The Foreign Service Journal, September 2010

S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 0 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 43 n a letter dated Sept. 24, 1951, Under Secretary of State William Phillips told Ambassador James G. McDonald: “There is a satisfaction in having been the first diplomatic representative to a country. You and I have shared this unique ex- perience — you in Israel and I, years ago, in Canada.” Unique, indeed! How many newly appointed ambassa- dors confront their president at a pre-departure meeting with a memorandum naming mid-level State Department officials working against White House policy? Or have spent the preceding years publicly denouncing the record of the U.S. government regarding the very matters that they would now be concerned with as ambassadors? An examination of McDonald’s papers at Columbia Uni- versity yields a most unusual story of how a 61-year-old was offered his first full-time, salaried position in government: as our first ambassador to a brand-new country. Typically, a chief of mission either comes from the career diplomatic service or is an influential supporter of the political party in power. But James Grover McDonald (1886-1964) was nei- ther of these. He had spent almost his whole career in the private sector, yet was not wealthy. But in 1919 he became chairman of an organization established a year earlier, the still-extant New York-based Foreign Policy Association ( ). That position proved to be a perfect match for his talents, interests and personality. The FPA would be McDonald’s vehicle for the next 15 years, through which he built a reputation for independ- ent, informed judgments on international and public af- fairs. This achievement was all the more noteworthy because he never earned a doctorate, though he had been an instructor of history at Harvard and then at Indiana Uni- versity, his alma mater. In addition, his only book, My Mis- sion in Israel (Simon and Schuster, 1951), would not be published until the year after he left government service. (A two-volume selection of his papers through 1945 was re- cently published in association with the United States Holocaust Museum under the co-editorship of his daugh- ter, Barbara McDonald Stewart.) As the FPA chairman until 1933, McDonald proved himself a tireless correspondent, a smooth organizer of con- ferences, a successful nationwide radio commentator and a determined fundraiser. His public speaking was often de- scribed as inspirational, combining a sincerely warm and sociable personality and a creative mind. No wonder that Frank Brecher was a Foreign Service officer with USAID from 1961 to 1983, serving in Nigeria, Bolivia and Morocco, at the United States Mission to the United Nations and in Washington, D.C. In addition to a trilogy of books analyzing early French-American relations, he is the author of Reluctant Ally: United States Foreign Policy toward the Jews fromWil- son to Roosevelt (Greenwood Press, 1991). FS H ERITAGE A MERICA ’ S F IRST A MBASSADOR TO I SRAEL : J AMES G. M C D ONALD M EET AN AMBASSADOR WHO SPENT THE YEARS BEFORE HIS APPOINTMENT PUBLICLY DENOUNCING THE POLICIES OF THE ADMINISTRATION THAT SENT HIM . B Y F RANK B RECHER I