Ambassador’s Directory 2019

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Foreign Diplomats Find A Changed America

By Roland Flamini

It’s still the crowning achievement of any foreign diplomat’s career, but these days being ambassador to Washington can sometimes feel like a seat at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in “Alice in Wonderland.”

The group of envoys who most recently presented their credentials (listed here) must deal with an administration widely judged—even by some of its own staffers—as inexperienced, indecisive, unpredictable, hostile towards traditional friends and allies, while at the same time fawning over some very nasty world leaders, grudging and selective in its support of the most vulnerable, literally seeking to wall-out immigrants and indulging in highly debatable trade practices.

Government policy is rabbits pulled out of a hat by the Chief Magician in the White House on his Twitter account. And, faced with a dearth of sources of information (many key government posts remain unfilled, which is one reason for the inefficiency), ambassadors pore over presidential tweets like Holy Writ—despite what a prominent grammarian recently described in the New York Times as Trump’s “self-evident transgressions against truth.” But truth has little do with it, according to presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, who early in the administration said Trump delivered “alternative facts.” Stephanie Grisham, the new press secretary, refined the White House position. Despite what dumb media types think, she said, Trump isn’t lying: he is really “speaking in hypotheticals.”

Which brings us back to Alice in Wonderland and her conversation with Humpty Dumpty. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” Ah well. On the plus side, there is Washington itself, more vibrant than ever, culturally rich, comfortable to live in and one of the country’s great culinary capitals. About two-thirds of the new intake are professional diplomats: The remainder are political appointees from banking, business, academia, medicine and even the police. Given that the usual ambassadorial assignment is four years, most can look forward to being witness to a defining moment in the American democratic process: the 2020 presidential elections.


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