If you are trying to line up a plum appointment abroad, are you better off diligently plugging away in the Foreign Service, or making a sizable donation to the president or other members of his party? The graph below shows that money wins, hands down.
International Living is a website that ranks countries by how nice they are. The vertical axis on the graph below shows a country’s score from zero (worst) to 100 (best).* The horizontal axis tracks contributions to the campaigns of Democrats, including President Obama, from 2008 to 2012. As recently noted in Slate,"[t]wenty-four bundlers, headed mostly to Western Europe, have collectively raised at least $16.9 million for Obama since 2007." The dots are U.S. ambassadors, confirmed or nominated. As you can see, career Foreign Service officers are rewarded for their hard work and probity with posts in the most disagreeable countries in the world. Political donors—many if not most of whom lack Foreign Service experience—snap up the nicest countries. The best that can be said is that Obama (like presidents before him) has appointed competent people to countries that could use their help, and fat cats to countries that are least likely to collapse in anarchy while the U.S. ambassador is out hunting grouse.
*For clarity, I expanded the range of index scores for the countries used in the graph from 34–76 to zero–100.