Category Archives: Blogs of Note

Retired FSO Richard Boly Bikes Solo Across America – His Top 10 Reasons

– Domani Spero

Richard Boly served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador in the 1980s. In early 1990s, he  joined the Foreign Service. He was posted overseas in Santo Domingo, Quito, Asuncion and Rome.  He became the director of the Office of eDiplomacy in 2009 and served there for over four years. He was a 2012 Sammies finalist for  creating “innovative social media and online platforms for State Department employees around the world to collaborate, share information and connect with important outside audiences.” 

Last year, he retired from the State Department.  Today, his title is simply pedaller-in-chief, as he bikes across the United States from WashDC to California. Here are his reasons for this adventure:

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-01

 

1. (romantic) In the summer of ’88 I was going to bike cross county from Portland, OR. The day before departure, my bike was stolen. I took it as a sign to quit putzing around and get a job. A month later I was working in NY, where I met my bride to be! In hindsight, I am soooo lucky my bike was stolen, but I still want to bike the US.
2. (selfish) Since 2007 I have gone from 175 lbs to 205. Time to reboot my metabolism!
3. (nostalgic) My mother was born in rural Kansas, my father in rural Missouri. I would like to have a glimpse into the country and people they came from.
4. (practical) My wife, Wendy, and son, Ian, can practice for what life would be like if I were abducted by aliens ;-)
5. (appropriate) The day after I retired from the State Department, I began a consulting job. It was a great gig, but I felt like I didn’t really celebrate retirement. This will be a two month celebration.
6. (reflective) Short of becoming a monk, I can’t think of a better way to plumb your depths.
7. (aspirational) I really love having clear, challenging goals that I can have quick feedback on success or not. I will wake up every morning with a distance goal and by sunset will have met it (or not).
8. (quixotic) I am a volcano of ideas, but not a dreamer. The satisfaction for me is not in the dreaming, but in the doing – turning the idea into reality. Until I dip my front tire in SF Bay, I am just another Don Quixote.
9. (NOT bigger than me) I am not riding for any greater cause. I am just a middle aged white guy on a bike to see America.
10. (pulse) I live inside the bell jar that is the Washington, DC beltway. I am really looking forward to connecting with people on the outside.

Awesome!  Follow his trip via tumblr at  Pedal Quicker, Time is Catching Up (Just Another Middle-Aged White Guy, Rebooting with a Solo Ride from DC to SF) and via Twitter @Beaurichly.

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Ex-Diplomat With Zero Acting Experience Wants to Join Cast of The Bold and the Beautiful

– By Domani Spero

His name is James L. Bruno.  His LinkedIn profile says he was a Foreign Service officer for twenty-three years with prior experience in military intelligence and journalism.  He previously served in South East Asia, Australia, Pakistan, Cuba, GTMO and Washington, DC. He is also the author of political thrillers, Chasm, Permanent Interests, Tribe and Havana Queen, all available via amazon.com.  Now he wants to join the cast of The Bold and the Beautiful and try his luck as “a soap opera matinée idol.”  

What the hey?!

Off the bat, we can’t really say what prompted this ex-diplomat to want to join B&B.  But we should note that on November 6, 2013, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Colleen Bradley Bell as the next U.S. Ambassador to Hungary.   Later, we discovered that Mr. Bruno has written an open letter to Bradley Bell, the Executive Producer of the CBS soap opera who is also the husband of the nominee to Hungary. Mr. Bruno published his letter three days after the White House announcement.  Mr. Bruno writes:

“I hereby submit my application to join the cast of your wildly successful soap opera, The Bold and the Beautiful. After reading about your wife, Colleen, a producer for B&B, being named by President Obama to be our next ambassador to Hungary, I thought, I too, can realize one of my wildest dreams: become a soap opera matinée idol.

Now, looking at my résumé, you might think, “Hmm. Very thin. No acting experience. No background in showbiz. He’s very good looking though!”

Mr. Bruno who at one point in his diplomatic career was Charge d’Affaires in Vietnam explains the compelling  reason for this desired career change:

“I’ll confess I haven’t watched a soap opera since my mother caught highlights of As the World Turns during breaks from housework when I was a little kid. But, having failed at getting my own presidential appointment to embassy Rome or Paris because political hack fundraisers always ace out career diplomats for these posts, I need to make a career change.”

