Ambassador

I regret that I never met Leonard Woodcock. But I have known each of the succeeding US Ambassadors to China (and either served under each or been in the China Office at State Department turning their tenure in Beijing). Each I think brought certain strengths to the job and as a group have made tremendous contributions to US-China relations.

The Obama Administration now is wrestling with the issue of who to appoint as our next Ambassador to China (or maybe they’ve made their choice but have forgotten to let me know). I know several of the people who have been rumored to be seeking the job. All are great folks.

But consider the following list of names: Mike Mansfield, Walter Mondale, Tom Foley, and Howard Baker. These are four of the previous six ambassadors to Japan. Each came to the job not just as a former member of Congress, but a powerful member of Congress with smarts, drive, and clout to spare in the Executive and Legislative Branches.

Now think about the agenda we have today with China, including issues that will decide the very quality of life for our children and grandchildren. Call me crazy, but I think we need an ambassador in Beijing with the stature of a Mansfield, Mondale, Foley, or Baker. Note that I am a long-time career State Department China guy and I am not emphasizing the importance of China background or language in the choice. Great if we can get this, but the priority has to go to an experienced, smart, influential Washington figure, hopefully one with experience in the Congress.

Rumor is that the Obama Administration has been pursuing some very heavyweight folks for the job but so far has gotten no takers. If this is true, it is a shame. All I can say is I hope they don’t give up. There is no more important diplomatic post in the world today.

Note: I would add that our current Charge D’Affaires in Beijing, Dan Picutta, is arguably the finest DCM we have ever had in Beijing (full disclosure: he’s also a friend of mine). I have no doubt he is doing the best possible job as Charge. However, I suspect Dan would agree with the notion that there is no substitute for having a smart and influential Ambassador in place. Hope that can be done quickly.

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