The post of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has been both a steppingstone for bigger things and a consolation prize for the men and women appointed to the post in recent decades.
Many entered as relatively unknown public figures and earned their diplomatic stripes and political gravitas. One went on to become president.
Here’s a look at some of the more notable ambassadors over the past five decades.
Adlai Stevenson II
A former governor of Illinois, Stevenson also was twice the Democratic presidential nominee. He was defeated by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956. He served as John F. Kennedy’s and then Lyndon Johnson’s ambassador to the U.N. from 1961 to 1965, despite being a critic of the Kennedys. His tenure included a faceoff during the Cuban missile crisis during which he famously demanded answers from the Soviet ambassador, saying, “I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over.”
George H.W. Bush
Richard Nixon appointed Bush to be his U.N. ambassador in 1971, a year after Bush had given up his seat in the House of Representatives to run unsuccessfully for the Senate. Bush served until 1973, when Nixon asked him to run the Republican National Committee. Gerald Ford appointed Bush as the unofficial ambassador to China, heading a liaison office before formal diplomatic relations were established. Bush later headed the CIA , and became vice president and then president. He excluded the position from Cabinet-level status, a move his son repeated during his two terms.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Before he became a long-serving Democratic senator from New York, Moynihan was appointed U.N. ambassador by Gerald Ford in 1975, holding the post until the following year. At the U.N., Moynihan came to national prominence in an impassioned speech against a resolution that equated Jewish Zionism with racism. Moynihan ushered in a more aggressive U.S. foreign-policy stance, and he became a senator in 1976, holding office until his retirement in 2001, when he was succeeded by Hillary Clinton.
When former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter was elected president, he tapped Congressman and civil rights leader Young to be his U.N. ambassador, the first African-American to hold the post. Young served from 1977 to 1979. He helped guide the U.N. vote on an arms embargo on white-ruled South Africa, but as the American representative he vetoed U.N. economic sanctions sought against the apartheid regime. His peace talks in Rhodesia helped create the nation of Zimbabwe. Young went on to become the mayor of Atlanta.
Ronald Reagan leaned heavily on his fellow anti-communist crusader Kirkpatrick, who served as U.N. ambassador from 1981 to 1985. Together they forged a doctrine that sought to check the Soviet Union in the U.N. and across the globe, even if it meant supporting unsavory authoritarian governments, something that came to be known as the Kirkpatrick Doctrine. She was married to a former intelligence official and she returned to teaching after leaving the U.N. post.
Born two years before World War II in what had been Czechoslovakia, Albright’s family immigrated to the United States in 1948 and she went on to become a foreign policy scholar. Bill Clinton tapped her as his U.N. ambassador, a post she held from 1993 to 1997, leaving it to become the nation’s first female secretary of state. Because she was not a natural-born citizen, Albright had the distinction of being out the line of presidential succession in the event of catastrophe.
William Blaine “Bill” Richardson
Bill Clinton tapped the former congressman to succeed Albright at the U.N. in 1997, a post Richardson held until become energy secretary a year later. While still in Congress, Richardson was sent by Clinton to negotiate with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and to talk privately with North Korean leaders, a role he filled again many years later. Richardson went on to become governor of New Mexico and was on a short list for Barack Obama’s secretary of state, a post that went to Hillary Clinton.
George W. Bush tapped Bolton in controversial fashion, as a temporary “recess” appointee in 2005 who faced stiff opposition from Democrats, who would have shot down his confirmation in the Senate. The son of working-class parents in Baltimore, Bolton held positions in the Reagan and first Bush administrations. He was a fierce critic of the U.N., complicating the confirmation that never happened and his relationship with then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. As a recess appointee, his term ended when the term of Congress did in December 2006. He was reported to be on Donald Trump’s short list to return to the U.N. or as secretary of state.
Barack Obama tapped Rice as his first U.N. ambassador, a position she held from 2009 to 2013, when she became his national security adviser. Rice served in the Clinton administration and was a protégé of Albright’s. At the U.N., Rice won approval to create a Libyan no-fly zone. But Libya became her nightmare when Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others were killed in attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012. Rice’s initial confusing comments bedeviled Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the time, and later her presidential bid.
Born in Dublin, Power was an Irish citizen until the age of 23. A former war correspondent who covered the breakup of Yugoslavia, Power went on to publish a Pulitzer Prize-winning book in 2003 about genocide in modern conflicts. She worked on Obama’s staff in the Senate in 2005 and 2006, later advising his presidential campaign. Power served at the National Security Council until 2013, when she was tapped to replace Rice. At the U.N., Power has been a vocal critic of Syrian and Russian bombing campaigns that she argues have indiscriminately killed and wounded ordinary Syrians.