US Embassy Seoul: The Terminator and the Mother of Dragons Visit South Korea; Grigsby Gets a Kiss

Posted: 1:03 am  PDT

 

Arnold Schwarzenegger and  “Game of Thrones” actress Emilia Clarke arrived  in Seoul to promote the fifth installment in the “Terminator” franchise, “Terminator Genisys“ directed by Alan Taylor. They visited Ambassador Lippert, at the COM residence, and Grigsby got a kiss from Terminator man.

 

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ProPublica: As Hollywood Lobbied State Department, It Built Free Home Theaters for U.S. Embassies

by Robert Faturechi ProPublica, July 2, 2015, 5:15 a.m.

This story was co-published with The Daily Beast.

Hollywood’s efforts to win political clout have always stretched across the country, from glitzy campaign fundraisers in Beverly Hills to cocktail parties with power brokers in Washington.

Last year, the film industry staked out another zone of influence: U.S. embassies. Its lobbying arm paid to renovate screening rooms in at least four overseas outposts, hoping the new theaters would help ambassadors and their foreign guests “keep U.S. cultural interests top of mind,” according to an internal email.

That was the same year that the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the six biggest studios, reported it was lobbying the State Department on issues including piracy and online content distribution. Hollywood’s interests 2013 including its push for tougher copyright rules in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact 2013 often put the industry at odds with Silicon Valley.

The only public indication of the embassy-theater initiative was a February 2015 press release from American officials in Madrid, titled “U.S. Embassy Launches State-of-the-Art Screening Room.” It credited “a generous donation” from the MPAA.

Asked about its gifts to the State Department, the lobby group declined to say how many embassies got donations or how much they were worth.

“Because film is a great ambassador for U.S. culture around the world, MPAA assisted with the upgrade of some embassy theater facilities,” said spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield. “All gifts complied with the law as well as with State Department ethics guidelines.”

Nicole Thompson, a State Department spokeswoman, said at least three embassies besides Madrid received between $20,000 and $50,000 in entertainment upgrades last year 2013 London, Paris and Rome. The revamped screening rooms, she said, aren’t intended to entertain U.S. officials, but rather to help them host screenings to promote an American industry and sow goodwill.

Thompson said the donations were proper and that all gifts to the department are reviewed to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. “The department has explicit authorities to accept gifts made for its benefit or for carrying out any of its functions,” she said.

The State Department routinely accepts gifts from outside groups, Thompson said. She couldn’t provide any other examples of major gifts from groups that simultaneously lobby the agency. Thompson declined to list the items given by the MPAA or their total value, and wouldn’t say whether the group had made similar gifts in the past.

There was at least one precedent. A spokesman for Warner Bros. Entertainment said the studio helped pay for the refurbishment of the screening room at the U.S. ambassador’s home in Paris in 2011. “This donation was coordinated with the State Department and complied with all appropriate rules and regulations,” the spokesman said.

State Department policies posted online specifically permit gifts from individuals, groups or corporations for “embassy refurbishment, ” provided that the donors are vetted to ensure there’s no conflict or possible “embarrassment or harm” to the agency. The posted policies include no caps on the value of donations, nor any requirements for public disclosure of foreign or American donors. The rules also say that the donations can’t come with a promise or expectation of “any advantage or preference from the U.S. Government.”

Obtaining an advantage, albeit a nonspecific one, sounded like the goal when a Sony Pictures Entertainment official wrote to the studio’s chief executive officer, Michael Lynton, to relay a request to fund the screening rooms from Chris Dodd, the former U.S. senator who heads the MPAA. The executive writing the note 2013 Keith Weaver 2013 sought to assure the CEO that such a donation wouldn’t be improper.

“The rationale being that key Ambassadors will keep U.S. cultural interests top of mind, as they screen American movies for high level officials where they are stationed,” reads the message, included in a cache of emails hacked from Sony and which were posted online by the website WikiLeaks.

“The cost implication is estimated to be $165k (aggregate of $$$/in-kind) per embassy/per studio. Apparently, donations of this kind are permissible.”

Besides Sony, the MPAA represents Disney, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. Entertainment. The e-mails suggest that Sony executives decided against contributing to the project for budget reasons.

The MPAA has long been a powerful presence in the nation’s capital, spending $1.34 million on federal lobbying last year, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. One of its flashier tools has been to host exclusive gatherings at its Washington screening room, two blocks from the White House, where lawmakers get to watch blockbuster films, rub elbows with celebrities, and up until several years ago, enjoy dinner 2013 a perk scuttled because of stricter rules on congressional lobbying.

Hollywood studios depend on foreign markets for much of their profit but the MPAA’s interests don’t always align with those of other major American constituencies. For example, Hollywood studios have moved some film production to Canada to cut costs. American film workers have tried to get the federal government to stop the outsourcing of jobs, but have been met with resistance from the MPAA.

The trade group has also pushed federal officials to pressure foreign governments into adopting stricter copyright laws. An MPAA-funded study found that in 2005 worldwide piracy cost American studios $6.1 billion in revenue. That number has been disputed by digital rights advocates.

For the TPP trade deal, the MPAA has discouraged the American government from exporting “fair use” protections to other countries. In a hacked message from Dodd to the U.S. Trade Representative, the MPAA chief warned that including such provisions, which in American law allow limited use of copyrighted materials without permission, would be “extremely controversial and divisive.” Digital rights activists have characterized the efforts as overzealous.

“They’re basically encouraging other countries to adopt the most draconian parts of U.S. copyright law and even to reinterpret U.S. copyright law to make it more stringent,” said Mitch Stoltz, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Broadly speaking broadening copyright law harms free speech in many cases by creating a mechanism for censorship.”

The state-of-the-art screening rooms are a relatively minimal investment by Hollywood as it works to strengthen connections abroad.

This spring, the U.S. ambassador to Spain, James Costos, brought a group of foreign officials to Los Angeles for a meeting hosted by the MPAA. Among them were representatives from the Canary Islands, who came prepared to discuss filming opportunities and tax incentives for American studios in the Spanish territory. The State Department touted the trip as an opportunity to “expand bilateral trade and investment, including through ties between the entertainment industries.”

