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Former ambassador Ex-envoy slams Trump over handling of diplomats

Suzi LeVine at her swearing in ceremony with the then Swiss president Didier Burkhalter in 2014

(Keystone)

Suzi LeVine, who served as the United States’ ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein under former President Barack Obama, says she is deeply concerned at the Trump administration’s lag in filling diplomatic posts with political appointees. 

About 30% of all US ambassadors usually are presidential nominations, according to the American Foreign Service Associationexternal link, or AFSA, whose online “ambassador tracker” shows President Donald Trump has made just 36 appointments since taking office in January. The other 70% of the 188 ambassador-level positions have traditionally been filled in recent decades with career diplomats who climbed the career ladder of the Foreign Service. 

LeVine, who like many other politically appointed ambassadors installed by Obama resigned her post on the day that Trump took office, says the way in which the current administration is treating the diplomatic service and diplomats is a disgrace. 

“I hope things improve soon,” she said in an interview with Swiss newspapers 24Heures and Tribune de Genève on Monday. “But the Trump administration’s desire to cut the [diplomatic and foreign aid] budgetexternal link by a third makes me think that won’t be the case.” 

Almost seven months out of office, LeVine still has not been replaced. Since then, the US Embassy in Switzerland has been overseen by chargée d’affaires Tara Feret Erath, who arrived at Bern in June 2016. She is a veteran non-political diplomat who has served in Kabul, Brussels, Brasilia, Paris and Lubumbashi and speaks German, French and Portuguese. 

'Sadness and despair'

LeVine said she could “only speculate and observe the lack of decision-taking with sadness and despair”. Diplomats, she said, “play a key role for our security, our economy and for human rights”. In the Obama administration, she added, there was a confidence in diplomats’ ability to build relations and protect the US. 

“That appears to no longer be the case,” she said, citing as an example the nuclear deal agreed between Iran and six world powers “which had been negotiated in Switzerland and which protects [the US]”. 

“Our ability to bring the Iranians to the negotiating table was intimately linked to our diplomatic work with Russia, China and the Europeans,” LeVine said. “This result was achieved by our diplomacy and not by our military power.” 

Last week, Trump traded threats with North Korea, declaring the US military “locked and loaded” and that he was ready to unleash “fire and fury” if North Korea continued to threaten the United States. 

Fundraisers 

LeVine herself did not have any diplomatic experience when she arrived in Bern – but that’s not at all rare for politically appointed US ambassadors. It’s typical for a sitting American president to fill diplomatic posts from the ranks of the most successful fundraisers for his campaign. 

As a member of the Obama campaign’s national finance committee, LeVine helped raise at least $1.3 million (CHF1.25 million). The Swiss diplomatic post has gone to political benefactors 20 times and only twice to career diplomats since 1960, according to the AFSA. 

LeVine’s predecessor, Donald S. Beyer, was also a major campaign “bundler” for Obama – a person who gathers a large number of campaign donations in a particular area. Beyer, however, had plenty of political experience. He was Virginia’s lieutenant governor from 1990 to 1998 and in 2014, after serving as ambassador in Switzerland, he won a seat in the US House of Representatives representing Virginia’s 8th congressional district.


swissinfo.ch and agencies/ts and jmh

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