Whereas the ambassadorship to the United States is regarded as one of the highest positions in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the American representative to the Hague is not so highly regarded within the US Department of State. This notion has recently been reaffirmed by President Obama’s nomination of Timothy Broas to serve as American ambassador to the Netherlands. Broas, a prominent lawyer in Washington D.C. with no former experience in the foreign service, got the position because of his financial support to the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012. The appointment of such a low-profile person with no experience raises the question if the Obama administration cares about the relationship between the United States and the Netherlands.
Who is this Timothy Broas anyways?
Timothy Broas is a criminal defense lawyer in Washington D.C. As a member of the Democratic party he raised more than $500,000 and personally donated almost $100,000 to Obama’s Presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012. Although this might seem like a lot of money, in all reality it is just a droplet in the ocean of the billion dollar campaign of 2012. As a thank you for Broas’ support, Obama nominated him for the position of ambassador to the Netherlands in April 2012. Shamefully, shortly after his nomination Broas was arrested for speeding whilst having had a little bit too much to drink. His nomination was revoked and the highest ranking officer in the embassy, Adam Sterling, remained in control as interim-ambassador. The arrest was not a reason for the administration to completely forget about Broas however and in July 2013 they gave him a second chance by nominating him again. Broas will assume office as of September 1st. A bit of advice for Broas: Bike back to the ambassadors residence after a heavy night in a ‘café’; you are less likely to get pulled over.
Ambassadors without any experience
Broas’ nomination follows a series of nominations for financial backers of the Obama campaign who have very little or no foreign service experience. Earlier this year the new ambassadors to the United Kingdom, Germany, and Denmark were all fundraisers for Obama’s campaign. It is not unusual that big financial supporters are rewarded with an ambassadorship. Since his second term 23 out of 41 ambassadorial nominations have been political appointments rather than career based ones. There are rising concerns about this trend of appointing ambassadors who are lacking experience representing the United States overseas. There are instances in which a political appointment led to major problems within an embassy, which was the case at the embassy in Luxembourg. The appointment of Broas to the Hague therefore calls for legitimate concerns over the status of the US-Netherlands political ties.
Broas as the ambassador to the Netherlands
Even though Broas has no experience in fostering diplomatic relations, it is unlikely that his appointment will deteriorate the relationship between the US and the Netherlands. The two have been strong for over four centuries and the appointment of one ambassador is not going to change this in just two years. Furthermore, since the relationship between the US and the Netherlands is so solid, the ambassadorship is mostly a symbolic position (it’s a dirty job, but someone has to cut ribbons and smash champagne bottles against boats). So long as Broas does not do anything too outrageous as ambassador, the relationship between the two countries is likely to remain unchanged. The only thing the appointment shows us is Obama’s preference for using diplomatic posts as a reward to financial backers. Since the ambassadorship of the Netherlands does not require a whole lot of expertise in foreign services, the position can easily be handed to someone like Broas.
Although the nomination of Broas might have come as a surprise to some, it falls pretty much in line with other nominations of ambassadors to Western countries. The simple fact is that these ambassadorships are seen as symbolic and thus it is easy for President Obama to use them as a reward for his cronies and supporters. It is unfortunate that the highest representative to the Netherlands is not an expert in US-Netherlands relations, but this is how politics work. Regardless of Broas’ nomination, it seems that the relationship between the US and the Netherlands will continue to prosper. We do still matter to the US, despite the nomination of someone as trivial as Broas.