Opinion: The result of our modern day spoils system

Justin Marinelli, Staff Writer

A recent incident in which a high-ranking U.S. official was caught lambasting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has caused quite a kerfuffle in diplomatic circles as of late. It must be said that we did do a fairly good job cleaning up this mess, but how could we have allowed it to happen in the first place? This is far from the image that a country like the United States should be projecting on the world stage.

Admittedly, I approach international diplomacy from the perch of a dilettante and not an academic or careerist perspective, but I think I’m on fairly solid ground when I say that in the realm of diplomacy, it is of utmost importance to be diplomatic. How could our diplomats forget this simple edict?

In some countries, ambassadors and diplomats are chosen on the basis of ability and training. In the United States, many of these positions are political appointments given to wealthy fundraisers or allies who are owed favors. I think I see the problem here …

I’m not wholly opposed to such a political patronage system in theory (with significant caveats, of course). After all, smart and capable people tend to associate with and give support to other smart and capable people. In practice, however, this isn’t the meritorious forming a cabal of the capable. What we see is the deluded leading the inept in a corrupt and profligate waltz of the damned, paying the bill with U.S. prestige and influence. Should we really be surprised that our ability to dictate global affairs is dwindling?

I make no secret of the fact that most of my preferences are elitist in character. I believe excellence in one’s profession is one of life’s highest goals. I want elite pilots flying our planes, not rank amateurs. I want elite doctors performing life-saving surgeries, not first-year med students. I want our diplomatic efforts to be conducted by modern-day Talleyrands, not overgrown toddlers with a tendency towards temper tantrums when they don’t get their way.

Incidents like this leave a bad taste in the mouth of all parties, hampering relations and making it more difficult to get anything done. Granted, a thorough clean-up of messes like this signals a certain level of diplomatic skill, but an even more talented diplomatic corps wouldn’t be making these mistakes in the first place.

Some people have asked whether this incident will make relations with Israel more contentious. In the very short-term, this will be the case. In the long-term, however, the United States and Israel are too closely intertwined for some impolite remark to have much effect on their partnership.

If you wish to marinate in creeping horror, you might want to start wondering what sort of diplomatic screw-ups with serious consequences have occurred that we didn’t hear about.

If you feel the need to send chills down your spine, ask yourself what happens when we have a system in place that rewards people regardless of merit, insulates people from the consequences of their actions, and forces them to think in incredibly short time-spans.

If you really seek to gaze into the void, muse on how this isn’t just a depiction of the U.S. diplomatic corps at the highest levels, but an apt description for government at large.

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