Friday, March 20, 2009

Commitment to Excellence? A Suggestion for Ambassadorial Appointments

As you may have read, President Obama has nominated Dan Rooney, owner of the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, to serve as United States Ambassador to Ireland. The story is here:

Rooney was a relentless advocate for Obama during the election, visiting steel mills to help the Democratic ticket carry Pennsylvania. In return, the President admitted, in a television interview aired just before the game, that he was pulling for the Steelers in the Super Bowl.

In appointing Rooney, President Obama said:

"I am honored and grateful that such a dedicated and accomplished individual has agreed to serve as the representative of the United States to the Irish people. Dan Rooney is an unwavering supporter of Irish peace, culture, and education, and I have every confidence that he and Secretary Clinton will ensure America's continued close and unique partnership with Ireland in the years ahead."

Now, according to DemConWatch, very few ambassadorial appointments have been made. They keep a list here:

The Rooney appointment is a coup, and it should be the model for future appointments. Who, for example, should be ambassador to Russia, a nation that has once again bared its brutal, bearish, imperial teeth, threatening the smaller countries around it and meddling in Middle East politics?

I have the perfect answer: Al Davis, Managing General Partner of the Oakland Raiders. (Fair Disclosure: in My World the Raiders are the Jedi Knights of football.)

You might be surprised to learn that Mr. Davis is keenly interested in foreign policy. Bryan Curtis of The New York Times, in an in-depth story in 2007, recounts Davis' ruminations about the topic. Curtis reports:

I told Davis I had no idea he was interested in foreign affairs. “No, I know foreign affairs,” he said. “From a strategic standpoint dating back to World War II, and maybe a little before that, to the growth of the Third Reich.”

This was an interesting place to take things. In 1981, in a conversation with the sportswriter Gary Smith, Davis confessed he was “captivated” by Hitler. Coming from a Jewish man who had grown up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the remark invited all sorts of inquiries.

Davis chuckled when I reminded him of the article. “I didn’t tell him that,” he said. Davis paused. “He had to be stopped, you know?”

Gary Smith?

“No, Hitler. Now, was there some admiration for what they were doing? If you were connected with football, you had to have some admiration. You know, quick strike.”

The whole story is here:

Can it get any better than this? We know the Russians still think they got the worst of the damage in WWII. What will make them cower more than Ambassador Davis suggesting a "quick strike" in Georgia or Chechnya to the President?

And that's just the tip of the iceberg:

Davis’s football intelligence was never so much a matter of x’s and o’s as a cultural consciousness that Davis has called his “gestalt.” The Raiders were a peculiar mixture of Davis’s desires. Well into the 1960s and ’70s, pro football retained a militaristic snap. George Plimpton, the journalist and erstwhile quarterback, wrote that the ’60s were “so violent that it is impossible to accept the metaphor of football, and its popularity, without wondering whether it reflects some of the country’s excesses.”

As a student of foreign affairs going back to the Third Reich, Davis plundered the association with gusto. For years, the game-day schedule he distributed to the team listed 1 o’clock — game time — as “We go to war!” Military metaphors abounded: the N.F.L.-A.F.L. merger of 1970, which Davis initially opposed, reminded him of the agreement at Yalta; he issued statements like “The guerrilla wins if he doesn’t lose.” Howie Long, a defensive end who studied history at Villanova, found that after his indoctrination with Davis he began imagining the team’s practice center in Alameda as a fortress city in the hills of Cortona, something to be defended at all costs.

And Davis is good at turning a phrase, which is useful in diplomacy. Curtis reminds us that "he minted the team’s muscular catchphrases — “just win, baby,” “pride and poise,” “commitment to excellence.”

And best of all? Davis is color-blind. That's why the Raiders' uniforms are Silver and Black. (Really, that's a fact: check the NYT piece). And that's just the beginning. Again, the NYT piece:

The mix the Raiders achieved was revolutionary, and Davis managed a number of historic firsts. He became the first owner to draft an African-American quarterback in the first round, Eldridge Dickey, way back in 1968. He made Art Shell the first African-American head coach in the modern era; he made Tom Flores the first Hispanic coach. Amy Trask is the first woman to serve as chief executive of an N.F.L. team. In the 1960s, Davis moved two games out of segregated cities in the deep South when he learned the stands and local hotels would be segregated. “I just think he is absolutely unencumbered by prejudice of any type,” Trask says.

A perfect man to represent the new America.

There you have it. That's my advice, Mr. President: Just win, baby.

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