Rumors of Vogue editor Anna Wintour's possible appointment as ambassador to the Court of St. James have triggered predictable umbrage and snark. How would she handle complex negotiations that revolve around the arcana of international law? And isn't it outrageous that high-profile posts go to bundlers and money wranglers rather than seasoned diplomats?
Two things matter for top-drawer ambassadorships: The president answers your calls, and you don't drool in public. And yes, a little money doesn't hurt, either. Wintour meets the first two criteria, and probably has a few spare ball gowns in her closet to boot.
You don't need a modern-day Metternich to handle relations with the U.K. -- or, for that matter, ties with some of the U.S.'s other closest allies -- because the relationship already has plenty of stewards, starting with the president and the prime minister. When they want to talk with each other, they just pick up the phone. That happens up and down the bureaucratic chain, which is stocked with plenty of specialists.
Still, I think we can safely assume that someone who's been swimming successfully for more than three decades in one of the media world's biggest shark tanks is no less capable and savvy than, say, Walter Annenberg, publisher of TV Guide, creator of Seventeen magazine -- and Nixon's ambassador to the U.K. She's sharp, decisive, and doesn't suffer fools, which are useful traits for cutting through weasel-wording and cover-your-ass gamesmanship. She'll certainly have more fashion sense than Admiral William Crowe, another U.K. ambassador who boasted a collection of nearly 1,000, mostly military, hats. Heck, if the schlubs of Foggy Bottom traded their Lands End hopsacks for Armani and Prada, who's to say the world wouldn't be a better(-looking) place?
That's not to denigrate professional diplomats. But they're most useful, and most effective, in countries that don't have the benefit of high-level attention. Every U.S. foreign service officer worth his or her hardship pay knows that the gilded diplomatic cages of Western Europe offer less freedom, responsibility and influence than backwater billets in your average Third World hellhole. (Take it from someone who spent 18 months as an FSO in Mumbai.) In Paris, you're the second secretary or economics minister who has to seek clearance from Washington for every breath you take. In Bamako, you are the United States.
So let Anna preside over the July 4th reception, show the flag at Wimbledon and Ascot, set the British tabs to wagging, field the rare 3 a.m. phone call. As long as she has a good deputy chief of mission, the embassy will mostly take care of itself (hopefully, with few outbreaks of "Nuclear Wintour"). The more momentous question is, who will run Vogue if she goes?
(James Gibney is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)
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