It’s not known whether the path to that particular meeting was eased by the new screening room in Madrid. At the theater’s debut in February, the ambassador’s guests were treated to a dark tale of corruption, lobbying and double-dealing in Washington 2013 the Netflix series “House of Cards.”

Related stories: For more coverage of politics and influence, read ProPublica’s previous reporting on secret political dealings by Sony, a reversal by the higher ed lobby and an imploding super PAC.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

Republished under Creative Commons.
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SCOTUS Rules Same-Sex Marriage Is a Right, See Round-Up of US Embassies on LGBT Pride Month

Posted: 9:27 am PDT

 

SCOTUS ruled today in a 5-4 decision that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. Justice Kennedy said gay and lesbian couples had a fundamental right to marry. Excerpt from the majority opinion written by Justice Kennedy (via NYT):

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” he wrote. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”

“It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage,” Justice Kennedy said of the couples challenging state bans on same-sex marriage. “Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

The case is Obergefell v. Hodges.  Read the SCOTUS opinion here (pdf). Sending hugs to our friends in the LGBT community this beautiful and historic summer day!

Below is a round-up of U.S. embassies marking LGBT Pride Month this year:

Nicosia, Cyprus

Wellington, New Zealand


Manila , Philippines

Ankara, Turkey

Tel Aviv, Israel

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Buenos Aires, Argentina


Luxembourg

 

Tokyo, Japan 

 

London, United Kingdom

Meanwhile, in Amman, Jordan

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US Embassy Burundi: Students Broke Into Embassy Grounds Seeking Refuge (Updated)

Posted: 2:32 am  EDT
Updated: 3:05 PM EDT

 

Update via US Embassy Bujumbura on the students who entered the embassy compound:

After the Burundian National Police broke down the student camp at the construction site yesterday, the university student who sought refuge at the U.S.Embassy were allowed to stay for the afternoon and provided with water. The students remained in the Embassy parking lot until approximately 7:30 pm when they departed of their own free will after speaking with Ambassador Dawn Liberi. There was no effort to forcibly remove them.

The students relocated to a refuge run by a religious entity. The U.S. Embassy continues to work with the Government of Burundi to fully resolve this issue and has also been in contact with humanitarian organizations on behalf of the students.

Last month, the US Embassy in Bujumbura, Burundi went on ordered departure (see New #Burundi Travel Warning, Non-Emergency US Embassy Staff & Family Members Now on Ordered Departure).

On June 25, this happened:

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The US Embassy released the following statement on June 25:

At approximately 1:15 pm Burundian National Police entered a construction site adjacent to the U.S. Embassy where university students set up camp seeking refuge when violence broke out in Bujumbura at the end of April and the national university was closed. The students dispersed from the site in an orderly manner and some entered the Embassy parking lot. Approximately 100 students peacefully remain in the visitor parking lot of the U.S. Embassy.

The police and students had no physical confrontation. The police officers did not resort to violence; no shots were fired and tear gas was not used. Four people suffered minor injuries during the movement. All embassy staff members are safe and accounted for.

The U.S. Embassy has contacted the Government of Burundi and urged them to find a peaceful resolution to the situation.

We understand that the students went into a lot that is outside the real embassy perimeter (as per standard embassy design). We’re also told that the gap below the gate is probably due to ground settling over the years since construction.

We should note that the embassy occupied the new embassy compound in October 2012. According to the OIG report, the embassy occupies a modern compound with an electrical generating capacity equal to that of the entire national grid. The capital cost of the new embassy compound, $137 million, is 25 percent of the national government’s annual budget.

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Confirmations: Adams (Finland), Phee (S.Sudan), Pettit (Latvia),Delawie (Kosovo), Kelly (Georgia), Noyes (Croatia)

Posted: 7:30 pm  PDT

 

On June 24, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following nominations by voice vote:

Cal. #129 – Charles C. Adams, Jr., of Maryland, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Finland.

Cal. #130 – Mary Catherine Phee, of Illinois, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of South Sudan

Cal. #149 – Nancy Bikoff Pettit, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Latvia.

Cal. #150 – Gregory T. Delawie, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Kosovo.

Cal. #151 – Ian C. Kelly, of Illinois, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Georgia.

Cal. #152 – Julieta Valls Noyes, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Croatia.

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State/OIG Report on US Embassy Estonia Gets a “D” For Um … Dazzle?

Posted: 2:09 am  EDT

 

The Office of the Inspector General inspected the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn, Estonia from October 3–22, 2014.  It released its inspection report  on June 18, 2015.

Inspection of Embassy Tallinn, Estonia
Posted On: June 18, 2015 Report Date: June 2015
Report Number: ISP-I-15-23A
Report: application/pdf icon isp-i-15-23a.pdf

Quick look at post fro the IG report:

Missionwide staffing is 42 U.S. direct-hire employees, including 27 Department U.S. direct-hire employees. The FY 2014 missionwide budget was $8.9 million. Other agencies represented at the mission include elements of the U.S. Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security. A small number of U.S. military personnel on rotation to Estonia fall under chief of mission authority. The mission has no consulates. The mission’s FY 2015 request for foreign assistance funds totaled $3.6 million for Estonian military stabilization operations and security sector reform ($2.4 million for foreign military funding and $1.2 million for international military education and training). Embassy Tallinn’s missionwide budget for FY 2014 was approximately $8.9 million. Department staffing was 27 U.S. direct-hire employees and 85 locally employed (LE) staff members.