Well, so there you go, some sort of non-foreign exchange, is it?  Mr. Bruno’s elevator pitch to B&B also includes what he can offer the show:

“…[H]ere’s what I can offer to CBS’s B&B. Hollywood and Foggy Bottom have much in common: plenty of contrived dramas, glitzy superficiality, fragile runaway egos, Machiavellian intrigues and backstabbing. I was immersed in this bizarre culture for two-and-a-half decades. It’s all second nature to me. And here’s how I propose you use it on your show once you’ve hired me on: write me in as J. Huntington Outerbridge III, an effete, conniving, snarky diplomat who sleeps with all the beautiful female characters while engaged in high-stakes diplomacy to foil nefarious plots by al-Qaida and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”

Ouchy!  He did mention something about ratings “going through the roof” so that’s good, right?

Read his whole letter at Diplo Denizen - The American Diplomatic Spoils System, Part III: My Job Application to the World’s Most Popular Soap Opera. Try not to fall off your chair.

Anyway, apparently, résumés are also on the way to Ambassador James Costos, HBO V-P and current U.S. ambassador to Spain, and Ambassador Charles Rivkin, ex-CEO of The Jim Henson Company, and most recent U.S. ambassador to France.

Mr. Bruno calls it a “spoils system.”

He’s being diplomatic, of course and just want to be a soap opera matinée idol.

😉

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Ninety-Five Years Ago, We Tried to Export American Thanksgiving Day Around The World

– Domani Spero

Via achives.gov,  below is an excerpt from David Langbart’s The Text Message blog post from November 20, 2012 about  Thanksgiving Day 1918. The Text Message is the blog of the Textual Services Division at the National Archives.

“Thanksgiving is considered by many to be the quintessential American holidayAs Thanksgiving 1918 approached, American had more reason than the usual to give thanks.  On November 11, 1918, Germany signed the armistice that brought World War I to an effective end.  In the wake of that event, the United States made an attempt to broaden the application of Thanksgiving to a selected world-wide audience.

On November 13, the Department of State sent a the following telegram, personally drafted and signed by Secretary of State Robert Lansing, to its diplomatic representatives in the capitals of the victorious powers.  The message went to the American embassy or legation in Belgium, Brazil, China, Cuba, France, Great Britain, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Italy, Japan, Nicaragua, Panama, Portugal, Roumania, Russia, and Siam.”

langbart1_thanksgiving 1918

Click on image to read the cable)

Here is the text of Secretary of State Lansing’s telegram above:

Nov 13, 1918
“You will at the first opportunity offered call attention of the Government, to which you are accredited, to the fact that on the last Thursday of November this country according to customs will celebrate a national day of thanksgiving and prayer. You may add that at this time, when there are such profound reasons for gratitude, the other victorious nations may consider it appropriate to designate Thursday, November twenty-eight, a national day of thanksgiving for the blessings bestowed upon us.”

Mr. Langbart writes:

Not all countries responded.  Among the responses, the government of Greece appointed November 28 a national holiday to celebrate “deliverance from the yoke of foreign domination;” in Brazil, the government declared November 28 a day of thanksgiving and rejoicing and further stated that “Brazil wishes to associate herself in this thanksgiving with the people of North America who both in time of peace and war have been her friends;” and in great Britain, while there was not enough time to make arrangements for a general celebration, a service took place at Saint Martin in the Fields, attended by a representative of the King, other principals of the UK government, and members of the U.S. embassy.  Several other countries designated November 28 a national holiday.

Mr. Langbart notes that President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) also issued the traditional Thanksgiving Proclamation on November 19, 1918, and it was distributed via telegram to American diplomatic and consular employees around the World.  Click here to see the two-page telegram.

Thanksgiving Day became an official Federal holiday in 1863 under President Abraham Lincoln who proclaimed it  a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”, to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26.  That 1863 proclamation was reportedly written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting.  The holiday was not always a paid Federal holiday nor always on the fourth Thursday of November.  According to the CRS (pdf), a law signed by FDR on December 26, 1941, settled the dispute and permanently established Thanksgiving Day as a federal holiday to be observed on the fourth Thursday in November.

🍹 Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Thank you for making us part of your day.  And if you have a bird in this year’s White House Hunger Games, may the odds be ever in your favor🍹!! 

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Filed under Blogs of Note, Diplomacy, Diplomatic History, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service, Holidays and Celebrations, Secretary of State, State Department, U.S. Missions

Joshua Foust on The Uncomfortable Questions Not Raised by Benghazi

In the most recent Oversight Committee hearing, State Department’s Gregory Hicks mentioned that there were 55 people in the two annexes in Benghazi.  Earlier reports says that a total of 30 people were evacuated from Benghazi. Only  7 of the 30 evacuees were employees of the State Department.  So if 55 is correct, there were actually 48 CIA folks in Benghazi.  How come no one is throwing a tantrum to hear what they have to say?

Joshua Foust writes that the press and Congress are asking the wrong questions.

