President Barack Obama on Tuesday selected Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney to be U.S. ambassador to Ireland, turning to a lifelong Republican who provided the Democrat critical campaign support during the White House race.
The 76-year-old Rooney endorsed Obama over Hillary Rodham Clinton during Pennsylvania’s contentious Democratic primary; Clinton won the contest last April. Rooney later campaigned for him in Steelers country in western Pennsylvania, and Obama went on to win the state last November.
In the 1970s, Rooney helped found the American Ireland Fund, an organization that has raised millions for advocacy of peace and education in Ireland. His legacy is reflected in a Steelers-themed bar in a disused linen mill in one of the roughest parts of northwest Belfast.
Ambassadorships to places like Ireland–and most of Europe for that matter–frequently go to high profile supporters of the president who possess no diplomatic experience. (On the other hand, the ambassadors to trouble spots around the world typically go to the most skilled members of the American foreign service.) For most of Europe, the two most important ambassadorial appointments are in Washington, DC and the United Nations in New York. These typically go to the most seasoned diplomats the country has to offer. The Irish ambassador to the United States, for example, His Excellency Michael Collins joined the Irish foreign service in 1974.
I don’t begrudge Mr. Rooney. In fact, I respect him mightily. I just think that our ambassadorial system here in the United States is sort of bizarre.