Excerpt from key findings:

  • The Ambassador and the deputy chief of mission provide appropriate oversight to the country team, and U.S. Department of State sections, in accordance with Section 207(a) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980. However, stronger leadership from the Ambassador and his greater adherence to Department of State rules and regulations are necessary.
  • The political/economic section is staffed adequately to carry out its policy advocacy and reporting responsibilities but needs to adjust local staff portfolios and the language requirements of its U.S. officers to maximize resources.
  • The public affairs section is central to mission efforts to carry out Integrated Country Strategy objectives, using traditional public diplomacy tools, media engagement, social media, and regional outreach to amplify policy messages.
  • The embassy’s consular warden system has not been reviewed, activated, or tested since at least 2011. Worldwide tensions increase the need for an effective warden system with the flexibility to meet multiple contingencies, including the potential interruption of electronic messaging capability.
  • The aging chancery does not meet—and cannot be retrofitted to meet—even the most basic security standards, and numerous infrastructure deficiencies need to be addressed if the embassy is to remain at its present location.
  • The telecommunications and power cabling infrastructure throughout the chancery is disorganized and largely undocumented, which limits the ability of information management staff to carry out their duties.
  • The embassy needs a comprehensive training plan for locally employed staff that reflects priority training needs.
  • Internal management controls need to be strengthened, with particular attention to separation of duties, documenting processes and standard operating procedures, clarifying backup duties, and reassessing organization structure.

Here is what Section 207(a) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 says:

excerpt from Foreign Service Act of 1980

 

Quite impressive, yo!

The ambassador is popular with the Estonian public, helped sold Javelin missiles worth $50–$60 million, met so infrequently with senior Estonian Government officials but succeeded, nonetheless, to get Estonia to accept one Gitmo detainee. This report reminds us of those evaluation reports where the drafter attempts walking on water. Excerpts:

  • The Ambassador’s interpersonal skills have enabled him to participate effectively in public affairs and other programing in several parts of the country and have garnered him personal popularity with the Estonian public.
  • His support for the military includes advocacy for U.S. military sales. His efforts have helped secure a sale to the Estonian Government of U.S. Javelin missiles worth $50–$60 million.
  • The Ambassador, however, has not established strong relationships at the Government of Estonia’s ministerial level. In his 2 years as Chief of Mission, he has met infrequently with the Prime Minister or other ministers in the cabinet (less than 12 times during his 24 months in the embassy, in addition to initial courtesy calls or accompanying visitors and at public events). … Despite the infrequency of his meetings with senior Estonian Government officials, the Ambassador successfully led the effort to obtain the government’s acceptance of a Guantanamo detainee—an impressive achievement given the small size of the country and the government’s reluctance.

On getting the Estonians to “yes,” how did he do it? The IG report did not say, which would have been really helpful given how many Gitmo detainees we still need to place elsewhere.

On leadership, the IG report says:

The most significant findings concern the need for stronger leadership from the Ambassador and his greater adherence to ethics principles, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) guidelines, and security policies.

Buried in the report is this:

[T]he embassy staff rated the Ambassador below average in leadership categories, including vision, engagement, fairness, and ethics. Segments of the mission community, including some U.S. direct-hire and LE female employees told the OIG team that they feel undervalued. .. Some American and LE staff members gave examples of preferential treatment that the Ambassador afforded to specific employees and interns. It is imperative that the Ambassador reverse these perceptions; he indicated that he is willing to work hard to do so, and he began the process by apologizing to his staff before the inspection team’s departure.

On the EEO program, the report says, “The EEO program at Embassy Tallinn requires attention by embassy leadership.” Oy! What happened?

Non-review of visa issuances/refusals:

The DCM has not met requirements in 9 FAM 41.113 and 9 FAM 41.121 to review nonimmigrant visa issuances and refusals. The most recent regional consular officer report for Tallinn, dated January 2014, states that “[t]he DCM did not meet adjudication review standards…since the last regional officer report visit [in May 2013].” A Bureau of Consular Affairs preinspection report found that standards had also not been met between May 1 and July 30, 2014. The DCM’s review of visa adjudications at single officer embassies is especially important, as no other person provides required oversight and quality control.

Things that happen just before the OIG starts work, or leave post:

  • The Ambassador’s efforts to establish an overall strategic vision, in accordance with 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214, have not been successful. Few of Embassy Tallinn’s senior leaders can articulate the Ambassador’s overall strategic vision or identify the top priorities contained therein, despite an off-site planning session held just days before the start of the inspection. The Ambassador held the previous planning off site almost 2 years earlier—too long ago to enable employees to have a lasting awareness of his goals and direction. A clear shared vision—key to coordinated team work and productivity—is missing. Greater communication is needed. No structured effort exists to inform the mission employees, including LE staff members, of the outcome of the planning session, which has left a large part of the embassy team uninformed.
  • At the start of the inspection no program was in place for mentoring the mission’s two first- and second-tour (FAST) employees, and some mid-level officers stated that they would welcome mentoring on career development issues. The DCM structured a FAST program and scheduled initial mentoring sessions prior to the inspection team’s departure.

Counsel from EUR/Office of the Legal Adviser?

Elsewhere on the report, it says that “the OIG team identified instances in which the Ambassador did not appear to adhere to established Department rules and regulations. Each instance was small, but collectively they suggest his disregard for adherence to the rules.” It recommends that EUR, in coordination with the Office of the Legal Adviser, should counsel the Embassy Tallinn Ambassador concerning ways to avoid breaches of Department of State rules and regulations.


What the hey?  

[T] he Ambassador has been involved only marginally in efforts that would identify potential opportunities in Estonia for U.S. businesses, as outlined in 18 FAM 015. He agreed to increase efforts in that area, as well as not to pursue Estonian export interests that would not directly result in U.S. jobs.

The IG inspectors cited Section 207(a) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 on its key findings but forgot Section 207 (c) of the Act?


Oh darn, we almost forgot —  whatabout curtailments?  

Read more about that in U.S. Embassy of Curtailments.


Recusals, anyone?

Embassy Tallinn’s chief of mission is Jeffrey Levine. Prior to his appointment  as ambassador to Estonia, he was the State Department’s director of Recruitment, Examination and Employment from 2010-2012 (HR/REE).

The OIG team who inspected the mission was headed by Marianne Myles who was previously Ambassador to Cape Verde (2008-2010). Prior to her appointment to Cape Verde, she, too was the director of the State Department’s Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment (HR/REE). She was also Director of Policy Coordination for the Foreign Service’s Director General (DG/HR).

A side note here, HR/REE had three directors spanning at least  six years who went directly from HR to an ambassadorship. (Luis Arreaga, the HR/REE director from 2008-2010 was appointed Ambassador to Iceland from 2010-2013).  This is an extremely small club to belong to.

