Daily Archives: May 31, 2012

Foreign Service Dissent Award Snubs Most Vocal Foreign Service Dissenter of the Year

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional association of the United States Foreign Service presents an annual set of awards for “intellectual courage and creative dissent.

It has four dissent awards:

  • F. Allen “Tex” Harris Award for a Foreign Service Specialist
  • W. Averell Harriman Award for a junior officer (FS 7-FS 4)
  • William R. Rivkin Award for a mid-level officer, (FS 3-FS 1)
  • Christian A. Herter Award for a member of the Senior Foreign Service (FE OC-FE CA)

Here is AFSA’s Criteria for its Dissent Awards:

The 2012 Dissent Awards via AFSA (excerpt):

This year’s AFSA awards for intellectual courage, initiative and integrity in the context of constructive dissent will be presented to the following Foreign Service employees, who challenged the system despite the possible consequences.  The winner will receive a small globe with their name and a framed certificate.

The winner of the 2012 William R. Rivkin Award for constructive dissent by a mid-level Foreign Service officer is Joshua Polacheck. Mr. Polacheck consistently and over some time made well-reasoned arguments against the U.S. security posture as it related to U.S. embassies, consulates and missions abroad. He submitted a highly cogent dissent channel cable, raising concerns that “consistently erring on the side of caution” when it comes to security choices sends “a message of distrust to the people of our host nations” and makes it difficult to roll back enhanced security measures should the need arise. Mr. Polacheck came to this conclusion after serving in Iraq, Pakistan and Lebanon. The judges were impressed with his willingness to raise a well-argued concern on an issue that often complicates U.S. policy and the carrying out of diplomatic and development work abroad.

The AFSA Awards and Plaques Committee did not select any winners this year for AFSA’s other dissent awards: The F. Allen “Tex” Harris Award for Foreign Service specialists, the W. Averell Harriman Award for constructive dissent by an entry-level Foreign Service officer, or the Christian A. Herter Award for Senior Foreign Service members.

So there — this year, there are no winners for three of AFSA’s four dissent awards.  The only one with a declared winner is the Rivkin Award for a mid-level officer (FS 3-FS 1). The award is named after William Rivkin, a US Army officer and former US Ambassador to Luxembourg and Senegal, who is also the father Charles H. Rivkin, the current US Ambassador to France.

We understand that two nominations were submitted for the Rivkin Award for FSO Peter Van Buren, but since he did not get the award, AFSA’s panel must think that he did not “go out on a limb” enough, or “stick his neck out in a way” that involves some risk.  Which is kind of sorta funny since the last we heard, Van Buren’s neck is definitely on the chopping block.  Revenge of the chickens for writing about chicken crap.  But seriously, he sure did challenge the system from within by not resigning, didn’t he?

The word backstage is that folks were reportedly “not happy” about the Van Buren nominations since the nominee did not follow proper channels, or dissent was not constructive, or something along those lines.  Our guesstimate is that “challenging the system from within” does not really mean that you are within the system when you’re doing the challenging, it simply means that that you’re challenging the system with proper punctuation marks observed without offending too many folks and not rattling too many cages.

Or wait — maybe if he quit … and wasn’t so loud, and did not give so many interviews, and did not call people names,  you think, they might have given him the award for demonstrating nicely and quietly, “the intellectual courage to challenge the system from within, to question the status quo and take a stand, no matter the sensitivity of the issue or the consequences of their actions.”  

The book was done nicely though, it wasn’t distasteful or anything, and it wasn’t in ALL CAPS, so he wasn’t really shouting.

Oh, let’s sleep on this. Maybe tomorrow we’ll wake up and find that Fulbright’s quote is really a joke gone bad.

Here we thought dissent is a dying tradition in the Foreign Service … ahnd, it might just be.

Why? Well, we didn’t hear too much non-official dissent around here, and if AFSA’s candidates’ pool  is running empty, it could only mean that not too many people are using the official Dissent Channel. Or whoever used it in the recent past were deemed not worthy of these awards.

But — before you jump into wrongheaded conclusions, be reminded that not too very long ago, Ambassador Alfred Atherton, then Director General of the Foreign Service, was quoted saying: “it is possible that the decline in the use of the dissent channel you’ve cited represents the success of the system …rather than a deliberate effort to squelch differing views.”

And we don’t think he was kidding then when he said what he said.

Just to be clear, AFSA is a dues-collecting non-government membership organization. It sure can set its own criteria for its awards, the dissent awards included. But perhaps, it should amplify its own rules for rewarding dissent — that it’s only good for the nice form not the long form, hair on fire kind. These awards are for the special kind of dissent, the “constructive kind only” — the ones that do not topple the chairs.  So contrary to Fulbright’s words, the test of dissent’s value is really in its taste?

