Louis Susman
Louis Susman
In the wake of the WikiLeaks document dump and the ensuing media frenzy, I wondered what I would find on Obama’s diplomatic appointees from Chicago. Of the four local Obama campaign donors who were rewarded with cushy ambassadorships—banker Louis Susman to England, lawyer David Jacobson to Canada, TV producer Charles Rivkin to France, and lawyer Fay Hartog Levin to the Netherlands—Susman and Rivkin emerged with the most interesting results.

With the whistle-blower site down for most of yesterday, I had to rely on British newspaper accounts for a peek into the treasure trove of diplomatic cables from our embassies around the world—all of them intended to remain confidential and many of them replete with undiplomatic observations about world leaders.

Susman, whom I profiled for Chicago soon after he arrived at the Court of St. James, has been at the center of the storm—placed there by WikiLeaks editor/international outlaw Julian Assange, who sent a letter to Susman asking him to identify people named in the document dump to come whose lives might be at risk if their names were made public.

The 73-year-old Chicago businessman jumped into action, briefing Downing Street and the Foreign Office. He also publicly condemned the publication of the documents by newspapers, including the UK’s Guardian, as a threat to the national security of the UK and the US that potentially endangers the lives of “journalists… human rights activists and bloggers …soldiers and diplomats.” 

Susman toiled to tamp down particularly embarrassing diplomatic cables that show American officials assessing then-prime minister Gordon Brown as unstable, weak, paranoid, and given to temper tantrums. (It is not yet clear who those officials are and whether any of the documents  were written by Susman himself.) According to a report in the UK’s Sunday Express, “President Obama witnessed one outburst first hand. At the G20 Summit in London last year, he said to Mr. Brown’s aides: `Tell your guy to cool it,’ as the PM threatened to erupt over something that had upset him.”   

Perhaps even more embarrassing was an assessment, said to be made by Obama, of current PM David Cameron, who bested Brown in the last election. On a foreign trip during the 2008 campaign, Obama stopped in London, where he met Cameron. A confidential memo sent from the American embassy to Washington showed Obama criticizing the then-head of the conservative party as a “lightweight.” 

Searching the name of another Chicago appointee, Charles Rivkin, I found a fascinating character appraisal of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. In a memo to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rivkin described Sarkozy as a tyrant who terrorizes his staff, who are unwilling "to point out when the emperor is less than fully dressed,” according to a summary of the confidential cables published in The Guardian. The memo to Clinton continued: “Elysée contacts have reported to us the great lengths they will go to avoid disagreeing with him or provoking his displeasure—even recently reportedly rerouting the president’s plane to avoid his seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up in Turkey’s colours on the visit of PM [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan." (Sarkozy opposed Turkey’s membership in the EU.)


Photograph: U.S. Department of State