As our man in a “small, friendly country,” so the article went, “Ambassador X” seemed breathtakingly uninformed about his region. He did not know, for example, who Chiang Kai-shek, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were. He had never heard of China’s Gang of Four. He was unaware that India and Pakistan had fought a war, and when advised of the possible effect of the resurgence of Islam, the ambassador asked, “What’s Islam?” Nor was he ignorant but hardworking. He spent as little as 21 hours a week in the office, assigned an embassy staffer to answer his personal mail, rarely asked officials of the host country to his residence and once sent his houseboy to represent him at an official function.
These and other charges were contained in a story which appeared in the January 1980 issue of the prestigious Foreign Service Journal under the pseudonym “Winston Smith.” The identity of the author and his subject did not remain secret for long. The accuser was career diplomat Edward Ingraham, and his target was former South Dakota Gov. Richard Kneip, 47, whom President Carter appointed ambassador to Singapore in 1978. The Journal’s editors claimed astonishment that Kneip was recognized. “We have several dumb people serving as ambassadors,” one said with a straight face, “so we never thought people would identify him.”
As one whose partisan-political service was rewarded with an ambassadorship, Kneip takes his place in a tradition as old as the Republic—but one which Carter came to office vowing to eliminate. Few career Foreign Service officers were much surprised by the allegations against Kneip. Though some were moved to defend him, that was mainly because there are so many ambassadors in the field they consider as bad or worse. “We all have our personal stories about working with these dunces,” snorts one Foreign Service loyalist. “But they are stories we tell among ourselves. Our job is to make our American ambassadors look good.”
Nevertheless, the Kneip affair set off a new round of discussion in the diplomatic corps about paying off political debts with embassies. Two favorite examples were appointed by Richard Nixon. When Ruth Farkas, wife of Alexander’s Department Stores chairman George Farkas, complained that a campaign contribution of $250,000 was “an awful lot of money for Costa Rica,” she was given Luxembourg—for $50,000 more. Nixon’s man in Jamaica, Vincent de Roulet, who had given $183,000 to the campaign, referred to Prime Minister Michael Manley as “an emotional yoyo,” among other things. De Roulet was one of the few ambassadors ever declared persona non grata by a friendly host country.
Nixon was not the only sponsor of diplomatic duds. Eisenhower gave Ceylon to Darling Stores founder Maxwell Gluck, who was unable to name the country’s prime minister at his confirmation hearings. FDR, as a favor to financier Bernard Baruch, posted his brother Herman to Portugal, where Herman spent most of his time chasing skirts. Given a second chance in the Netherlands, 75-year-old “Hormones” Baruch, as his Foreign Service aides called him, proved to be unreformed.
Even Ingraham admits that Carter’s record is “better than most”—he has appointed about five percent fewer noncareer diplomats than his predecessors. But his ambassadors in Australia, Belgium, the Bahamas, Switzerland and Austria are all campaign contributors or friends from Atlanta, and all of them were declared unqualified by the American Foreign Service Association. When Carter came into office, he named a special board to advise him on the qualifications of potential appointees. But, complains the AFSA, 15 of the board’s 20 members are Carter cronies.
Kneip’s supporters, including South Dakota Sen. George McGovern, say that Ingraham’s charges are sour grapes because Kneip fired Ingraham from his post as deputy chief of mission in Singapore. Ingraham says his dismissal was part of the syndrome. “In the diplomatic corps,” he says, “neophyte diplomats are famous for a tendency to get annoyed at advice from more experienced subordinates. Many either ignore it or fire the subordinate and then flounder.”
Ingraham, 58, insists he has strictly patriotic and professional motives. “The problem has been with us for two centuries,” he says, “but it’s a damn shame it continues. When some political big shot was sent off to some salubrious spot where he could make a damn fool of himself, it didn’t use to matter. Now, increasingly, it matters.” Ingraham, who has been posted to four continents to serve under 14 ambassadors, could pay dearly for speaking up. He and wife Susan are currently bivouacked at Lake Forest College in Illinois, where he is temporarily teaching international relations. What next? “Probably central Africa,” he says. “I rather expect it won’t be South Dakota.”