News National US finally names new ambassador to Australia

US finally names new ambassador to Australia

Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr is chair emeritus and counsel to the international law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP. Photo:
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Two years after he was elected, Donald Trump has appointed the man responsible for the political career of Sarah Palin as US Ambassador to Australia.

The appointment of Arthur B Culvahouse Jr comes after the job had remained vacant for the longest period since World War II, sparking claims that the United States was treating Australia in a manner that bordered on contempt.

In the United States, the lawyer and adviser to former US President Ronald Reagan is known for launching the political career of the Tea Party’s Sarah Palin, by vetting her as a running mate for the late Senator John McCain.

He also helped Mr Trump for the same task in 2016, vetting Mike Pence as his vice-president.

His role in vetting Ms Palin was detailed by The Washingtonian‘s Marisa Kashino, who wrote that he “couldn’t have known that for all of his years and accomplishments in Washington, vetting Palin would be what finally brought him—one of the city’s great secret-keepers and behind-the-scenes players—out of obscurity”.

Defending the decision to choose Ms Palin in 2009, he said the vice-presidental candidate “had a lot of capacity”.

“Me and two of my most cynical partners interviewed [Palin], and came away impressed,” he said.

During the interviews, Ms Palin disclosed her husband’s drink-driving arrest and her daughter Bristol Palin’s pregnancy.

“I asked her how she thought her daughter’s pregnancy would play out politically,” Mr Culvahouse said.

“She says, ‘That’s for smarter people than me to figure out. I don’t know’.”

Mr Culvahouse says he found the response impressive: “She had a very good sense of her strengths and weaknesses. I mean, she knew what she didn’t know.”

The 70-year-old is also chair emeritus of international law firm O’Melveny & Myers LLP. 

The Trump administration had nominated Admiral Harry Harris, the head of the US Pacific Command, as the next ambassador to Australia but then dumped him from the role and sent him to South Korea instead.

James Carouso has been the US embassy’s charge d’affaires since US ambassador John Berry left Australia in 2016.

The Australian’s Troy Bramston recently wrote that the failure to appoint a US ambassador was insulting to one of the US’s strongest allies.

“For more than two years the post of US ambassador to Australia has been vacant. Not since World War II has it been unoccupied for so long. It belies the mythology of the fabled ‘special relationship’ between the US and Australia. It also reflects the dysfunction that permeates Donald Trump’s presidency,” he said.

Bruce Wolpe, a visiting fellow at the United States Studies Centre, said Mr Culvahouse Jr was a “first-grade choice” and someone who had a “direct tie” with Mr Trump.

“He’s an establishment figure in the Republican Party,” Mr Wolpe told Sky News.

“This is really an excellent choice for Australia given the depth of experience but also someone who is conversant with, supportive of a rules-based international order, solid alliances, the Australian-American alliance and the principles on which it is based.

“People in Australia should be comforted by the choice of such a high-level, high-calibre person to be the next ambassador to the Australia.”

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