Help wanted: Ambassadors. Management position requires great people skills and public speaking, dinners and cocktails with dignitaries. Occasional hazards include geopolitical crises. Apply at the White House.
The job posting could be hung outside 44 of 188 U.S. embassies and international organizations that still lack an ambassador since President Trump took office. (That number includes six countries for which the U.S. does not exchange a top diplomat.)
The vacancies mean dozens of U.S. missions rely on the State Department's career foreign service officers, who may be less influential than ambassadors, to represent American interests.
Trump on Sunday condemned Democrats for obstructing his nominations and urged the Senate to move faster.
“The Democrats continue to Obstruct the confirmation of hundreds of good and talented people who are needed to run our government...A record in U.S. history. State Department, Ambassadors and many others are being slow walked. Senate must approve NOW!” Trump tweeted.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., responded by slamming Trump for ambassador positions for which nominees haven't been put forth.
“This Administration has routinely denigrated the responsibilities of our diplomatic and development corps and deemed them low priorities for American foreign policy. Rather than blaming others, the president should examine his record,” Menendez said in a statement.
Menendez listed vacancies that remain to be filled, starting with the question, “Where is the nominee for Ambassador to South Korea?”
Trump does not have a handpicked representative in South Korea, which faces nuclear-armed North Korea. He has no envoy in Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally that helps stabilize the Middle East and counterbalances Iran's influence.
There's no U.S. ambassador in Turkey, where President Recip Tayyip Erdogan blames the United States for an attempted coup in 2016. Trump has no personal envoy to the European Union as the continent struggles with far-right nationalist movements and Russian aggression.
Ambassadors are needed in Germany, Europe's largest economy; Cuba as it forges a new relationship with the United States, and Egypt, an ally in the fight against the Islamic State.
A team without its captain
Leaving those posts vacant is like sending a sports team to the championship game without the coach and captain, said Barbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, a professional organization and labor union.
“With all the threats facing our country, this is not the time to pull the foreign service team from the field and risk forfeiting the game to our adversaries,” she said.
The State Department promotes its diplomats from within, like in the military. It pulls most of its top ranks — senior foreign service officers — from veterans with years of experience.
The number of foreign service officers dropped nearly 3% from 8,176 in March 2017 to 7,940 at the end of December, State Department records show.
Senior staff declined nearly 16% from 968 to 816. Among its most senior staff — the six career foreign service officers who rank as ambassadors, four have left the State Department during Trump's presidency. A fifth foreign service officer, Undersecretary for Political Affairs Tom Shannon, announced he’ll retire in March.
Where they're posted
While some posts languished, Trump filled plum assignments with campaign donors, business leaders and personal friends – as past presidents have also done.
In Italy, he tapped Lewis Eisenberg, a former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, whose previous job was chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
In France, Trump appointed Jamie McCourt, a Boston real estate developer who co-owned the Los Angeles Dodgers until 2011. She donated more than $400,000 to the Trump Victory fund, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In Switzerland, Trump appointed Ed McMullen, an advertising and public relations executive who headed Trump's South Carolina 2016 campaign office.
Some of Trump's appointees have received a lukewarm reception.
In the Netherlands, Dutch journalists grilled Ambassador Peter Hoekstra, a former congressman, during his first news conference in January about comments he'd made in 2015 about Muslim immigrants burning cars and politicians in some Dutch neighborhoods. The comments proved untrue, and Hoekstra apologized.
Trump's ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is the president's former real estate lawyer. His nomination sparked controversy because he supported American Friends of Beit El Institutions, an organization that advocates for Jewish West Bank settlers who live on land claimed by Palestinians.
Keeping crises far away
An ambassador's role is to coordinate all 26 U.S. departments and agencies operating under the authority of the embassy.
"In some countries, you can do perfectly well with a chargé d'affaires," said Robert Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, using the term for a staffer left in charge when an ambassador is absent.
"In some countries, you simply don’t have the same access if you don’t have the title," he said.
Neumann, who served as U.S. ambassador to Algeria, Bahrain and Afghanistan, notes that embassies play a critical role when crises erupt abroad. The State Department organized the response to the Ebola virus in Africa, helping officials in Ghana and elsewhere implement a public health response that prevented the virus from spreading more widely.
A lot of the embassy's success there was due to an effective ambassador, Neumann said. "It's about what kind of contact they have with the boss."