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Wanted: diplomat. No qualifications needed. Just send money.

by Plutonium Page Mon Aug 1st, 2005 at 05:49:43 PM EST

(Also posted at The Next Hurrah)

Last week, the Bush administration announced the nomination of California billionaire Roland Arnall as the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands.  So who is this guy?  Why did Bush choose him?

Well, let's take a look at Dutch news, first.  There will probably be a more detailed article in de Volkskrant (a Dutch newspaper) soon, but here's the translation of a brief online news update:

The intended ambassador for the US in the Netherlands, Arnall, has been sued in the US by customers of his mortgage company. The customers demand money, because Arnalls company provided them with loans they could not afford, and with a higher interest rate than was agreed upon.

Tens of thousands of Americans in 30 states started proceedings against Arnalls company, Ameriquest.

The 65-year old billionaire is a friend of president Bush, and put a lot of money in his election campaign. The senate must still approve his appointment.

Well, that gets right to the point.  What are this guy's qualifications?

The Washington Post says:

Arnall's company, Ameriquest Mortgage Co., is being investigated by regulators in 30 states. A $325 million settlement would be one of the largest ever in a predatory lending case.


Arnall is the firm's principal shareholder. He, his wife and their companies have been the biggest political contributors to Bush since 2002.

Speaking about the ambassadorial nomination, White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said: "The president . . . feels Mr. Arnall is well qualified for the position. He had a long career in the private sector and has contributed a great deal to his community."

Ok, so, how the hell does "a long career in the private sector" qualify anyone as a diplomat?  Newsflash:  that's a rhetorical question.

Mr. Arnall must have also included this in his job application (scroll down):

Major 527 donor Dawn Arnall should be happy to have her husband, Roland, nominated as Ambassador to the Netherlands. Roland is Chairman of Ameriquest, and Dawn is co-Chairman. Dawn Arnall gave $5 million in August 2004 to Progress for America Voter Fund, a 527 organization.

From the Progress for America Voter Fund "About Us" page:

The liberal politicians are working overtime to push their failed policies on America and distort the accomplished public policy records of conservative leaders across this nation... Progress for America Voter Fund ("PFA-VF") is a conservative issue advocacy organization dedicated to keeping the issue record straight on the campaign trail and serving as a "Political Truth Squad".

(PFA-VF latest "truth squad" effort is the launch of judgeroberts.com.)

So, the short version of the story:  it's the best diplomatic post money can buy.  It's heartbreaking that the Euro is worth more than the dollar.  I mean, $1 million is only € 800,000.  Arnall will have to cut down on his expenses.

Roland Arnall is actually one of the biggest fundraisers for the Democratic Party out there.  His contributions skew heavily in favor of the Dems, although like many large donors, he also gives smaller sums to the other party.  While it's true, for example, that he gave a total of $25,000 to the RNC last October, one has to weigh that against the $360,000 he gave to the DNC in 2000, the $250,000 to the DNC in 2002 and the $20,000 he gave to the DCCC in 2003-04.  In terms of candidate giving over the past few years, he seems to split the baby after having given only to Dems through 2000.  (See these tables from Mother Jones and Opensecrets.org for details.)  His wife Dawn appears to be the big Republican donor in the family; only when paired with her do the donations swing over to the GOP side.

In their brief summary on Arnall's background (circa 2001), Mother Jones referred to Arnall as a "long-time Democratic fundraiser" who concentrated on California  and was "a major benefactor of [former] Governor Gray Davis."

As far as his lack of relevant diplomatic experience is concerned, that's certainly a fair point, but then, other recent U.S. Ambassadors to The Netherlands have had similar private sector-only backgrounds.  Terry Dornbush, who was nominated by Clinton in 1993 and served from 1994 to 1998, was "a private investor from Atlanta, is the formerly proprietor of The Dornbush Group, Inc., and has been Chairman and CEO of the Dixie Bag Company, President of DOAG USA, Inc., and Chairman of Thermo-Materials Corporation."  The career of the current ambassador, Clifford Sobel, is described as "noteworthy for its wide experience in the business world," where he had been most recently Chairman of Net2Phone, Inc.  The embassy bio also notes that Sobel "served as the New Jersey financial chairman of the primary and presidential campaigns for [then] Governor George W. Bush."

So while Arnall doesn't appear to bring anything at all to the table, he doesn't seem to be either a GOP money vending machine or qualitatively less qualified than his predecessors.  On the whole, he seems about par for the course, which is not to say that this should be considered acceptable in The Hague or elsewhere.

My own take on this is that it's not really Roland who's being rewarded by Bush, but rather Dawn, his wife.  Aside from havings scads of money to donate to Republicans, though, her potential qualifications are entirely lacking.  Roland, at least, has the appearance of significant business experience.  At the end of the day, I would merely suggest that the diary title read instead, "Wanted: diplomat. No qualifications needed. Just have wife send money."  In some ways, that makes this nomination look even worse.

by The Maven on Tue Aug 2nd, 2005 at 01:17:00 PM EST
Thank you both for the insight of the making of an US Ambassador to the Netherlands. The person I recall, who left a warm impression with the Dutch people and government, was none other than the US terrorism expert and transition governor of Iraq: Paul Bremer 1983-1986.

Mr. Clifford Sober has made a lasting impression on me, and the neighborhood of Clingendael in The Hague.

Nevertheless, IMHO the appointee for US Ambassador should be Mrs. Dawn Arnall, to be fair $$$.


'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Tue Aug 2nd, 2005 at 02:25:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On a similar note, a new US ambassador to Germany has been appointed. This is a Spiegel article about it.

Here's the lede:

The US Falters on Yet Another Ambassador Choice

By Georg Mascolo and Juergen Dahlkamp

Washington's choice for future US ambassador to Germany has all the makings of a political bombshell. For years, a company owned by the multimillionaire and newly-appointed diplomat William Timken, Jr. has been profiting from anticompetitive tariffs -- at the direct expense of German companies.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Aug 3rd, 2005 at 08:38:22 AM EST
A 4 for anyone who uses the word "lede."  Well done!

Ron Suskind is a great writer. I am not him.
by suskind (m.suskindathotmail) on Wed Aug 3rd, 2005 at 10:52:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A 4 for anyone who writes big.  Well done!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Aug 3rd, 2005 at 12:06:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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