“For over forty years AFSA has sponsored a program to recognize and encourage constructive dissent and risk-taking in the Foreign Service. This is unique within the U.S. Government. The Director General of the Foreign Service is a co-sponsor of the annual ceremony where the dissent awards are conferred. AFSA is proud to have upheld the tradition of constructive dissent for these many years, and we look forward to our ongoing role in recognizing those who have the courage to buck the system to stand up for their beliefs.”

Hey, stop laughing over there!

Oh, where were we? So this is just as well. Imagine if Van Buren got the dissent award? The Director General of the Foreign Service whose office is pursuing Mr. Van Buren’s dismissal would have been in a twilightzoney spot of handing an award to the State Department’s top ranking FSO-non grata. Of course, that pix would have been something to pin on Pinterest.

Anyway, this got us thinking — which can sometimes get problematic.

If dissent is one important index of political integrity within the Foreign Service, what does it mean, that 1) the tide pool is so shallow AFSA could only find one winner in this year’s awards and 2) that it has ignored the most vocal Foreign Service dissenter of the year?

We don’t know the answer but it is disturbing that bucking the system and standing for one’s beliefs have asterisks.

Domani Spero

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Filed under AFSA, Awards, Dissent, Foreign Service, FSOs, Peter Van Buren, Quotes

Say Goodbye to NEA Bureau Boss, Jeffrey Feltman

On May 22, 2012, the State Department spokesman confirmed that “Assistant Secretary Feltman has advised Secretary Clinton that he would – that he plans to retire at the end of the month and that he is going to be pursuing other opportunities.” Liz Dibble, NEA’s PDAS will reportedly be steering the ship in the interim.

Below is Jeffrey Feltman, then US Ambassador to Lebanon during the 15,000 amcit evacuation via Cyprus in 2006. Unfortunately, he’s not the most Flickr-friendly official we have and we do not have a lot of photos to share.  But he is not altogether invisible.  Click here to view a few more photos in a slideshow of the outgoing NEA boss.

Ambassador Feltman with U.S. Marine Brigadier General Carl Jensen during the evacuation of Beirut, July 2006
(photo via Wikipedia)
Click here to view slideshow

Digger of Life After Jerusalem has a nice post (would tickle FS bloggers, too) on Secretary Feltman saying, “Don’t go.”

The IG inspectors also had great things to say about him when they reviewed the bureau in May 2011:

The Assistant Secretary has served throughout the region, including as Ambassador in Lebanon, as well as principal deputy assistant secretary and acting Assistant Secretary immediately prior to his current position. He received consistently high marks from employees throughout the bureau and the Department for his knowledge of the region, his communication skills, and his genuine concern for his staff and their workload. His own grueling schedule only reinforced that appreciation.

Each Friday, the Assistant Secretary convenes an open meeting that all bureau employees and key contacts inside and outside the Department may attend. Interagency contacts praised the front office for its professionalism, transparency, and openness, saying it resulted in better communication for all sides as they work together on difficult and urgent issues.

The Assistant Secretary, DASes, and EX director take an active interest in filling the bureau’s positions with the best officers they can find. The need to fill key Iraq slots over the past 7 years has resulted in many non-NEA hands coming into the bureau. The Assistant Secretary is understandably proud of this influx of new blood. Competition for prime NEA slots remains fierce, despite the long hours.

So there, that’s why he will be missed.

We do not have confirmation for this but he is reportedly heading to the UN Secretariat as Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs (DPA).  Good for him!

About where he’s going:  Established in 1992, DPA is the lead U.N. department for peacemaking and preventive diplomacy. According to the UN, the Under-Secretary-General manages the department, advises the Secretary-General on matters affecting global peace and security, carries out high-level diplomatic missions and provides guidance to peace envoys and political missions in the field.  The Under-Secretary-General also serves on the Secretary-General’s Policy Committee, the highest decision-making body within the U.N. Secretariat, and chairs the Executive Committee on Peace and Security, a high-level body for interagency and interdepartmental coordination.  In addition to its more than 250 professional and administrative staff at U.N. headquarters in New York, DPA draws from the work of political and peace-building missions under its supervision, which employ more than 1,700 national and international staff in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Sounds like an interesting gig, with all best wishes!

Domani Spero

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Filed under Ambassadors, FS Blogs, Life After Jerusalem, Regional Bureaus, Retirement, State Department, UN

Officially In: Greta C. Holtz – from NEA Bureau to the Sultanate of Oman

On May 24, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Greta C. Holtz as the next Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman. The WH released the following brief bio:

Greta C. Holtz, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communications in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.   From 2009 to 2010, Ms. Holtz was Director for Provincial Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.  Previous assignments in Washington include Director of the Middle East Partnership Initiative in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (2006-2007) and Coordinator for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe within the Bureau of European Regional Political-Military Affairs (2004-2006).  Ms. Holtz entered the Foreign Service in 1985 and has served at U.S. Missions in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Tunisia, Syria, and as Principal Officer in Adana, Turkey.

She received a B.S. from Vanderbilt University, an M.A. from the University of Kentucky, and an M.S. from the National War College.

