As representatives of the United States to the countries where they serve, ambassadors promote American interests to the world. While the popular imagery of diplomatic service may be filled with receptions and cocktail parties, ambassadors are far from being social butterflies. They work long hours in sometimes remote and dangerous locations. In an occasional crisis, the ambassador is the point-man for America. Though the duties are numerous, the job does have perks.
An ambassador is the highest-ranking representative of the United States to a foreign nation. Appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, ambassadors are a source of guidance to the President and the Secretary of State in matters concerning their respective countries. Ambassadors have the responsibility to protect and promote U.S. interests. They negotiate trade and other agreements with the host country. They protect the legal interests of Americans traveling abroad. They cannot override a foreign country's legal system, but they can make sure Americans receive all of the rights they are entitled to. An ambassador directs all U.S. government employees – staff, Foreign Service officers and representatives of American agencies, but not military personnel.
Though most ambassadors serve in specific countries, some have different responsibilities. The ambassador to the United Nations represents U.S. interests to that world forum. As one of the permanent members of the Security Council, the U.S., acting through its ambassador, can negotiate and veto resolutions. The ambassador also works to force administrative changes and eliminate corruption. Other ambassadors represent the U.S. at various international organizations such as NATO and the Organization of American States. Still others serve at-large with worldwide responsibilities. Ambassadors-at-Large for Counterterrorism, Religious Freedom and to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons are just several of the special-interest ambassadors who work to promote freedom and other American values.
Building goodwill with foreign nationals -- both government and civilian -- is an important part of an ambassador's role. This role involves working with humanitarian, economic development and cultural organizations. Entertaining dignitaries and members of nongovernmental organizations is a major part of this responsibility. Even in countries where the United States is not viewed with warmth, American aid is always accepted. It is the ambassador's responsibility to maximize the goodwill created. While approximately 30 percent of ambassador appointments are political patronage, celebrity ambassadors can be effective in promoting better relations, cultural exchanges and improved social and economic conditions in developing countries.
Ambassadors enjoy many perks and benefits that come with their appointment. Ambassadors have paid staffs, free housing, bodyguards, and an automobile and driver. Those who serve in countries with a rich heritage – Beijing, Paris or Rome, for example – can enjoy the exciting culture of those cities. Others who serve in less cosmopolitan cities still enjoy the travel and cultural experience. To build personal connections with the host country, ambassadors entertain frequently. Salaries are good – scaled to meet the education and experience of the ambassador – and accompanied with free housing and an expense account. Other benefits include federal health care and retirement plans. Diplomatic immunity, too, protects the ambassador from an inadvertent legal faux pas.
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- Whirled View: A Primer for First-Time U.S. Political Appointee Ambassadors
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