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Study: U.S. Ambassador Picks Are Increasingly Unqualified for Foreign Diplomacy

Are ambassadors appointed by President Trump less qualified than in previous administrations and what role have political contributions played in assigning the diplomatic posts?

These are questions studied in a recent academic report that considers presidential-appointed ambassadors, as opposed to those who are career diplomats.

According to Marquette University Law School’s Ryan Scoville, the ambassadors appointed by Trump are less qualified. This is part of a trend over presidencies in nearly four decades, with some exceptions, he concludes.

Moreover, ambassadorial appointees increasingly represent big campaign contributors, with Trump’s nominees setting new records.

Scoville found that in the first two years of the Trump administration, 42% of ambassadorships were filled by appointments—the highest percentage since President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who appointed 46%. On average, 30% of ambassadorships are political appointees.

Of the current ambassadors appointed by Trump, 29% made financial contributions to him, up from 22% under President Reagan.

Furthermore, these contributions to Trump dwarf those of political appointees under any other president. For example, the average Trump campaign donation by political-appointee ambassadors was $89,632, up from $4,300 for President Ronald Reagan, suggesting that political contributions are increasingly considered when making ambassadorial appointments, Scoville concludes.

Political nominees are also less likely to be qualified for their role, Scoville maintains. The study cites language skills and knowledge of regions where politically appointed ambassadors are assigned. Scoville said 52% of Trump’s appointees can speak the language of their host country, in contrast to 62% under Reagan. Only 5% of current ambassadorial appointees have experience in the region they serve, compared to 26% during Reagan’s presidency.

Additionally, the study finds a considerable decrease in qualifications regarding foreign policy and leadership experience.

Of Trump’s appointees, 32% have worked in foreign policy, down from 64% under Reagan. Leadership experience is equally disproportionate, with 58% of Trump’s ambassadorial appointees having the qualification, compared to 77% in the Reagan administration.