So we asked Mr. Linick’s office about its recusal policy. Wasn’t IG Linick concerned about potential conflict of interest in this instance? We also asked if there has ever been an instance when OIG inspectors who are/were FS members recused themselves when there is potential or appearance of conflict of interest?

Over the weekend, we received the OIG’s response to our inquiry.  Repeated below in its entirety:

OIG strictly follows the  independence standards established by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE).    In order to ensure each inspector is free, both in fact and appearance, from personal, external, and organizational impairments to independence, OIG has a rigorous conflict review within the Office of Inspections (ISP).

Pursuant to this policy, prior to an inspection, every member of the inspection team must review a staffing chart with every employee of the inspected entity, and report, in writing, all prior professional and personal relationships with any such individual.  ISP management  and the Office of General Counsel carefully review this information to ensure that all ISP teams’ members are independent and free from real or apparent conflicts of interest.  This process happens  early in the inspection process as ISP assigns staff to individual teams.   If any such conflicts are identified, ISP takes action to mitigate the conflict, which could include removing a team member from a team.  OIG  provides training to all inspectors on CIGIE independence standards and how to avoid conflicts of interest.

Regarding the Tallin inspection, OIG followed its standard procedure in reviewing input from Ambassador Myles regarding any relationships with employees in Embassy Tallinn and concluded her participation in the inspection was appropriate under CIGIE standards and OIG policy.

So there you go.

We must note that for years, the names of the OIG inspection team members were redacted from these publicly released OIG reports. We have railed about those redactions for various reasons. In 2013, when Steve Linick assumed charge of the OIG — the first Senate-confirmed IG since the 2007 resignation of Howard J. Krongard —  one of his first actions was to release the names of the inspectors with the publicly available reports. We have not forgotten that.

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The U.S. Embassy of Curtailments — Hurry! Nominations Now Open

Posted: 12:44 am  EDT

 

One political ambassador went though five DCMs during his tenure as President George W. Bush’s ambassador in paradise. The whole two Bush terms. We even wrote a tanka about it.  Another political ambassador went through seven permanent and temporary DCMs in less than one term at US Embassy Luxembourg under President Obama.

There is no shortage of criticisms when it comes to the appointments of political ambassadors, of course. But let us point out to something good here. The political ambassadors know when to exit the stage, and that’s a good thing. Even if we’ll never know for sure how hard or how lightly they’re pushed to exit right, we know that they will not be candidates in the State Department’s well-oiled recycling program.

So, what should we make about news of curtailments from an embassy headed by a career ambassador when the official report is handled with such a, um… soft touch?

  • Embassy Tallinn’s single-officer consular section suffered successive curtailments of assigned officers in the 20 months between February 2013 and September 2014. During that period, eight temporary duty officers provided approximately 10 months of management coverage.
  • Management operations at Embassy Tallinn were recently disrupted for a 6-month period because of curtailments in the management and general services officer positions.

Wait — that’s three positions, aren’t we missing a few more? The consular section had successive curtailments? Like — how many? There was a year-long gap in the political officer position; was that gap a result of another curtailment?

The IG report on Embassy Tallinn does not answer those questions and does not elaborate the reasons for these personnel gaps and curtailments, which we are told are “old news.”

But see — people do not take voluntary curtailments lightly. Not only do they need to unpack, repack, unpack again their entire household, kids have to be pulled out of schools, pets have to be shipped and there may be spouses jobs that get interrupted.  And most of all, in a system where assignments are made typically a year before the transfer season, curtailments mean the selection for the employee’s next assignment back in DC or elsewhere contains pretty slim pickings.   The employee may even be stuck in a “bridge” assignment that no one wants. So, no, curtailments are not easy fixes, they cause personal and office upheavals, and people generally avoid doing them unless things get to a point of being intolerable.

In any case, we like poking into “old news” … for instance, we are super curious if the curtailed personnel from Tallinn similarly decamped to Baghdad or Kabul like those curtailments cited in the OIG report for US Embassy Luxembourg? No? Well, where did they go … to Yekaterinburg?

Did they curtail for medical reasons, that is, was post the cause of their ailments? And no, we have it in excelent authority that no one has microwaved Embassy Tallinn like the good old days in Moscow.

The report says there were curtailments and that “stronger leadership from the Ambassador and his greater adherence to Department of State rules and regulations are necessary.”

Also that the “most significant findings concern the need for stronger leadership from the Ambassador and his greater adherence to ethics principles, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) guidelines, and security policies.”

Wow!  This report is mighty short on details, what happened?

We take special note on the use of the following words: Strong-er. Great-er.  Both comparative adjectives, see? Suggesting that chief of mission (COM) already has strong leadership and great adherence to principles and policies.

And this is the report’s most significant findings? That the COM just need to move the dial a notch up?

Are the fine details on  ethics, EEO, security flushed out to the Classified Annex of this report, to entertain a limited readership with “need to know” badges? And their inclusion in the annex is for national security reasons?

Strong-er. Great-er.  Sorry folks, but it must be said, a heck of a crap-per. Additional post to follow.

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Amb. Chas W. Freeman, Jr: Militarism and the Malpractice of Diplomacy in America

Posted: 2:19 am  EDT


What if every four or so years, you administered a frontal lobotomy to yourself, excising your memories and making it impossible to learn from experience?
– Chas W. Freeman, Jr.

Ambassador Chas Freeman is a career diplomat (retired) who served as U. S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm). He was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the historic U.S. mediation of Namibian independence from South Africa and Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola.  Ambassador Freeman worked as Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires in the American embassies at both Bangkok (1984-1986) and Beijing (1981-1984) and was Director for Chinese Affairs at the U.S. Department of State from 1979-1981. He was the principal American interpreter during the late President Nixon’s path-breaking visit to China in 1972.  He is the author of Interesting Times: China, America, and the Shifting Balance of Prestige,at Just World BooksAmerica’s Misadventures in the Middle East,at Just World BooksArts of Power: Statecraft and Diplomacy, at US Institute of Peace bookstore and The Diplomat’s Dictionary, at US Institute of Peace bookstore. We have previously blogged about him here, here, here, and here.

