be ambassador to Hungary, Colleen Bradley Bell, raised $800,000, both demonstrated little knowledge about the countries they wish to work in.
During his second term in office, Obama has nominated 23 bundlers who raised a total of $16.1 million for the president since 2007 to be ambassadors, according to the watchdog group Center for Public Integrity.
But recent problems have even drawing criticism from a former Clinton administration State Department official.
Henri J. Barkey served on the State Department’s planning staff from 1998 to 2000, and is now a professor of international relations at Lehigh University. He wrote in a Washington Post, “The Obama administration’s appointments suggest that the president isn’t being honest when he says that diplomacy is important to him.”
“Both Democrats and Republicans reward those who helped their campaigns,” Barkey added. “But for a president who just told the nation of his commitment to reducing inequality, this practice of rewarding unqualified people, whose ‘good deed’ is to have bundled campaign funds, is particularly jarring.”
Barkey stressed he wasn’t entirely opposed to political connected people being appointed, so long as they understood their diplomatic mission.
“There have also been political-appointee ambassadors who would have rivaled, and possibly surpassed, the best the State Department could produce,” he wrote, adding, “Unfortunately, some current nominees are a modern version of the 18th-century French practice of the sale of offices. Then, the income derived went to finance state activities; now, it is for financing campaigns.”
On Thursday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) asked Mamet during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, “have you been to Argentina?”
Mamet responded, “Senator, I haven’t had the opportunity yet to be there. I travel pretty extensively around the world, but I haven’t yet had the chance.”
On Friday, a State Department spokesperson couldn’t answer whether Manet could speak Spanish. Asked, she answered, “I don’t have his personal biography in front of me.”
Tsunis, a hotel chief executive nominated to be ambassador to Norway also admitted to having never been there and thought that the country and had no knowledge of the governing coalition or that it was a constitutional monarch.
Meanwhile Bell, a soap opera producer, was unaware of the political conflicts in the country or of the U.S. interest in the country that is a member of both NATO and the European Union.
On Friday, the White House announced that Obama nominated Cassandra Q. Butts — a friend of the president going back to their time at Harvard Law School — to be ambassador to the Bahamas. In this case, Butts seems to have strong government credentials of having served as an aide both in the White House and for former House Democratic leader Rep. Dick Gephardt. Butts also worked for both the Center for American Progress and the NAACP.
Follow Fred Lucas (@FredVLucas3) on Twitter