Friday, February 14, 2014

Murphy Gets McCained

In Hungary, of all placed, novice U.S. Senator Chris Murphy got McCained.

U.S. Senator John McCain made a pit stop in Budapest on his way to Munich where he led a large congressional delegation to the Munich Security Conference, a catch basin for “defense ministers, international arms dealers, oil sheiks and angry Ukrainians,” according to Jeffery Goldberg of Bloomberg News.

Mr. Goldberg suspects that Mr. McCain met the press in Hungary “so that the delegation would be asked questions about a woman named Colleen Bell,” a soap opera producer chosen by President Barack Obama to serve as U.S. ambassador to Hungary.

Ms. Bell’s creds are much weaker than those of the late Chris Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya who was murdered, according to a whimsical notion peddled by the White House, by a crowd of “protesters” dissatisfied with the quality of a brief film made by a relatively unknown auteur.  All ambassadors are the personal representatives of the president. A short time after the embassy in Benghazi was attacked, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the mother of one of the victims of the putative “spontaneous demonstration” that she was on the case. The filmmaker was arrested in due course and, Mrs. Clinton being unavailable, then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice was dispatched to various new outlets to commiserate with collateral victims of the attack and to point an accusing finger at the quickly imprisoned filmmaker. Ms. Rice has been taken off the U.N. beat and now serves as President Barack Obama's national security adviser, a bump upwards as anyone who knows anything about the tower of Babel in the Hudson will testify. Mrs. Clinton retired shortly after the American consulate in Benghazi was sacked and burned by non-spontaneous al-Qaida connected terrorists. Mrs. Clinton has been urged by leading Democrats to run as president

So, ambassador-wise, one would think Mr. Obama might be a little cautious. But, noooo… Ripe ambassadorships are still sold to the highest bidder, and Ms. Bell’s bids, in the form of campaign contributions, were more than adequate. A month ago, she found herself facing Mr. McCain at a confirmation hearing, which went like this:

McCain: What are our strategic interests in Hungary?

Bell:  Well, we have our strategic interests, in terms of what are our key priorities in Hungary, I think our key priorities are to improve upon, as I mentioned, the security relationship and also the law enforcement and to promote business opportunities, increase trade. ”

McCain: (Cynicism ripping like a wave over his outsized jaw) Great answer.

In Budapest, a reporter asked Mr. McCain about the producer of “The Bold and the Beautiful.”

“We’re very fortunate to have with us today the chairman of the committee that holds the hearings that these nominees come before,” Mr. McCain said, “and that is Senator Murphy, and he is very knowledgeable about these issues.”

But let Mr. Bloomberg tell it:

“Three things then happened. First, most everyone at the press conference laughed. Second, one of the people who didn’t laugh, the aforementioned Senator Chris Murphy, a freshman Democrat from Connecticut, approached the podium as if it were covered in rat poison. Third, McCain winked -- not at all subtly -- at the three American journalists sitting in the front row.”

Flourishing the usual ambassadorial pabulum, the knowledgeable Mr. Murphy told the reporters, “I think Hungary and the bilateral relationship is going to be very well served by Colleen Bell’s arrival. Ms. Bell has had an extensive history of involvement with a number of very important causes in the United States. She has visited Budapest and Hungary, and I think she is going to be a very strong ambassador, and we look forward to coming back and working with her in the very near future.”

It was a bit of a set-up, a senior member of the Senate flicking a towel at a junior member of the club in the locker room. Mr. Bloomberg was impressed:  “Watching John McCain set-up a fellow senator like a bowling pin is a rare Washington pleasure. Even when he does it in Budapest.”

But there is a serious point. At some point, the third strike ought to be called a strike out, and Mr. Obama recent choice of ambassadors has been inept.  If an ambassador is the personal representative of the president – and he is – shouldn’t the president be a trifle more discriminating? Hungary, to be sure, is no Libya. In the post-Soviet period, it may take a while for the Russian bear to maul into submission one of its former satellite countries. Ukraine is now being ripped, as Mr. Murphy well knows. In the post--Benghazi era, perhaps brains and experience rather than campaign contributions should purchase ambassadorships.
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