The following piece is the speech he delivered at the Academy of Philosophy and Letters on June 13, 2015.

Too Quick on the Draw: Militarism and the Malpractice of Diplomacy in America

by Chas W. Freeman, Jr.

The late Arthur Goldberg, who served on our Supreme Court and as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, once said that “diplomats approach every question with an open . . . mouth.”  No doubt that’s often true at the U.N., where parliamentary posturing and its evil twin, declaratory diplomacy, rule.  But the essence of diplomacy is not talking but seeking common ground by listening carefully and with an open mind to what others don’t say as well as what they do, and then acting accordingly.

Diplomacy is how a nation advances its interests and resolves problems with foreigners with minimal violence.  It is the nonbelligerent champion of domestic tranquility and prosperity.  It promotes mutually acceptable varieties of modus vivendi between differing perspectives and cultures.

Diplomacy is the translation of national strategy into tactics to gain political, economic, and military advantages without the use of force.  It is the outermost sentry and guardian of national defense.  Its lapse or failure can bring war and all its pains to a nation.

But diplomacy is not just an alternative to war.  It does not end when war begins.  And when war proves necessary to adjust relations with other states or peoples, it is diplomacy that must translate the outcome of the fighting into agreed adjustments in relationships, crafting a better peace that reconciles the vanquished to their defeat and stabilizes a new status quo.  By any measure, therefore, excellence in diplomacy is vitally important to the power, wealth, and well-being of the nation.

At its deepest level, diplomacy is a subtle strategic activity.  It is about rearranging circumstances, perceptions, and the parameters of international problems so as to realign the self-interest of other nations with one’s own in ways that cause them to see that it is in their interest to do what one wants them to do, and that it’s possible for them to do it without appearing to capitulate to any foreign power or interest.  Diplomacy is about getting others to play our game.

Judging by results in the complex post-Cold War environment, diplomacy is something the United States does not now understand or know how to do.  I want to speak with you today about some of the beliefs and practices that account for America’s bungling of foreign policy in recent years.  I will end by offering a few thoughts about how we might do better.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union liberated Americans from our fear of nuclear Armageddon, the foreign policy of the United States has come to rely almost exclusively on economic sanctions, military deterrence, and the use of force.  Such measures are far from the only arrows in the traditional quiver of statecraft.  Yet Americans no longer aim at leadership by example or polite persuasion backed by national prestige, patronage, institution building, or incentives for desirable behavior.  In Washington, the threat to use force has become the first rather than the last resort in foreign policy. We Americans have embraced coercive measures as our default means of influencing other nations, whether they be allies, friends, adversaries, or enemies.

For most in our political elite, the overwhelming military and economic leverage of the United States justifies abandoning the effort to persuade rather than muscle recalcitrant foreigners into line.  We habitually respond to challenges of every kind with military posturing rather than with diplomatic initiatives directed at solving the problems that generate these challenges.  This approach has made us less – not more – secure, while burdening future generations of Americans with ruinous debt.  It has unsettled our allies without deterring our adversaries.  It has destabilized entire regions, multiplied our enemies, and estranged us from our friends.

South America no longer defers to us.  Russia is again hostile.  Europe questions our judgment, is audibly disturbed by our belligerence, and is distancing itself from our leadership.  A disintegrating Middle East seethes with vengeful contempt for the United States.  Africa ignores us.  Our lust for India remains unrequited.  China has come to see us as implacably hostile to its rise and is focused on countering our perceived efforts to hem it in.  Japan is reviewing its inner samurai.  Some say all these adversities are upon us because we are not sufficiently brutal in our approach to foreign affairs and that, to be taken seriously or to be effective, we must bomb, strafe, or use drones to assassinate those with whom we disagree and let the collateral damage fall where it may.  But what we have actually proved is that, if you are sufficiently indifferent to the interests of others and throw your weight around enough, you can turn off practically everybody.

Outside our own country, American military prowess and willingness to administer shock and awe to foreign societies are nowhere in doubt.  In Vietnam, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other places, Americans have provided ample evidence of our politico-military obduracy and willingness to inflict huge casualties on foreigners we judge oppose us.  As a nation, we nonetheless seem to doubt our own prowess and to be obsessed with proving it to ourselves and others.  But there is no credibility gap about American toughness to be remedied.  That is not the issue.  The issue is whether our policies are wise and whether military campaign plans dressed up in domestically appealing rhetoric equate to strategies that can yield a world more congruent with our interests and values.

In recent years, the United States has killed untold multitudes in wars and counterterrorist drone warfare in West Asia and North Africa.  Our campaigns have spilled the blood, broken the bodies, and taken or blighted the lives of many in our armed forces, while weakening our economy by diverting necessary investment from it.  These demonstrations of American power and determination have inflicted vast amounts of pain and suffering on foreign peoples.  They have not bent our opponents to our will.  Far from yielding greater security for us or our allies, our interventions – whether on the ground or from the air — have multiplied our enemies, intensified their hatred for us, and escalated the threat to both our homeland and our citizens and friends abroad.

It is a measure of the extent to which we now see the world through military eyes that the response of much of America’s political elite to the repeated failure of the use of force to yield desired results has been to assert that we would have succeeded if only we had been more gung ho and to argue for the use of even greater force.  But what we have been doing with our armed forces has not halted dynamic change in the global and regional distribution of economic, military, and political power.  There is no reason to believe that greater belligerence could yield a better result.  Most Americans sense this and are skeptical both about the neoconservative agendas the military-industrial-congressional complex seeks to impose on our nation and the wisdom of staking our future on the preservation of a rapidly crumbling post-Cold War status quo.

Every nation’s political culture is a product of its historical experience.  The American way in national security policy, like that of other countries, is steered by unexamined preconceptions drawn from the peculiarities of our history.  In the aggregate, these convictions constitute a subliminal doctrine with the authority of dogma.  Legions of academics now make a living by exploring applications of this dogma for the United States Department of Defense.  They have produced an intellectual superstructure for the military-industrial complex in the form of an almost infinite variety of ruminations on coercion.  (No one looks to the Department of State for support for research on less overbearing approaches to international relations.  It has neither money nor a desire to vindicate its core functions by sponsoring the development of diplomatic doctrine.)