Excerpt:

The eight-month controversy over the attacks on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi reintensified last week, as the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Tripoli testified before a panel at the House of Representatives. The hearing, however, seemed to focus not on the attack itself, but rather on what happened afterward: the content of the talking points handed to UN Ambassador Susan Rice, and whether President Obama referred to it as terrorism quickly enough.Indeed, the entire scandal, as it exists in the public, is a bizarre redirection from the serious failures for which no one has yet answered.
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The CIA’s conduct during and after Benghazi should be the real scandal here, not the order in which certain keywords make their way into press conferences. It is a tragedy that two diplomats died, including the first ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979. Sadly, they are part of a growing number of American diplomats hurt or killed in the line of duty. Embassies and diplomatic facilities were attacked 13 times under President Bush, resulting in dozens of dead but little action. If future Benghazis are to be avoided, we need to grapple with why the attack and our inadequate response unfolded the way it did.

Many of those issues were raised in the Accountability Review Board report that the State Department released last December. But to this day, the complicated nature of CIA operations and, more importantly, how they put at risk the other American personnel serving alongside them have gone largely unremarked upon. It’s past time to demand answers from Langley.

 

Read in full here.

Joshua Foust is a freelance writer and an analyst. Check out his website here: joshuafoust.com; follow him on Twitter @joshuafoust.

This piece originally appeared in Medium, a new elegant publishing platform from Evan Williams, of Blogger and Twitter fame. Check it out.

 

– DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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El Snarkistani: 5 Things You Should Know About Dead Kids in Kabul

El Snarkistani of It’s Always Sunny in Kabul was gone for a couple of weeks of R&R.  We miss him when he’s gone and we’re always happy to see him return to his blog. But then he blogs about the 5 Things You Should Know About Dead Kids in Kabul which makes us throw shoes at the dark, surly skies.

Because it’s Massoud Day, or because it’s a Saturday, or because the CIA is here, or because the State Department just declared the Haqqani network a Foreign Terrorist Organization, the Taliban/ISI/Haqqani convinced a street kid to fill a backpack with explosives and detonate it near the front entrance to ISAF headquarters here in Kabul.

I, like most people who have worked with ISAF/the Embassy/the Afghan government in that part of Kabul have walked that stretch of road a lot. We know the kids that hang out there, sometimes by name, mostly by whatever trinkets they’re trying to sell this week.

As tragic as today’s events were, and believe me, I’m trying like hell to keep typing and not just sit here in a pool of my own self-pitying grief for kids I barely knew in a place I’ve come to love at some level, it matters a whole lot more than just our (hopefully) usual human response to tragedy.

So, in keeping with a format that a) keeps my ADD at bay and b) lets me make a list, here’s 5 reasons why some dead kids in Kabul should matter.

Go here to read the 5 reasons.

His reason #3: This is going to be blamed on the Haqqani.   On September 8, Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi  blamed Saturday’s attack on the Haqqani network but did not say how he came to that conclusion.

CBS News report that the bomber, who Kabul police estimated to be about 14 years old, struck just before noon on a street that connects the alliance headquarters to the nearby U.S. and Italian embassies, a large U.S. military base and the Afghan Defense Ministry.  He reportedly detonated his explosives while walking down the street, according to Kabul police. The Ministry of Interior said some of the victims were street children.  The NYT has additional coverage of this attach here.

At the end of his piece, El Snarkistani asks, “After 11 years, billions of dollars, and thousands of lives (most of them Afghan), are we really doing any good that’s going to last more than a minute after we shut off the aid spigot?”

Good question. Are we?

 

 

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The Mystery of the State Department’s “Blue Balls” Email Leak, Datelined Iraq

Yesterday, The Common Ills blog has an interesting post on the US Ambassadors to Iraq – Crocker, Hill, Jeffrey, the latest nominee for that post, Brett McGurk and the broken system of the confirmation process. Excerpt:

Tuesday, June 5, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue,  Brett McGurk intends to take himself and his self-admitted “blue balls” before the Senate Foreign Policy Committee tomorrow, whether he will be asked by the senators whether it was appropriate to engage in an affair with a reporter while stationed in Iraq or to conceal it from his supervisors remains an unknown, Moqtada says they have enough signatures to call for a no-confidence vote on Nouri al-Maliki, poverty and sanitation rates released by an Iraqi ministry do not demonstrate progress, and more.
[...]
Iraq is supposedly a major issue to the US.  It should be.  US taxpayers saw trillions go into that illegal war.  The world saw millions of Iraqis die,  4488 US service members die (DoD count), ‘coalition’ partners losses, an unknown number of contractors, reporters and many more.  And you’d think with all that blood, with all those lives lost, with all that money wasted, that the US government would take the post of Ambassador to Iraq seriously.  One president having three nominees in one term — an ongoing term — does not indicate that serious work has been done either by the White House or the Senate.

