By Gabrielle Goldworm
President Donald Trump has once again broken precedent, with his transition team issuing a blanket edict requiring the Obama administration’s overseas political ambassadors to vacate their posts by Inauguration Day, January 20. As reported by The New York Times, the order was first issued by the state department on December 23, stating no exceptions were to be made in this matter. This move, coming at a time when America’s most important future diplomatic relationships with nations such as Germany, Britain, and Russia are already unclear, may leave many nations without Senate-confirmed envoys for the next several months.
As CNN had stated, it is very common for non-career ambassadors to leave their posts when a new administration takes office, primarily due to the fact that they often have close ties to the president, or were major donors during their campaign. Before ambassadors are to leave office, it has been customary for both Republican and Democratic administrations to grant extensions to diplomats (especially those with school-aged children) that allowed them to remain overseas for weeks or months. Politico has pointed out that grace periods are traditionally granted out of courtesy for diplomat’s family situations, and to give them time to find new places to live and work through the extensive visa paperwork involved in the transition. It can also purportedly be a useful tool in creating a sense of continuity between the previous and incoming administrations.
According to The New York Times, diplomats such as Ambassador Stafford Fitzgerald Haney to Costa Rica, and Andrew H. Shapiro in the Czech Republic, have found themselves struggling to convince schools in the United States to accept their children back midway through the year. When asked to comment by The New York Times, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy Ronald E. Neumann, who has served in several overseas ambassadorships, stated that, while it was “logical that they should leave”, he could not personally “recollect a time where there was ever a guillotine in January”.
The Trump transition team seems to at least agree with Neumann’s first point. When questioned, they have made it very clear that they intend to stand firmly by the “No Exceptions” policy, and that they had been sending cables to individual ambassadors as early as December 21 informing them of the January 20 deadline, according to what one state department official told Politico. The same official, speaking under the condition they would remain anonymous, stated that “some of the ambassadors really thought they could stay, so there’s a bit of a scramble now”.
Though many ambassadors are now resigned to the fact they must now work double-time to put their affairs in order before the inauguration, the fact remains that the Trump administration is left with the much larger task of filling those positions quickly. According to CNBC, after inauguration day ambassadorships for some 80 countries, institutions, and global issues will be vacant. Considering that the vetting process for appointees can take a great deal of time at its easiest, some countries may be left without the all-important ‘direct line’ to the President of the United States.