Americans are right to consider our nation exceptional.  Among other things, our experience with armed conflict and our appreciation of the relationship between the use of force and diplomacy are unique – some might say “anomalous.”  So, therefore, are our approaches to war, peace, and foreign relations.

War is the ultimate argument in relations between states and peoples.  Its purpose is sometimes the conquest and subjugation of populations.  More commonly, however, war is a means to remove perceived threats, repel aggression, restore a balance of power, compel acquiescence in a shift in borders, or alter the bad behavior of an adversary. Since war is not over until the defeated accept defeat and accommodate their new circumstances, other people’s wars usually end  in negotiations directed at translating military outcomes into mutually agreed political arrangements that will establish a  stable new order of affairs.  Not so the wars of the United States.

In our civil war, World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, the U.S. objective was not adjustments in relations with the enemy but “unconditional surrender,” that is a peace imposed on the defeated nation without its assent and entailing its subsequent moral, political, and economic reconstruction.  The smaller wars of the 20th century did not replace this idiosyncratic American rejection of models of warfare linked to limited objectives.  We fought to a draw in Korea, where to this day we have not translated the 1953 armistice into peace.  We were bested in Vietnam.  In Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, and Iraq in 2003, we imposed regime change on the defeated, not terms for war termination and peace.

So Americans have no recent experience of ending wars through negotiation with those we have vanquished, as has been the norm throughout human history.  Our national narrative inclines us to equate success in war with smashing up enemies enough to ensure that we can safely deny them the dignity of taking them seriously or enlisting them in building a peace.   Our wars are typically planned as military campaigns with purely military objectives, with little, if any, thought to what adjustments in foreign relations the end of the fighting might facilitate or how to exploit the political opportunities our use of force can provide.  As a rule, we do not specify war aims or plan for negotiations to obtain a defeated enemy’s acceptance of our terms for ending the fighting.

The absence of clearly stated war aims for U.S. combat operations makes it easy for our politicians to move the goal posts.  Our wars therefore almost invariably entail mission creep.  Our armed forces find themselves in pursuit of a fluid set of objectives that never solidifies. With victory undefined, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines cannot say when they have accomplished their missions enough to stand down.

Our habit of failing to define specific political objectives for our military also means that, in our case, war is less “an extension of politics by other means” (as Clausewitz prescribed) than a brutally direct way of punishing our foes linked to no clear conception of how they might take aboard the lessons we imagine they should draw from the drubbing we give them.  Our chronic inattention to the terms of war termination means that U.S. triumphs on the battlefield are seldom, if ever, translated into terms that reward military victory with a stable peace.

The U.S. armed forces are highly professional and admirably effective at demolishing our enemies’ power.  But their expectation that civilian policymakers will then make something of the political vulnerabilities they create is almost always disappointed.  The relevant civilian policymakers are almost all inexperienced amateurs placed in office by the spoils system.  Their inexperience, the theories of coercive diplomacy they studied at university, the traditional disengagement of American diplomats from military operations, and our now heavily militarized political culture converge to assure that American diplomacy is missing in action when it is most needed – as the fighting ends.

Thus, our military triumph in the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait was never translated into terms to which Saddam Hussein or his regime were asked to pledge their honor.  Instead, we looked to the United Nations one-sidedly to pass an omnibus resolution imposing onerous restrictions on Iraqi sovereignty, including inspections, reparations, and the demilitarization of portions of Iraq’s territory.  Saddam assumed no explicit obligation to comply with these dictates.  To the extent he could get away with ignoring them, he did.  The war never really ended.  In our 2003 re-invasion of Iraq, U.S. planners assumed apolitically that military victory would automatically bring peace. No competent Iraqi authority was left in place to accept terms and maintain stability.  Subliminal doctrine instead prevailed.  The U.S. government devised no mechanism to translate its success on the battlefield into a legitimate new order and peace in Iraq.

In Iraq, we were guided by the historically induced, peculiarly American presumption that war naturally culminates in the unconditional surrender and moral reconstruction of the enemy.  The Department of State was excluded from all planning.  The notion that a political process might be required for war termination on terms that could reconcile the enemy to its defeat never occurred to the White House or DOD.  Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Libya offer different but analogous examples of Washington’s blindness or indifference to the utility of diplomacy in translating battlefield results into political results.  As a result, our military interventions have nowhere produced a better peace.  We Americans do not know how to conclude our wars.

American confusion about the relationship between the use of force and political order-setting extends to our approach to situations that have the potential to explode in war but have not yet done so.  Our country learned how to behave as a world power during the four-decade-long bipolar stalemate of the Cold War.  The Cold War’s strategy of containment made holding the line against our Soviet rivals the central task of U.S. diplomacy.  Americans came to view negotiated adjustments in relations as part of a great zero-sum game and as therefore, for the most part, infeasible or undesirable, or both.  After all, a misstep could trigger a nuclear war fatal to both sides.

The Cold War reduced diplomacy to the political equivalent of trench warfare, in which the absence of adjustments in position rather than advantageous maneuvering constituted success.  It taught Americans to deter conflict by threatening escalation that might lead to a mutually fatal nuclear exchange.  It conditioned us to believe that it is often wiser to stonewall – to freeze a situation so as to contain potential conflict –  than to waste time and effort exploring ways of mitigating or eliminating it.

We Americans have yet to unlearn the now largely irrelevant lessons of the Cold War.  We still respond to adverse developments with threats of escalating pressure calculated to immobilize the other side rather than with diplomatic efforts to resolve the issues that motivate it.  We impose sanctions to symbolize our displeasure and to enable our politicians to appear to be doing something tough, even if it is inherently feckless.  Sometimes we decline to speak with our adversary on the issue in question until it has agreed to end the behavior to which we object.  But, almost invariably, the core of our response is the issuance of deterrent military threats.

The ostensible purpose of sanctions is to coerce the targeted country into submission.  But, once imposed, sanctions invariably become ends in themselves.  Their success is then measured not by how they modify or fail to modify the behavior of their targets but by the degree of pain and deprivation they are seen to inflict.  There is no recorded instance in which the threat or actual imposition of sanctions not linked to negotiations about a “yes-able” proposition has induced cooperation.  Sanctions do not build bridges or foster attitudes that facilitate concessions.  They harden and entrench differences.

