Making ambassadors out of campaign donors is a corrupt practice that has become so common in the U.S. system it's generally accepted by both parties as just another part of electoral politics.
But President Obama's latest choices have stretched the limits of tolerance for the practice.
Tracking of ambassadorial nominees by the American Foreign Service Association reveals that a majority -- 53.2 percent -- of Obama's choices since he was re-elected are political allies such as campaign bundlers and Democratic politicians rather than professional diplomats. That brings the total share for his presidency to 37 percent, versus 30.02 percent for George W. Bush, arresting a decline that began in the presidency of Bush's father, George H.W. Bush.
Instead of curbing the process as he promised in his 2008 campaign, Obama has accelerated it.
Political choices to represent the United States abroad are not universally negative. Max Baucus, confirmed Thursday as ambassador to China, served 30 years in the Senate and is a major Washington power player whose influence and contacts are more likely than not to be beneficial in the relationship.
But many of Obama's recent nominees aren't just big-money donors to his campaign, they are complete amateurs with no prior diplomatic experience. Here are three examples who have already shown signs they are likely to embarrass the United States in their new posts:
Hotel company CEO George Tsunis displayed "total ignorance" of Norway at his Jan. 16 confirmation hearing, with the English-language news site the Local reporting that he "committed a jaw-dropping diplomatic blunder before he even begins, describing politicians from the Progress Party, which has seven ministers, as 'fringe elements' that 'spew their hatred.' "
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had to school Tsunis, telling him that the Progress Party was part of Norway's government coalition. Tsunis' sheepish response: "I stand corrected."
Then there's Colleen Bell, Obama's choice for ambassador to Hungary. At the Jan. 16 hearing, after McCain noted that the current ambassador, Eleni Kounalakis, another political appointee, has had a tough time with the Hungarian government amid U.S. concerns about the state of the country's democracy, Bell evaded his request to tell him what she'd do differently.
That's probably because she has no idea: She's a soap opera producer.
But perhaps the most egregious choice is Noah Bryson Mamet. Mamet, founder and president of a Los Angeles-based consulting company who raised at least $500,000 for Obama, is set to go to Buenos Aires at a time when Argentina's economy and political system are in crisis and relations with the United States have been tense for years, to say the least.
As my Washington Examiner colleague Joel Gehrke points out, Mamet has never been to Argentina and the State Department couldn't even say whether he speaks Spanish. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki essentially suggested that Congress will have to confirm Mamet to find out what he's made of.