I’ve been searching all over the Internet trying to find news reports concerning President Donald Trump’s “order” that all U.S. Ambassadors — without exception — vacate their posts as of noon of January 20, 2017, Inauguration Day.
I was particularly interested in the status of U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, who was sworn in on 11/04/2016 and who presented his credentials to President Rodrigo Duterte on 12/06/2016. It would have been one of the shortest terms ever by a U.S. Ambassador.
Today, I attended an event for U.S. citizens living in Baguio City. Held at the Forest Lodge inside Camp John Hay, it was billed as a “Meet and Greet” with U.S. Consul General Russell J. Brown.
During the open forum, I asked Brown to confirm if indeed Ambassador Kim has vacated his post in accordance with Trump’s “order.” He answered in the negative and remarked that the news reports were “overblown.”
Here are the facts:
President Trump didn’t fire all U.S. ambassadors and special envoys — but Trump’s transition team indicated that no extensions would be approved for politically appointed ambassadors to remain in their posts beyond inauguration day.
Claims that Trump fired all ambassadors in a break with tradition are misleading because it’s not uncommon for all political appointees to leave their overseas posts by inauguration day while career diplomats are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Ambassador Kim, while appointed by President Obama, is a career diplomat and as such, was not covered by Trump’s directive. He has not left his post and remains as the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines.
The United States has 170 embassies and 11 missions around the world headed by ambassadors. There are 188 U.S. ambassadors. Non-career, “politically appointed” diplomats fill about 30 percent of those positions, and career diplomats fill about 70 percent.
Kim is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor. Prior to his Philippine post, he was U.S. Ambassador to Korea. He is the first U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines who is of Asian heritage.
Both the local and international news media were quick to cover Philippine President Duterte’s pronouncements about re-examining the Philippines’ relationship with the U.S., yet they failed to follow up on a related news issue, one that’s precisely the most important symbol of that relationship — the ambassadorship.
Once again, the news media failed us.