All of the above would be for any person nominated today to that post.  In addition to the above, McGurk is woefully unsuited for the job.  He should be asked to explain his administrative experience.  He’s not heading a desk in a vacation getaway.  If confirmed, he would be heading the most expensive US embassy project.  That’s even with talk of staffing cuts and talk of this and talk of that.  Even now the US diplomatic presence in Iraq is the big ticket item in the US State Dept’s budget.  What in his record says to the American people, “Your tax dollars are not about to AGAIN be wasted?”

Iraq is highly unstable.  The US should not be sending Ambassador Number 3 since 2009.  But it’s in that position now because people trusted to do the work — vetting the nominee, confirming the nominee — didn’t do their jobs.

Read the whole thing here plus a new post today here.

We would like to see the Senate vet the ambassadorial nominees scrupulously, whether they are career diplomats or political appointees. What we have seen happen, of course, if far from that.  Sometimes, the confirmation hearing is just like a bad piece of theater, with softball questions. And when they do exercise their Senate holds,  it is rarely for questions about the expertise of the nominees, but more often than not for political reasons. And both parties are  equally at fault on this.

Mr. McGurk is scheduled to have his confirmation hearing at the SFRC today. We’ve been tied up with something else so have yet to see the video of the hearing.  (Note:  @5:12 EST, no videos or testimonies were posted at the SFRC). If he is confirmed, he would be the 6th US Ambassador appointed to Iraq post 2003 invasion.   The average ambassadorial tenure since 2004 is about a year and a half.

Now about the “blue balls” email (what’s that? nothing to do with blue Christmas) — they are of a personal nature conducted in what appears to be the unclassified system of the State Department from June and December of 2008.  Quick thoughts on this:  1) there is no way to tell if the email exchange is authentic or not; 2) the leaker must not like Mr. McGurk very much, the emails went online the week of his confirmation hearing; and 3) anyone who has not gone through A-100 class escaped from the much repeated admonition/reminder given to career diplomats not/not to write anything that you don’t want to see on the front pages of NYT or WaPo, and now, of course, Cryptome.

It appears that the original email leak was posted as images in the photo sharing site, Flickr.  Nine images of purported emails between Brett McGurk and Wall Street Journal reporter, Gina Chon were up on Flickr on June 4 from a user named, DiploJoke.  No user profile is available on the site.  The images are large sizes 1024 (819 x 541) but given that these are text, they are a tad small to read.

On June 5th, the same emails appeared in Cryptome with the following note from the sender published on site:

A sends:

I rec’d this and thought you might post the details. McGurk is the Ambassadorial Nominee to represent the US in Iraq. His confirmation hearing is June 6.

At the height of the war and during the SOFA negotiations while countless American troops and Iraqi civilians were being slaughtered, it appears that Brett McGurk was engaged in an affair with Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon. He bragged endlessly about senior-level dinners, the secret SOFA negotiations, and “self-healing” exercises to cure his blue balls.

In a tribute to his professionalism and discretion, see emails: http://www.flickr.com/photos/80005642@N02/

The email images were posted enlarged in Cryptome, so they read a little fuzzy, but readable, nonetheless.

Jeff Stein of SpyTalk has this on Twitter with a link to Cryptome.

Cryptome which is run by  John Young publishes documents “that are prohibited by governments worldwide, in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance — open, secret and classified documents — but not limited to those.”   It is also noted for not removing documents from its server unless ordered directly by a US court.

If these purported emails are authentic, they reside in the unclassified system/archives of the State Department. The leaker could only be one of over 60,000 personnel with access to that worldwide system.  So there is the question of who leak these, but also why.  Was this a wink, wink leak or was this a rogue’s leak?

But one of the authors of the leaked emails writes, “I am so f*cking smooth!”

Ay! Caramba! It could be that the leaker has no appreciation for f*cking smooth people or it could be for an altogether different thing. Who knows what’s hiding in the hearts of email leakers?

Besides the obvious content of the real or not emails about healthy people having healthy appetites even in a war zone, one of the purported parties here is reportedly a married person.  As an aside, the Military Times reported yesterday that a US Army colonel who has at one time, war-zone command of the esteemed 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team is under court martial for six counts of violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and 27 specifications including bigamy, fraud and charges of adultery. Anyway, that’s the military. The other purported party in this email chain is a member of the press, what folks like to call, the fourth estate. Wikipedia cites Thomas Carlyle in his book On Heroes and Hero Worship: “Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

So there’s the press.  Perhaps a relevant question here might be — what happens if when a member of the three estates is in a cozy personal relationship with a member of the fourth estate?

