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Every time a new ambassador is nominated from the United States it somehow becomes news and political experts at home and abroad begin speculations over the personality of the nominee. But why are ambassadors considered to be important people in the first place? They lack any direct judicial, executive or legislative powers and from what I can tell they serve mainly as middle men between the true decision makers at home and the local authorities.

Am I mistaken in my thinking? Are ambassadors more important than what it seems on the surface?

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    Citations needed for (1) ambassadors being considered to be politicians; (2) every US ambassadorial appointment becoming news. There are a couple of hundred of them and they don't spend long enough in post for that to be plausible unless you see news stories about ambassadorial appointments every week. – Peter Taylor Oct 6 '17 at 11:40
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    @PeterTaylor here in Czech Republic I see news about the US ambassador every month. And I remember there was a lot of grieving back when the US ambassador in Libya was killed in Benghazi, so they're obviously considered important people. – JonathanReez Oct 6 '17 at 11:43
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    @JonathanReez - Libya wasn't about the ambassador as a person. It was about the ambassador as representation of USA as a country. Frankly, I'd be surprised if more than 5% of US population could name that ambassador who got killed without Googling - heck, I can't and I consider Benghazi an important thing. – user4012 Oct 6 '17 at 13:01
  • You can break laws in another country with impunity. That seems pretty VIP to me. – PoloHoleSet Oct 6 '17 at 16:00
  • JonathanReez the question appears to be saying that every US ambaaaadorial appointment is internationally newsworthy. If you're saying that each ambassadorial appointment is newsworthy in the receiving country, that's quite different. I suppose it's closer to the truth, but probably also not strictly true. @PoloHoleSet but the immunity arises from the role as the representative of a foreign head of state, not because of the person's own importance. – phoog Oct 6 '17 at 18:03
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In general, ambassadors are not important politicians. They can have an important role and be among the second tier of top civil servants in a country, perhaps like a judge in some important court or the head of some sub-ministerial department but not chief of staff/private secretary level.

Americans don't care all that much about who is being sent where and in many countries who the US ambassador is isn't newsworthy either, let alone ambassadors from other countries.

What you are witnessing is an artefact of the overall importance of the US and possibly the fact that the Czech Republic is a relatively small country which aligned with the US relatively recently (namely after the fall of the Soviet Union). US ambassadors also differ in another way as they are not necessarily professional diplomats.

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I'd say diplomats are important bureaucrats more so than politicians, but there is definitely a political nature to their job. The reason they are so important, is they provide the day to day contact point for the US to foreign governments. They are somewhat of a middle man in a sense, but its between two fairly large bureaucracies, and there is efficiency in having a dedicated person be the gatekeeper. Government officials tend to be busy and have schedules filled well in advance, part of an ambassador's job is to get themselves or other high ranking officials on the schedule. An Ambassador and their staff are often the negotiators or oversee negotiations in most cases, and the heads of state usually are only involved as ceremonial approvals. Ambassadors tend to have some level of status partly because they have clearance to high levels of government on both sides, and in more corrupt places they can peddle their influence for various bribes.

The less advertised part would be the ambassadors, and their diplomatic staff are the primary spies of every nation. Not every ambassador and every part of their staff is a spy, but significant portions are, and ambassadors at some level involved in the intelligence gathering activities.

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In USA there is a long tradition of nominating campaign donors for to the positions is a "safe countries". For example Obama nominated his donor for the position in Norway. Only after he was publicly humiliated by lack of any knowledge his bid failed. Also in Luxembourg Obama put one of his biggest donors Cynthia Stroum.

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Ambassadors are the envoys (and proxies) of one Head of State to another. Thus while they aren't politicians as such, they are the first point of contact between nations in a crisis (we've all seen movies where someone shouts something like "get me the French Ambassador!"), and the quality and temperament of the person chosen implies something of how the leadership of one country views another. If a noted figure or senior diplomat is chosen, then that implies the relationship is viewed as important; If it's someone more junior that implies a cooler feeling, and might even be viewed as an insult.

  • This is the correct answer: it's the ambassador's role as a representative of the foreign head of state that accounts for most of the symbolic importance of the post. – phoog Oct 6 '17 at 18:55

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