For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible—and no one can now doubt the word of America.

—President Bush, a year after the invasion


Mesdames Ambassadors

Two very rich Eastside Republican donors are suddenly faces of America abroad.

For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible—and no one can now doubt the word of America.

—President Bush, a year after the invasion of Iraq

A few months ago, she was a Kirkland venture capitalist. The other day, she was informing a Vienna newspaper that the U.S. was prepared for war with Iran. If "it came to a military conflict," said Susan McCaw, "we would have the necessary capability." That's the novelty about ambassadorial work. One day you are an Eastside banker, the next you are telling a foreign nation we are ready to roll again.

McCaw, 43, who describes her background as investor, banker, and board member, is one of two new Bush administration diplomats from the Seattle suburbs settling in abroad. A member of the pioneering cell-phone family, McCaw is the U.S. ambassador to touristy, snow-capped Austria. Her Eastside neighbor, fellow businesswoman and former King County Republican Party chair Pat Herbold, 64, of Bellevue, is newly ensconced as U.S. ambassador to tropical, skyscraping Singapore.

Typically, diplomatic experience isn't a prerequisite to head America's overseas embassies. Deep familiarity with the designated country isn't essential, either. Herbold had been to Singapore twice, and McCaw says she'd made "several trips" to Austria. An ambassador's ethnic or social background can mean little in deciding a country of posting, as well. Democratic former Speaker of the House Tom Foley, an Irishman born in Spokane, was Bill Clinton's U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1998 to 2001. Former Seattle Mariners owner and George W. Bush appointee George Argyros, of Greek ancestry, reigned in Spain from 2001 to 2004—even while his California land company was accused of illegally evicting and overcharging Latinos and other minorities.

In other words, they're political appointments mostly in return for party loyalty and campaign contributions. Like Argyros, a billionaire who helped raise $30 million for the GOP in 2000, McCaw and Herbold are exceptionally wealthy and were appointed by Bush after they gave and raised millions for his 2000 and 2004 elections. They replace other big Bush donors. In Vienna, McCaw took over in January from Frank Lavin, who helped gather $100,000 for the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign. In Singapore in December, Herbold replaced W.L. Lyons Brown, an executive in the Jack Daniels Whiskey empire, who, with his wife, gave $338,000 to Republicans from 2000 through 2004, according to the campaign watchdog Center for Responsive Politics.

Ambassadors theoretically should mirror U.S. thinking and represent American political and economic interests. Besides their Republican credentials, both new Eastside ambassadors have extensive business portfolios. Their Executive Branch financial disclosure reports show each has extensive stocks and bonds investments. McCaw's personal worth in assets and annual income is in the range of $50 million to $160 million, while Herbold's worth is $78 million to $188 million. Precise figures are lost within the ballpark math allowed by the disclosure forms. Herbold, for example, says she has from $1 million to $5 million invested in consumer-products giant Proctor & Gamble (her husband is a former P&G executive) and from $25 million to $50 million in a short-term Vanguard tax-exempt fund. She makes up to $1 million in interest from the fund annually. McCaw lists her collection of artwork as worth $5 million to $25 million and has an annual income of up to $9.9 million. Ambassadors, by law, may have to divest some positions and seek a waiver on investments to minimize potential conflicts of interest. Herbold, for example, has resigned from the Washington Policy Center, a conservative Seattle think tank, and as a director of Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University. McCaw has given up her presidency of COM Investments and her managing partnership of Eagle Creek Capital, both McCaw family investment companies. As ambassadors, each appointee is paid around $160,000 annually plus perks that include paid staff and free housing, car, driver, and international air travel.

Some of the ambassadors' reported assets are shared with their wealthy spouses and fellow Bush supporters, Craig McCaw and Bob Herbold. The spouses' own extensive holdings are not detailed in the disclosure filings, but Craig McCaw, who with his brothers sold McCaw Cellular (now part of Cingular) in 1994 for $11.5 billion, is said to be worth $2.1 billion. He's the 125th richest American, according to Forbes. Bob Herbold, now a private consultant, is a retired Microsoft chief operating officer whose fortune is estimated in the hundreds of millions. He weighed running for governor against Christine Gregoire in 2004 and is a member of President Bush's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Susan McCaw, who prior to her appointment had considered running against Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell this year, was finance co-chair for the state Bush-Cheney campaign and personally helped raise at least $200,000 for Bush's re-election. In an hour-and-a-half-long fund-raiser at the McCaws' estate at Hunts Point in 2003 attended by President Bush, the re-election campaign took in $1.7 million. Bob and Pat Herbold have contributed more than $120,000 to Republicans since 1997. A onetime co-chair of Initiative 200—which rolled back state affirmative-action laws—and an oft-rumored Congressional candidate, Pat Herbold helped found a U.S. business coalition, the Club for Growth, that in 2004 collected $20 million for the GOP. Both families also operate private foundations and donate widely to charity.

Neither ambassador responded to requests, made through their embassies, for comment. During a hearing last year to confirm her appointment to the Mandarin-and-English-speaking island state, Herbold told a senate committee her credentials included board memberships and a law background "negotiating multimillion-dollar contracts." That seemed to sound the right notes, at least for Singapore's prosperous, export-driven electronics and banking economy. She also alluded to the republic's questionable human-rights record, saying she looked forward to "highlighting the advantages of free expression and assembly for continued political and economic development."

McCaw, in two Austrian newspaper interviews last month, said her goals include addressing "America's negative image" abroad. Though German-speaking Austria clings to its postwar neutrality, it struggles with a resurgence of Nazi politicism. One interviewer from Vienna's Der Kurier pointed out that Austrian citizens generally "reject corruption, lies, and the Iraq war," to which McCaw said "We have a debate even in the U.S. about these issues." Indeed. As for Iran, where an estimated 1 million candlelight marchers supported America after the Sept. 11 U.S. terrorist attacks and now appear to loathe us? She told Die Presse that diplomacy should come first when dealing with the Iranis' purported nuclear-bomb building (WMD Version 2). But Bush, she noted, hasn't ruled out a military response to this "highly irrational government in Tehran." It may not have resonated well in the neutral Alps. But it was the sound of music to Eastside Republicans.

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