What kind of objective reporting from the war zone might we all expect? That would be an interesting research topic, yes?

In any case, if Mr. McGurk is confirmed, the State Department presumably will be in a rather tight bind. First, it has to investigate if these emails are real. That’s easy enough, it can dig through its email archives. Second, if these emails are genuine, the State Department must decide if its 2011 proposed disciplinary action against “a handful” of employees for their off-duty conduct, which included extra-marital affairs, also applies retroactively to special assistants under chief of mission authority and ambassadorial appointees. That would be most interesting to watch.

Updated  2:11 pm PST

Update 6/7/12 @ 11:11 PST
The Washington Free Beacon reports that their source on Capitol Hill with knowledge of the nomination confirmed that the State Department had acknowledged the emails came from their system.  The report also says that Mr. McGurk is now married to Ms. Chon. Unfortunately, there was only an NYT wedding announcement for #1.

The Cable’s Josh Rogin also has this:

“Multiple sources told The Cable the State Department has investigated the allegation about McGurk’s activity on top of the palace but was unable to find any evidence of that incident. It’s unclear whether State is investigating the circumstances surrounding McGurk’s affair with Chon.”

What did he do on top of the palace? Oh, dear. Expect the podium to say ahem, “this is a personal matter and we have no comment.”

The blue balls email are breaking online now, with comment threads lighting up. One of the most person of the street sensible comment we’ve seen:

“But wanting to have sex with a woman is not remotely a crime now is it? He eventually divorced his wife and he married his mistress. He’s a cad. OK. I don’t care about that. The question here, why was this guy so incredibly stupid as send these love notes on the State Department email network? Isn’t that disqualifying for someone who will oversee a $4 billion dollar budget?”

That sounds familiar …. oh, Newt!

In related news, AP reported today that suicides are surging among America’s troops, averaging nearly one a day this year – the fastest pace in the nation’s decade of war.  The 2012 active-duty suicide total of 154 through June 3 compares to 130 in the same period last year, an 18 percent increase. That’s more than the war zone casualties in Afghanistan as of June 2012 which is 139 dead.
Domani Spero

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Filed under Ambassadorships, Blogs of Note, Flickr, Iraq, Leaks|Controversies, Political Appointees, State Department, US Embassy Baghdad

Read Before Burning: Debating the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act

Matt Armstrong has written a must-read piece on the Smith-Mundt Modernization debate. Something for those who did not get their Smith-Mundt Minute Maid boost before wading into the bush.

There’s this – Congressmen Seek To Lift Propaganda Ban

And then there’s this – Much ado about State Department ‘propaganda’

Here is an excerpt from Matt Armstrong’s Congress, the State Department, and “communistic, fascistic, and other alien influences”:

The current debate on the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act is filled with misinformation about the history of Smith-Mundt, some of it verging on blatant propaganda, making the discussion overall rich in irony. In 1947, the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional committee assembled to give its recommendation on the Smith-Mundt Act declared that it was a necessary response to the danger posed “by the weapons of false propaganda and misinformation and the inability on the part of the United States to deal adequately with those weapons.” Today, it is the Smith-Mundt Act that is victim to “false propaganda” and “misinformation” that affect perceptions of, and potential support for, the Modernization Act.

Many of the negative narratives swirling around the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act are based on assumptions and myths that, like true propaganda, have an anchor in reality but stray from the facts to support false conclusions. These fabrications include the false assertion the Act ever applied to the whole of Government or the Defense Department as well as fundamental confusion, and lack of knowledge, of America’s public diplomacy with foreign audiences.
[...]
From the information programs to the programs for the “interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills,” the Congress made its clear its concerns that the State Department may intentionally, or inadvertently, undermine the American way of life for reasons ranging from Roosevelt and Truman “New Dealers” to the liberal culture of the State Department.
[...]
[T]he distrust of State remained. Rep. Fred Busbey (R-IL) sought to delay the bill until the State Department was cleaned up: “I believe there should be in the State Department an Office of Information and Cultural Affairs, but it should be free of communistic, fascistic, and other alien influences.” Congressman Clare Hoffman (R-MI) believed the exchange program was for the State Department to establish an espionage net directed against the United States.

Continue reading, Congress, the State Department, and “communistic, fascistic, and other alien influences”

We should note that a tiny twig of the federal government had been charged with appraising U.S. Government activities “intended to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics.” That’s the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD), created in 1948 and defunded by Congress on December 16, 2011.

