Our Man in London: On Louis Susman’s appointment as ambassador to the U.K.

The retired Chicago businessman Louis Susman recently became the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, an appointment widely regarded as the prize for his ferocious fundraising on behalf of the Obama campaign. Derided by the British press as the “vacuum cleaner,” Susman is only the most prominent example of a continuing—and questionable—American tradition

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Louis Susman, face to face with Queen Elizabeth II
Face to face with Queen Elizabeth II



A sample of bundlers for Obama who are now ambassadors posted abroad

Susman’s friends insist that’s not an issue with him. A graduate of the University of Michigan (’59) and Washington University Law School (’62), Susman brings to the job years of legal and banking experience, with deep knowledge of global finance. Senator McCaskill argues that the diplomatic corps benefits from a mix of professional and political appointees—the latter “bring a different kind of experience that is very helpful.”

Marshall Bouton says that while he would not want to see a political appointee in Pakistan, “in the bigger European posts, . . . the ambassador is sitting there to be a channel of communication and influence back and forth.”

On that front, Susman got off to a rocky start. In his first major interview, published by the Financial Times a bit more than a month after his arrival in London, Susman explained that the United States wanted to turn the page from the days when the Brits saw the Americans as a “dumb” and “bullying” country. And he contrasted the “unquestioning” relationship that the prime minister Tony Blair had with the Bush administration to the close working relationship between Obama and Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown. “To compare it to the previous relationship, well, some people might say that relationship wasn’t healthy,” Susman said.

The retired diplomat Ronald Spiers, a former ambassador to Turkey, Pakistan, and the Bahamas, told me, “I don’t think a career person would ever say anything like that.”

Writing in the conservative British weekly Spectator, Irwin Stelzer asked, “Is it really necessary for [Susman] to follow the Obama practice of including an attack on America in his press interviews?”

“I’ve never made any comment ever, any place, anywhere about Tony Blair,” Susman huffed when I asked him about the interview. “I don’t think you saw that right. Never, ever.” (Here’s the link to the Financial Times article: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/bb368bfa-a6ec-11de-bd14-00144feabdc0.html.)

As I was reporting this story, I heard repeatedly, “We’re sending Susman to London; it’s not like he’s going to Baghdad.”

“It’s sort of like saying, ‘It’s okay, what harm can he do?’” says Raymond Seitz. “I mean, really, how insulting—to Mr. Susman.”

British reporters kept the insults coming. News that the embassy was advertising for a speechwriter with “a deep knowledge of British politics, media and society” prompted The Daily Telegraph’s Tim Walker to suggest that a professional was needed “to at least make the . . . Chicago lawyer sound ambassadorial.” The Independent’s David Usborne reduced the appointment to cronyism at its worst: Susman’s reward for helping to get Obama elected was “a very fancy house and equally fancy title in the heart of London.”

If the reporters seemed snappish, perhaps it was because the press secretly had hoped for more celebrity wattage. Among the names that had been loosely mentioned as possible candidates for the ambassadorship were Oprah Winfrey; Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue; and Caroline Kennedy (whose Nazi appeaser grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, had served as ambassador to the UK). Any of them would have been a preposterous choice—Susman looks like Henry Kissinger by comparison.

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Photography: U.S. Department of State



3 years ago
Posted by albert

For Carol Felsenthal.Are you related to the Myerson family in Charleston South Carolina, or Edwin Perlstine?. If so please contact me....at Sheridanaj@aol.com Thank you.

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