And, in many ways, sanctions backfire.  They impose the equivalent of a protectionist wall against imports on the target nation.  This often stimulates a drive for self-sufficiency and induces artificial prosperity in some sectors of its economy.  Sanctions hurt some U.S. domestic interest groups and benefit others.  Those who benefit develop a vested interest in perpetuating sanctions, making them hard to use as a bargaining chip.

Perversely, sanctions also tend to boost the political authority of the leaders of the countries they target.  They place decisions about the distribution of rationed goods and services in these leaders’ hands.  To the extent that sanctions immiserate populations, they unite nationalist opposition to the foreigners imposing them.  As the examples of north Korea, Mao’s China, and Cuba attest, sanctions prolong the half-life of regimes that might otherwise fall from power as a result of patriotic resistance to their misrule.  Eventually, as we now see with Cuba (and China before it), sanctions have the ironic effect of transforming the places we have walled off into exotic tourist destinations for Americans.

The pernicious effects of sanctions are magnified by the American habit of combining them with diplomatic ostracism.  Refusal to talk is a tactic that can gain time for active improvement of one’s bargaining position.  But meeting with another party is not a favor to it.  Insisting on substantive concessions as the price for a meeting is self-defeating.  Diplomatic contact is not a concession to an adversary but a means of gaining intelligence about its thinking and intentions, understanding and seeking to reshape how it sees its interests, looking for openings in its policy positions that can be exploited, conveying accurate messages and explanations of one’s own reasoning, manipulating its appreciation of its circumstances, and facilitating concessions by it.

Efforts at deterrence invite counterescalation by their target.  Controlling this risk necessitates reassuring one’s adversary about the limits of one’s objectives.  Reassurance requires accurate messaging.  That cannot be assured without direct communication with the other side.  This underscores the importance of the diplomatic relations and contacts we sometimes unwisely suspend.  It is a sound rule that one should never lose contact with an enemy on either the battlefield or in the diplomatic arena.

Our frequent violation of this rule is a special problem for our practice of deterrence, now virtually the only technique of statecraft in our kit other than sanctions and military assault.  To avert perceived challenges to our interests or those of the nations we have undertaken to protect, we declare that attempts by another country to seek unilateral advantage will invoke retaliation to  impose unacceptable levels of loss.  The penalties we promise can be political and economic.  But, in the case of the contemporary United States, they are almost invariably military.

Deterrence substitutes military confrontation designed to freeze risk for diplomacy directed at eliminating its underlying causes.  It sets off a test of will between the two sides’ armed forces as each considers how best to demonstrate its resolve while causing the other to back down.  Deterrence can, of course, be the starting point for a diplomatic effort to resolve conflicts of interest.  But, if deterrence is not paired with diplomacy, such conflicts are likely to fester or intensify.  Then, too, with the end of the Cold War, the danger of escalation to the nuclear level has lessened.  The threats of escalation inherent in deterrence are now less intimidating and more likely to face challenge.

In our attempts to limit uncertainty through deterrence alone, without diplomatic efforts to resolve the underlying crises that generate the uncertainty, Americans preserve the status quo, even when it is disadvantageous or evolving to our disadvantage.  But by assuming that the immensity of our power makes deterrence in itself an adequate response to threats to our interests as we see them, we inadvertently perpetuate the danger of armed conflict, store up trouble for the future, and give potential adversaries time to increase their power relative to ours.  This is the approach we are currently applying to China in the East and South China Seas and to Russia on its western borders.  It is no more likely to succeed now than on the multiple occasions in the past in which it failed.  The same is true of our latest attempt to apply military technical solutions to the political problems of a disintegrated Iraq.

This brings me to the question of whether and how we can learn from our mistakes.  George Santayana famously warned that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  He was right.

But what if every four or so years, you administered a frontal lobotomy to yourself, excising your memories and making it impossible to learn from experience?  What if most aspects of your job were always new to you?  What if you didn’t know whether something you propose to do has been tried before and, if so, whether it succeeded or failed?  To one degree or another, this is what is entailed in staffing the national security functions of our government (other than those assigned to our military) with short-term political appointees selected to reward not their knowledge, experience, or skill but campaign contributions, political sycophancy, affiliation with domestic interest groups, academic achievements, success in fields unrelated to diplomacy, or social prominence.

Alone among major powers, the United States has not professionalized its diplomacy.  Professions are composed of individuals who profess a unique combination of specialized knowledge, experience, and technique.  Their expertise reflects the distillation into doctrine – constantly refreshed – of what can be learned from experience.  Their skills are inculcated through case studies, periodic training, and on-the-job mentoring.  They are constantly improved by the critical introspection inherent in after-action reviews.

By contrast, Americans appear to believe that the formulation and conduct of foreign relations are best entrusted to self-promoting amateurs, ideologues, and dilettantes unburdened by apprenticeship, training, or prior experience.  The lower ranks of our diplomatic service are highly regarded abroad for their intellectual competence and cross-cultural communication skills.  With some notable exceptions, our ambassadors and the senior officials atop the Washington foreign affairs bureaucracies are not similarly admired.  The contrast with the superbly professional leadership of the U.S. armed forces could not be greater.  It should surprise no one that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines often wait in vain for guidance and support from the civilian side of the U.S. government’s national security establishment.  Current trends suggest they may have to wait a long time for their civilian counterparts to shape up.

The post-Cold War period has seen major expansion in the numbers of political appointees and their placement in ever lower foreign policy positions along with huge bloat in the National Security Council staff.  This has progressively deprofessionalized U.S. diplomacy from the top down in both Washington and the field, while thinning out the American diplomatic bench.  Increasingly, the U.S. military is being thrust into diplomatic roles it is not trained or equipped to handle, further militarizing U.S. foreign relations.

