Ambassadors: Not What They Used to Be

With the clearance of Ambassador Holbrooke to the United Nations, and of Ambassador Hormel to Luxembourg within recent weeks, the Clinton Foreign Policy team seems to be in place for the final run to the finish. Of course, in consequence of changes in communications and in transportation, it can now be said of ambassadors, as was said of being a bishop by a clergyman recently, on being passed over for the higher office, "It's not what it once was."

The United Nations' ambassadorship, for example, originally had special standing and a special relationship to the Senate, as distinguished from other ambassadors who were primarily, if not exclusively, responsible to the President. The first full-time U.N. ambassador appointed by President Truman, was a Republican senator, Warren Austin, who resigned from the Senate to take the U.N. office.

The bi-partisan character was ended when President Eisenhower appointed a defeated Republican senator, but the Senate relationship, although watered down, was retained. Adlai Stevenson, who had never been in the Senate, was next appointed. He made the mistake of letting himself be made a member of the president's cabinet, thus increasing the dependency on the President. Stevenson was followed by a former Supreme Court Justice, without independent political credentials. The Justice was followed by a succession of newspapermen, a television commentator, foreign service officers, etc. -- persons who did not meet the standard of the Chicago Democratic machine of "not seeing anyone that nobody sent." Holbrooke falls into that category.

Hormel's nomination was held up on grounds different from those used against Holbrooke, but of little relevance to ambassadorial duties in Luxembourg, a kingdom of a little over 400,000 persons, 97 percent of whom are reported to be Roman Catholics. That might make the office a good listening post, an argument usually made for sending an ambassador to the Vatican, making good hearing, rather than religious affiliation, an essential qualification, along with fluency in Latin or Italian

Campaign financial reform is raising objections to rewarding large contributors of both hard and soft money. The function of the embassy as a travelers aid agency or as a negotiator in hostage situations is being privatized, taken over by persons, like Perot, Jesse Jackson, Congressman Richardson (now the Secretary of Energy in the Clinton Cabinet).

There are, however, posts, centers of power bearing on the national welfare where the U.S. is not represented and at which we could seek some diplomatic representation, namely the Pentagon, and the board rooms of major national, international and multi-national corporations,

Following the example of President Eisenhower in his campaign of 1952, when he promised that if elected he would go to Korea, Presidential candidates for the Presidency could go to the Pentagon, and that if rejected, to seek a diplomatic presence.

Bill Gates of Microsoft, recently opened the way to closer relationships with the Federal government, moved, possibly because he has not fared well with the Justice Department, by announcing the hiring of a lobbying firm in Washington to represent his company interests, the rough equivalent of giving diplomatic representation to the United States.

Gates follows a long line of great corporations who have operated in a relationship with government in a form combining Medieval feudalism and Peronism.

General Motors, for example, has followed the feudal tradition, with its own financial institutions: it's own welfare and labor programs, its own retirement and medical program, its own security system and foreign policy, sustained by what their former president said when he became Secretary of Defense under President Eisenhower, that "what was good for GM, was good for the U.S.," or "vice-versa."

ITT running its own foreign foreign policy in Chile suggested that the U.S. support it. Their president suggesting that ITT had done work for the CIA that it was not unreasonable to have the CIA perform services for ITT.

Tax increases on insurance companies are generally negotiated. And some 20 or more years ago, Dupont Corporation was ordered to divest itself of improperly acquired GM stock, although existing anti-trust laws and penalties were not applied. Congress passed special legislation to lessen Dupont's burden, and that of its stockholders, including Yale University and the Episcopal Church.

Defense contracts too are regularly renegotiated.

Resident ambassadors could anticipate trouble and negotiate settlements in Peron-like arrangement with military and corporate participants, while first ladies or gentlemen could carry on Evita-like social work

Editor's Note: This column was filed before the recent unpleasantness over Sen. Jesse Helms' refusal to consider the nomination of former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun as ambassador to New Zealand.

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