On the issue of trust or in this case, distrust — distrust of the Department of State is a shadow that started stalking the organization soon after it came into being following the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1789. Donald Warwick in his 1978 book on bureaucracy points out that the early image of State was influenced by its adoption of the European model of diplomacy and our country’s mistrust of foreign relations.

“As a concrete expression of concern with European contamination, the Continental Congress ruled that diplomats could remain overseas no more than three years. Rapid corruption thereafter was feared. [...] Public mistrust of diplomacy in general and of its foreign-oriented practioners was to surface later in the McCarthy era.”

The limit on continuous duty overseas is alive and well. In the Foreign Service Act, Congress imagined that diplomats would still be contaminated but only after 15 years of continuous exposure abroad.

Domani Spero

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Afghanistan SmackDown: El Snarkistani v. O’Hanlon, Unfuzzy Math and Creative No More Problemo

So we were watching Brooking’s Michael O’Hanlon on teevee one night talking about Afghanistan. These network folks should really invite our blog pal, El Snarkistani to talk about our pretend 51st state, because he talks more sense. But we were not disappointed because El Snarkistani later blogged about. Excerpt below:

I admit that I don’t know a whole lot about Michael E. O’Hanlon or Ian Livingston, but they wrote a piece for the New York Times: basically, things in Afghanistan are going just fine (By the way, Stephen Saideman did a short post on this. He raises some interesting questions.):

Here is what we know: Afghans are wealthier, healthier and better educated than ever before. Unquestionably, Afghan security forces are bigger and better. Despite the occasional spectacular attack, Kabul is relatively safe, accounting for less than 1 percent of violent episodes nationwide, thanks largely to the efforts of these troops. The security situation in the more dangerous south is also much improved, after two years of efforts by foreign and Afghan forces. The north and west are at least no longer deteriorating and collectively account for less than 10 percent of violence nationwide.

And now I know all I need to know about O’Hanlon/Livingston.

Oh, for those of you following along? This post is the one I talked about yesterday.

Allow me to retort, and I’m only going to limit myself to one line in that paragraph, as much as it physically pains me to do so.

Unquestionably, Afghan security forces are bigger and better.

That’s a great word: unquestionably. That means you have “facts” that are likely “irrefutable” which is another big word for “we are experts,” and can therefore “do math.”

That last shot across the bow will make sense shortly.

I’m not going to debate the quantity of ANSF. The force is definitely bigger: every year, there are more of them.

Better? No.

Then he went down the bottom of that dark bucket and looked at the bigger and better Afghan security forces. It turns out that “after nearly 10 years of ISAF intervention, and nearly two years of concerted effort by NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan (NTM-A) personnel, no unit at any level had achieved an “independent rating.” And he got the numbers and can do unfuzzy maths, too.

“So they changed the definition,” El Snarkistani writes.

They changed the definition of … Holy Mother of God and All Her Wacky Nephews! 

Via It’s All Sunny in Kabul: From page 43 of the 1230 report in October of 2011:

Prior to the spring campaign, IJC reviewed the definition of an Independent unit and concluded that the definition was too restrictive and would be difficult for any ANSF element to attain. As a result, IJC rewrote the definition of an Independent unit to reflect the reality that most ANSF force enablers will likely require long-term coalition assistance.

[...]

In a war that offers relatively few metrics by which to measure success, being run by an organization that shifts those metrics randomly to fit their message, it’s unusual to find solid numbers to demonstrate anything. In this case, it’s simple math.

The interwebs is hard.

I’m off to break the news to my wife: in honor of the genius that walks among us mere mortals, we’re naming our first child “O’Hanlon.” And he shall be great. And able to do the maths.

O’Hanlon El Snarkistani, tee-hee!  You really should read El Snarkistani’s stuff here and reader comment round 2 is here.

This reminds us of the large staffing gap at the State Department once, must have been during the tenure of Warren Christopher in the last century. (Yeah, I’m ancient, but no Botox!) Anyway, since it became a really bad problem, somebody decided to solve it surgically and quickly — by eliminating all the positions with a dash of a pen. So, no more staffing gap problem although the work still had to be done.

Eliminating the gap  and  redefinition are just a couple of tricks in your creative problem solving toolbox.  In some places, I bet that creative problem solving can get you a Superior Honor Award or if you are really, really lucky, even a Presidential Rank Award.

Anyway, El Snarkistani is not the only one who has issues with the notion that Afghanistan is fine.  “Mobutu Sese Seko”, the founder of the blog Et tu, Mr. Destructo has this piece, Winning the War Against Yesterday: Mike O’Hanlon’s Afghan Mad Libs with the following quip:

“What’s frustrating is how expected this all is. The Brookings Institution—still billed as the “left-wing” think tank by conservative media—is just as much a corporatized centrist disappointment as every other major Washington institution. It’s in the imperialism business: selling it, cheerleading it and then excusing it. (Just look at that donor list flush with arms contractors.)”

