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Will choice diplomatic posts still go to pals and donors?

WASHINGTON - Craig Stapleton, the U.S. ambassador to France, co-owned the Texas Rangers baseball team with President Bush and served as the Connecticut state chairman for Bush's reelection campaign.

WASHINGTON - Craig Stapleton, the U.S. ambassador to France, co-owned the Texas Rangers baseball team with President Bush and served as the Connecticut state chairman for Bush's reelection campaign.

Robert Tuttle, the U.S. ambassador in London, is a multimillionaire car dealer and Bush "pioneer," one of a select group who has raised at least $100,000 for Bush.

Peter Coneway, the American ambassador to Switzerland and former head of the Houston office of Goldman Sachs, also is one of those "pioneers" and a Bush friend.

Will these names be replaced in the next administration by those of friends, political allies and benefactors of President-elect Barack Obama?

Chicago's Penny Pritzker, the Obama campaign's national finance chairwoman? Oprah Winfrey, whose support also was a big help to the candidate?

The foreign-service establishment, which produces experienced career diplomats who covet those jobs and believe they deserve them more, hopes not. For the first time, the diplomats are asking for limits on the inevitable list of political appointees dispatched around the globe by the new president.

"Diplomacy is too serious of a business to give away," said Ronald Neumann, who served in Baghdad and was ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007.

The organization he now heads, the American Academy of Diplomacy, sent a letter to both presidential campaigns earlier this year, urging them to limit political appointments to 10 percent of the more than 200 ambassador positions.

The parceling of those postings as spoils of victory has a long history in the United States. Since the Kennedy era, both Democratic and Republican administrations have given away about a third of the ambassadorships as political rewards.

These posts are the so-called plums, such as London, Paris and other Western European capitals. While important, they tend not to be the trickiest hotspots - such as Moscow, Tel Aviv or Islamabad - where seasoned envoys are needed to represent U.S. interests, promote American commerce, and protect U.S. citizens abroad.

Caroline Kennedy's grandfather Joseph, a prominent businessman, Democratic Party stalwart, and father of a future president, served briefly as the U.S. ambassador to Britain - officially known as the Court of St. James's - at the start of World War II.

Then there are the temperate spots, such as New Zealand; President Bill Clinton sent former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun there as the U.S. envoy in 1999 after she lost her Illinois Senate seat.

During the Clinton years, the posts also were filled by FOBs (Friends of Bill), including Felix Rohatyn, the investment banker who along with his wife contributed an estimated $600,000 to Clinton and the Democratic Party in the era before campaign-finance reform.

"It is the last vestige of the patronage system for federal jobs," said Tex Harris, former president of the American Foreign Service Association.

The Obama transition team has not yet addressed the ambassadorships. Appointments often don't occur until after Inauguration Day. But that has not slowed the inevitable hashing out of who might deserve or want the posts.

Among the names being bandied about are Pritzker and Winfrey, who are close to Obama but obviously have successful careers they might not want to give up.

A spokeswoman for Winfrey said she had not been offered a position and would not speculate on whether she would consider one. Pritzker, whose family owns the Hyatt Hotel chain and who has overseen many of its investments, could not be reached for comment. An Obama transition spokesman had no comment.

This year is the first time the 25-year-old academy of diplomacy has called for fewer political appointees.

"The world situation is as complicated as it's ever been, and the State Department is grossly understaffed - so it's that much more important that its leaders be high quality," Neumann said.

Not to say that political appointees can't make for good ambassadors. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, prefer to have politically appointed envoys because they believe it gives them better access to the president.