Embassy and PRT Diyala Officials in Aruba Market | Dan Gedacht (U.S. Embassy Baghdad), Mike Rothe (PRT Diyala), LTC Ricardo Singleton (PRT Diyala), and Greta Holtz (U.S. Embassy Baghdad) in Aruba Market, Muqdadiya, Iraq, December 2009. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Ms. Holtz speaks Arabic and Turkish.  If confirmed, she would only be the second female chief of mission to encumber the US Embassy in Muscat (the first was Frances D. Cook, a career diplomat assigned to Muscat from 1996-1999). She will succeed career diplomat, Dr. Richard J. Schmierer who was sworn in as Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman on August 20, 2009.

Domani Spero

Related item:

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts | May 24, 2012

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Officially In: Alexander M. Laskaris – from Erbil, Iraq to the Republic of Guinea

On May 24, President Obama announced his intent to nominate  Alexander M. Laskaris as the next Ambassador to the Republic of Guinea. The WH released the following brief bio:

Alexander M. Laskaris, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, is Consul General at the U.S. Consulate in Erbil, Iraq, a position he has held since June 2010. Previously, he was the Team Leader for the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mosul, Iraq from 2008 to 2009.  Prior to serving in Iraq, he was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo (2006-2009) and Burundi (2003-2005).  Previously, Mr. Laskaris was a member of the U.S. Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff (2001-2003) and Advisor to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations (1999-2001).  Other overseas assignments have included Political Officer in Luanda, Angola; Political and Economic Officer in Gaborone, Botswana; and Vice Consul in Monrovia, Liberia.  From 1996 to 1997, he served as Desk Officer for Rwanda and Burundi at the Department of State.

He received a B.S. from Georgetown University and an M.A. from the U.S. Army War College.

In addition to Kurdish, Mr. Laskaris speaks Albanian, Greek, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.  He was born in Monterey, California and lives in Takoma Park, Maryland.  If confirmed, Mr. Laskaris would succeed career diplomat Patricia Newton Moller who was appointed chief of mission to Conakry in 2009.

We have often been struck by the prior assignments of some our diplomats nominated for ambassadorial posts. Some have been able to skirt the war zone posts, or able to get stuck in Foggy Bottom longer than most or move through inter-agency assignments within the beltway.  Mr. Laskaris on the other hand is on his second tour in Iraq, his third year in that war torn country. His list of previous assignments is a run down of places high on hardship and low on cushy-factor.  Conakry will not be altogether different from his prior assignments; post is a 55% differential post (25% COLA + 30% hardship).

Domani Spero

Related item:
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts | May 24, 2012

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Filed under Ambassadors, FSOs, Nominations, Officially In

Officially In: Marcie B. Ries – from Arms Control Bureau (AVC) to Bulgaria

On May 24, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador Marcie B. Ries as the next Ambassador to the Republic of Bulgaria. The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador Marcie B. Ries, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Career-Minister, is

English: Marcie Berman Ries, U.S. Ambassador t...

Marcie Berman Ries. Ries, Marcie Berman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

currently Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.  From 2008 to 2009, she was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.  Previously, she served as Minister-Counselor for Political-Military Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad (2007-2008), U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Albania (2004-2007), and Chief of Mission at the U.S. Office in Pristina, Kosovo (2003-2004).  She has also served as Director of the Office of United Nations Political Affairs in the Bureau of International Organizations (2001-2003) and as Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in London (1996-2000).  Other overseas assignments include posts to the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels; Ankara, Turkey; and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  

She received a B.A. from Oberlin College and an M.A. from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

If confirmed, Ambassador Ries would succeed career diplomat James B. Warlick, Jr. who was appointed to the US Embassy in Sofia in 2009.

On April 12, New Europe Online citing local media reported that Sofia has received a request for agrément for a new Ambassador to Bulgaria.

According to the television sources, it is very probable that Ambassador Warlick will leave the country before the end of his mandate of three years. BTV also announces that the person to fill the post of US Ambassador in Bulgaria is expected to be a former representative of the States in Albania who is now a civil servant. The Bulgarian television also clarified that according to the webpage of the American Embassy in Teheran, there were only two women to hold the position of Ambassador in the last 10 years, namely Marisa Lino (1996-1999) and Marcie Ries (2004-2007).

Looks like these folks have excellent sources. Last week, Ambassador Warlick tweeted this:

Ambassador Warlick assumed charge of the embassy on January 21, 2010. By the time the new ambassador is confirmed by the Senate, his tenure in Sofia will be closer to 36 months.

A side note on this appointment – Ambassador Marcie B. Ries is one half of a former tandem couple who went on to become ambassadors: Ambassador Ries as then US Ambassador to Albania (2004-2007), and her husband, Charles Ries as then US Ambassador to Greece (2004-2007). Ambassador James Warlick is also one half of a current tandem couple serving as ambassadors. His wife, Mary Burce Warlick is the current US Ambassador to Serbia.

Domani Spero

Related item:
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts | May 24, 2012

 

 

 

 

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