Now that’s enough to ruin your midnight snacks, isn’t it?

Domani Spero

 

 

 

 

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What Do Uranium and a Transgender Foreign Service Officer Have in Common?

Robyn McCutcheon at the Marine Ball
(used with permission)

Robyn Ann Jane Alice McCutcheon has been a Foreign Service Officer for seven years now. She might be the first openly transgender officer (transitioned in 2011) to live full time as female in the workplace. She writes that “the road to this transition has been filled with twists and turns, and if I succeeded in 2011, it’s because of having learned from failures in the 1970s, 1990s, and even as recently as 2000.”  Her story is a very human story that is both sad, and touching, and I cried myself silly.  It looks like she is living the happy ending now but it has not always been easy.  At one point, somebody from the mission not in the know spotted her, made a complaint and a question was asked if she was mentally stable. “Perhaps I could be persuaded to accept a compassionate curtailment of my posting to go home to the US and take care of my problem?  It was a very scary moment,” she writes.

“Kyna asked me stay into the evening, and she arranged for me to be interviewed by telephone by the Regional Psychiatrist in Vienna.  We talked about Hubble, space, Russian history, and what it is to be transgender.  What a contrast that was to my experience with psychiatry in 1990!

I also knew that there was one very important difference between 1990 and 2011.  I don’t remember exactly when in the Education of a Transgender Rip Van Winkle I first learned that gender identity had been added to the State Department’s Statement on Discriminatory and Sexual Harassment in the summer of 2010, but I certainly knew it by the start of 2011.  On paper, at least, I could no longer be curtailed as unsuitable because I had declared a gender identity not in conformance with my birth sex.  I was later told by a Bucharest friend that inquiries had been sent to Washington about my possible curtailment.  The inquiries, I am told, were answered with a gentle education on the matter of gender expression.

Kyna said afterward that the Regional Psychiatrist had expected to be speaking with a very troubled person, not someone who was accomplished and who was having no issues at work.  I was never again bothered with proffers of compassionate curtailment.

Prior to joining the State Department, Robyn McCutcheon spent twenty-five years with one company under contract with NASA (more than half, she spent working on the Hubble Space Telescope). She is an experienced system programmer who scored somewhere in the top ten of those listed on the political register.

Below is a piece written by Robyn in her blog, Transgender in State (The Improbable Adventures of a Transgender Foreign Service Bicyclist Across Time (Zones), Cultures, and Continents). Excerpted below with permission.

What Do Uranium and a Transgender Foreign Service Officer Have in Common?

Quite a lot, come to think of it.

There is the radioactivity to begin with.  When I first tried to speak of being transgender in 1990, I might as well have been radioactive judging from the speed with which some people in my life ran in the other direction.  Even in this much more welcoming and enlightened second decade of the twenty-first century, some may have preferred to deal with radioactivity than with the announcement of my intent to transition in the workplace overseas.  Special handling seemed called for, much as it might have been for an international shipment of uranium.

But just as with uranium, being transgender implies energy.  We need large stores of potential energy that we turn to kinetic as we walk the transition path.  I tell everyone that today I feel far younger than I did just two years ago.  It’s as though I’m 57 going on 27.

Being a transgender Foreign Service Officer (FSO) takes the analogy further.  Like uranium, I have found that a transgender FSO can find herself in more demand than she ever expected.  It has been my greatest post-transition surprise over the past three months.

For the coming weekend I will be judging twenty-six finalist essays on the theme of tolerance.  Embassy Bucharest is holding an essay contest in honor of Human Rights Day, and the essays were submitted by Romanian high school students.  Last weekend I judged twenty-eight essays in the first round.  Over three hundred essays were submitted in all, and I am one of a dozen volunteer judges.
[...]
And then there has been the Esquire interview.  I’m leery of Esquire as the right venue for an article on what it means to be transgender, but just such an article is being written in the Romanian edition.  That article is not about me, thank goodness, but about one of the young Romanian transgender women whom I have come to know and respect over the past year.  (I have already had my fifteen minutes of fame in the Romanian press in a good article, A fi bărbat sau a fi femeie?, published in the opinion and literary journal Dilema Veche last November.)  The journalist from Esquire approached the Embassy for an interview, and with the State Department’s current push for LGBT outreach, both the Embassy and Washington were enthusiastic.
[...]
Let’s see, what else?  Oh, yes, this is LGBT history month in Romania, and last Sunday I was a book in a living library event organized by Accept.  When I was first told that anyone who wished would be able to check me out and read  me for 15-20 minutes at a time, I had to chuckle.  The thought of a transgender person willingly offering herself to be checked out and read was just too humorous.  In the end it was a fun evening as I was checked out and read multiple times, mainly by young gay and lesbian Romanians for whom a transgender person is nearly as esoteric as an extraterrestrial.  This book from the foreign literature section learned as much from the evening as did her readers.

