US Embassy official transferred to Iraq after criticising political appointees
Political ambassadorial appointments - and non-political ones - cause friction
When it's stormy out there, a chilly wind blows in Finland, too. At least this is the impression given by developments within the local diplomatic corps. The internal pressures in other nations have led to some sudden vacancies at embassies and consulates in Helsinki and in other capitals.
One of the leavers is William Davnie, a former Press and Cultural Affairs Counsellor at the United States Embassy in Helsinki. Davnie was recently transferred from Finland to Iraq. Various sources have told Helsingin Sanomat that before his transfer to Baghdad in early April, Davnie had found himself at odds with US Ambassador Marilyn Ware.
The US Embassy says that there was nothing exceptional about the move. "A position was offered to him to serve in Iraq and he took it", said Davnie's successor Chad Peterson on behalf of the Ambassador.
Before coming to Finland, Davnie had learned to speak fluent Finnish, which he managed to use in Helsinki for less than two years before his instant transfer to Iraq, and from there to early retirement in the summer.
Having a foreign posting cut short is not seen as an exceptional event in American diplomatic legations today.
Many US ambassadors who got their jobs as political rewards for supporting President George W. Bush have been finding themselves at loggerheads with increasingly critical State Department subordinates.
Paul Kennedy, the J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History at Yale University, wrote in a recent op-ed piece (see link below) that at least 43 of the United States ambassadors around the world were "non-career appointees", often without prior diplomatic experience - Bush supporters named to the post by the President.
Ambassador Ware, who presented her credentials just over a year ago, is one of these political appointees, as was her predecessor Earle I. Mack (2004-2005), and his predecessor Bonnie McElveen-Hunter (2001-2003).
It is perhaps a reflection of the times - Helsinki is no longer seen as a key outpost between East and West as it was during the Cold War years, when the incumbents at the residence in Kaivopuisto were more likely to be career diplomats, like Rozanne Ridgway (1977-80), an international negotiator and 32-year State Department veteran.
In his article, Paul Kennedy writes of widespread dissatisfaction among State Department employees with the political appointments, making an oblique reference to an article drawn up by Davnie, the man who was quickly transferred out of Helsinki.
In a piece he penned for the November 2006 issue of Foreign Service Journal, Davnie wrote that most of the politically-appointed ambassadors are "profoundly handicapped in fulfilling their new duties", regardless of the success of their former careers. They tend to alienate the local public with political talking points that are born out of the domestic political debate, fail to "switch mental gears" for the new milieu or make a connection there, and do not have a sufficient grasp of important issues.
He also expressed a measure of sympathy for their plight in stepping from the radically-different corporate executive world into that of slow-moving diplomatic routines.
Davnie added that the time of embassy staff is taken up in averting or smoothing over the faux pas of non-career ambassadors and getting them up to speed with local matters. At that time he was still in Helsinki as Ware's subordinate.
The United States Embassy is by no means unique: also making a hasty departure from Helsinki at about the same time as Davnie was the Polish Ambassador Andrzej Szynka, after having served for less than two years.
Szynka's problem was that his appointment had not been political. Poland's right-wing nationalist government, and especially Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga, have been clearing out the country's diplomatic missions of all whose backgrounds do not correspond with that of the government. Szynka's political background is in the left of centre.
After the purge, ten Polish embassies lack an ambassador.
The problem could prove to be a long-standing one: the embassies of Venezuela in several countries, Finland among them, have been without ambassadors for a few years after politically unsuitable diplomats were cleaned out.
International Herald Tribune: Embassies for Sale (May 14, 2007)
Foreign Service Journal, Nov. 2006