There are two paths that aspiring American ambassadors traditionally take to persuade the president of the United States to nominate them for that honor. First, there is the classic, merit-based path where senior U.S. foreign service officers with distinguished diplomatic backgrounds are quietly-and-carefully vetted in the higher echelons of the State Department. Those who survive the scrutiny by their peers have their names forwarded to the White House to get the formal — usually routine — presidential approval. The second route, the political one, is (sometimes scandalously) reserved for famous personalities, presidential cronies, and major contributors of campaign cash who buy their ambassadorships. But now comes the U.S. consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, a Vietnamese-American foreign service officer named An Le, with a novel third way: an oh-so-Asian way.
Le wants to become the next U.S. ambassador to Vietnam. Toward that end, the consul general has been working behind the scenes since at least last July with a network of Vietnamese-American allies, some of whom have political and business connections in both Washington and Hanoi. Although Le has urged his supporters to try to drum up congressional support, the main target of the lobbying campaign is the man who would make the nomination: President Barack Obama. Continue reading