Amateur Hour at the White House

When the White House seemed to go out of its way to insult Prime Minister Gordon Brown during his visit to Washington, President Obama’s allies defended him by saying that he is “overwhelmed” by his job and “surprised” at how demanding it is. The British, meanwhile, said that White House officials “seemed unfamiliar with the expectations that surround a major visit by a British prime minister.”

That struck me as verging on impossible, but perhaps it’s true that the Obama White House suffers from a level of cluelessness that is greater than has been realized. On Friday, the Washington Times reported that the reason President Obama has been appointing so many prominent donors as ambassadors is that neither he nor his aides were aware of the tradition that 70 percent of ambassadorships go to foreign service professionals, and 30 percent to political supporters of the President:

The White House, unaware of historic norms, had been on track to give more than the usual 30 percent of ambassadorial jobs to political appointees until objections from career diplomats forced it to reconsider, administration officials say. …

The Washington Times reported Tuesday that an old college roommate, the head of an entertainment production company and a lawyer whose family made its money selling vacuum cleaners are among more than a dozen people who have been given ambassadorships after raising a total of at least $4 million for Mr. Obama’s campaign, according to public records.

The decision to uphold the historic ratio of 30 percent political appointees and 70 percent career diplomats came only after members of the Foreign Service protested to White House staff and Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl D. Mills, officials said.

Senior political appointees at both the White House and the State Department apparently were not aware of past practice and were en route to exceeding 30 percent political appointees, several career diplomats said.

I’m not sure which is worse: the priority that the Obama administration places on politics over policy, or the lack of basic competence that the administration continues to manifest.

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