Yes, just like uranium, a transgender FSO can be simultaneously radioactive, energetic, and in demand.  Please just don’t put me in a centrifuge.  Although I wouldn’t mind being enriched, I believe I’m already as refined as I can be and can’t be improved.  As long as my half-life is long, I will continue to live as a young 57 going on 27.

Now, where did I leave that stack of essays on tolerance? . . .

She is not only smart and lovely but also “don’t put me in a centrifuge” funny — read in full here.

Domani Spero

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"Hamsters on the Titanic" Now Showing "It’s Always Sunny in Kabul"

I absolutely adore the blog, Hamsters on the Titanic, Dan in the ‘Stan’s blog out of Afghanistan. He’s like the sage of Kabul with a strong dash of Stephen Colbert.  Now due to the multitude of sunny news coming out of Kabul, I can understand why the author has now changed the blog name to “It’s Always Sunny in Kabul.” Makes sense, right, since the worst problem they have over in Kabul is traffic.

Yesterday, he wrote about Afghanistan’s new shiny toys, the special ones that kill and not because of bad paint from China:

According to General Abdul Rahim Wardak, Defense Minister: Finally, a ray of hope.

He however noted that for foiling the foreign invasions we need
war planes, bombers, and air defense systems. He stressed that the only
way for ensuring long-term security in Afghanistan is empowering the
Afghan forces and there is no other alternative way that the territorial
integrity and national sovereignty and national values of the country
are defended.

In just two years, LTG Caldwell’s NTM-A has overcome illiteracy, massive desertions, killing US mentors, and alleged massacres by
a favorite Border Police General and put together a fighting force
that’s ready to move up to advanced military aircraft. That has got
capable, affordable and sustainable written all over it.

Frankly, that worries me.  General Wardak want all these new shiny toys and I don’t know which uncle will write the check. Please, don’t let it be Uncle Sam.

Previously, the blogger also castigated the NYT reporter for being a “killjoy” and casting some “doubts about the ability of the Afghan National Army
(ANA) to fully sustain itself and the new equipment it’s being issued.” He writes:

LTG Caldwell was just recently a guest at the weekly ISAF press briefing,
and I feel the need to share some of his quotes so the readers of Mr.
Healy’s rainy day nonsense can really understand what’s going on here in
Afghanistan:

“Over the last two years, we have been able to put in place
schools, get the required trainers and actually train over 50,000
officers and noncommissioned officers that are now, today, in the Afghan
Police, Army and Air Force,” said Caldwell.

See? NTM-A has put the required trainers into place. There
is absolutely no requirement that there be trainees, as well. To expect
that sort of unrealistic level of trainer/trainee ratio after the fact
is just pointless, really. Obviously, too, the IG team wasn’t there on a
training day. Otherwise, if 44% of sites weren’t doing any training at
all, it would be really hard…even impossible…to actually train 50,000
people in the timeframe that LTG Caldwell is reporting. And, since I’ve
come to realize that LTG Caldwell and the NTM-A are always right about
what’s really happening here, well, I’d suggest the IG go back and count
again. As to being “largely uneducated,” well sir:

During the last year and a half, 134,000 recruits have completed
the mandatory literacy training that has been incorporated into their
basic training requirements, Caldwell added.


As is well known among those that really care about the ANSF, they are absolutely required to be able to read at a first grade level.
I don’t understand the concern: if that ANA soldier can now read at a
first grade level, there should be no reason why he can’t understand
training that a high school graduate in the United States would be able
to comprehend.

“Must read” sections of the blog include the “Afghanistan Users Manual“, “Bacon Wrapped Pork Chop“, Tweet of the Day and Pic of the Day where he admitted exasperation over ISAF’s photostream without captions (sounds familiar?) and recently reported the threat of teddy bears to Afghan toddlers:

SMOTHER
From It’s Always Sunny in Kabul
ISAF’s Flickr stream doesn’t put any kind of descriptions on the photos
is posts,
I’m forced to come up with my own. The point of pictures is
to put up a caption
so we can have some context whereby we can know
what’s happening. Otherwise, I’m going to be forced
to report on the
threat of teddy bears to Afghan toddlers.

Check out his blog here.

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