In the absence of major curtailment of the spoils system, the prospects for improved U.S. diplomatic performance are poor.  Amateur ambassadors and senior officials cannot provide professional mentoring, yet the United States invests little in training its career personnel in either the lore or core skills of diplomacy.  No case studies of diplomatic advocacy, negotiation, reporting and analysis, or protection of overseas Americans have been compiled.  There is no professional framework for after-action reviews in American diplomacy and they seldom occur.  (To the extent examining what went right or wrong and why might reflect adversely on ambitious political appointees or the administration itself, it is actually discouraged.)  This ensures that nothing is learned from experience even if there were career diplomats in senior positions to learn it.

Diplomacy, as such, is not part of civic education in the United States.  A large percentage of our political elite has no idea what diplomats do, can do, or ought to do.  Not for nothing is it said that if you speak three or more languages, you are multilingual.  If you speak two languages, you are bilingual.  If you speak only one language, you are American.  And if you speak only one language, have never studied geography, and do not have a passport, you are probably a member of Congress.

It is also said that, if we can’t get our act together at home, there is little reason to hope that we will get it together abroad.  But we cannot afford not to.  We are entering an era of strategic fluidity in which there are no fixed lines for Cold War-style diplomacy to defend, there is declining deference to our leadership, and there are ever more challenges that cannot be solved by military means.  We need to raise the level of our international game.

It is time to rediscover the deep diplomacy that creates circumstances in which others become inclined out of self-interest to make choices and do things that serve our interests and that advance those interests without war.  It is time to rediscover non-coercive instruments of statecraft that can persuade others that they can benefit by working with us rather than against us.  It is time to exempt the foreign affairs elements of our national security policy apparatus from the venality and incompetence that the spoils system has come to exemplify.  It is time to staff our diplomacy, as we have staffed our military, with well-trained professionals and to demand from them the best they can give to their country.   Our country.

The original material is located at http://chasfreeman.net/too-quick-on-the-draw-militarism-and-the-malpractice-of-diplomacy-in-america/. Republished here with Ambassador Freeman’s permission.

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Happy 239th Birthday America! #July4inJune

Posted: 2:14 am  EDT

 

The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta generated some controversy this month when it moved its July 4th celebration to June 4th to avoid conflict with the month-long Ramadan observance in the country.  (See US Embassies Move Fourth of July For Heat, Monsoon Weather, and Now For Ramadan — Read Before Getting Mad). Al Arabiya News Channel reported that Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has announced Thursday, June 18 as the first day of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.  Below is a round-up of posts that marked Fourth of July in June this year.  Our posts in Muslim countries who have yet to celebrate independence day may have to wait until after July 17th to hold their annual celebration.  If you don’t get why, click here or here.

U.S. Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia with Ambassador Robert Blake

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US Embassy Cairo, Egypt with Ambassador R. Stephen Beecroft

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U.S. Embassy Rabat, Morocco with Ambassador Dwight L. Bush, Sr.

June 4, 2015 | ‘We celebrate tonight not only the anniversary of America’s independence, but also the longstanding and warm ties of friendship between the United States and the Kingdom of Morocco.” – Ambassador Bush at last night’s Independence day celebration here at the Embassy, which is the first such celebration at our new Embassy compound.

Image via US Embassy Rabat/FB

Image via US Embassy Rabat/FB

U.S. Consulate General Casablanca, Morocco with CG Nicole Theriot

June 14 | U.S. Consul General Nicole Theriot in Casablanca, joined by Ambassador Bush to celebrate 239 years of American independence. This year’s event was a Luau (“great feast”) which incorporated fire dancers, Tiki carvings, volcanoes and delicious food showcasing the rich culture and traditions of the state of Hawaii.”

Image via US Embassy Rabat/FB

Image via US Embassy Rabat/FB

U.S. Embassy Dushanbe, Tajikistan with Ambassador Susan Elliott

June 8, 2015 | Did you know the United States gained independence 239 years ago? Here are some photos from this year’s early celebration at the Hyatt Regency Dushanbe! This year’s Independence Day commemorates the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act – a law securing access, opportunity, inclusion, and full participation for persons with disabilities. In her address, Ambassador Susan Elliott praised U.S.-Tajik cooperation and advocated for greater collaboration to improve conditions for all Tajiks, and highlighted the importance of persons with disabilities having the same rights as non-disabled persons regardless of any disabilities that may prevent them from engaging in daily life.

US Embassy Dushanbe, Tajikistan/FB

US Embassy Dushanbe, Tajikistan/FB

U.S. Embassy Algiers, Algeria with Ambassador Joan A. Polaschik

US Embassy Algiers/FB

Ambassador Joan A. Polaschik leading the 4th of July celebration at the US Embassy in Algeria, June 15, 2015 | US Embassy Algiers/FB

U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with Ambassador Joseph Yun

June 15 | This year, we celebrate our diverse heritage on the 239th anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America in the beautiful island of Penang as well!

US Embassy KL/FB

US Embassy Malaysia Fourth of July celebration in Penang with Ambassador Joseph Y. Yun | US Embassy KL/FB

Time to re-up our favorite Fourth of July video from US Consulate General Milan featuring President Obama, Lady Liberty, then Ambassador David Thorne, Consul General Kyle Scott  and the USCG Milan  crew:

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US Embassy Tbilisi Warns of Severe Flooding, Escaped Zoo Animals

Posted: 3:26 pm  PDT

 

On June 14, the U.S. Embassy in Georgia issued an emergency message warning U.S. citizens in Tbilisi of severe flooding as well as escaped zoo animals in the city:

U.S. Embassy Tbilisi informs U.S. citizens that flooding in Tbilisi last night caused significant damage, including several casualties. A number of zoo animals also escaped. Although some have been captured, others remain at large. There are numerous road closures around the city, including Heroes Square and parts of the river road. Residents should exercise caution and avoid affected areas, particularly those adjacent to the zoo.

The embassy also expressed sympathy for the casualties and readiness to assist the government:

The United States wishes to express its condolences to all those in Tbilisi who have suffered as a result of the devastating flooding over the past 24 hours. We mourn the loss of 12 lives. Ambassador Norland and Mayor Narmania spoke this afternoon. The Ambassador affirmed our readiness to assist the government and people as they mourn the dead, treat the injured, and assess the extensive losses and damage caused by this natural disaster.

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