One of our favorite FS bloggers is Kelly from Well That Was Different. She has spent the last 25 years living and traveling in Latin America, Africa and Europe with her FSO spouse. Kelly recently wrote a blogpost on spouse employment in the Foreign Service. We excerpted the following with her permission. We should add that she is not/not an employee of the State Department, so hold your bite, you silly tigers. If the somebodies from the alphabet soup offices read this, we suggest full, undivided attention.
Any spouse can tell you about jobs that are advertised, but actually “reserved” for the spouse of a certain officer. Or jobs that are not advertised at all, even though they should be, because someone has already been handpicked for the job. Any spouse can tell you about jobs that were assigned to someone who might not even have arrived at post yet, who might even be on their first FS tour, who simply kicked up more of a fuss than others. Any spouse can tell you about positions that were mysteriously created out of thin air for male spouses who “have” to have a job (sorry, but it happens).
So, let’s not pretend that this system is working as advertised. If it did, then frustration probably wouldn’t be as rampant among the EFMs who choose to participate in it. Spouse employment is always named as the number one morale issue in the Foreign Service. There are valid reasons for this—and they can’t all be blamed on shrinking budgets or post 9/11 security requirements.
A good friend who was once an EFM and is now an FSO says that you have to choose. If you are serious about having a “real” career as the spouse of a Foreign Service Officer, the only option is to become an FSO yourself. If you don’t do that, then forget about having a linear, highly remunerative, career. It’s not a popular point of view, but I have to say, based on over 25 years of experience, that I agree with her. Repeatedly having to compete for scraps at every post is just not a satisfying trajectory. I have noticed that it seems to make a lot of spouses pretty unhappy.
Only 2,736 eligible family members (EFMs) are working within U.S. missions overseas (pdf). As of November 2014, 64% or 7,449 family members overseas — out of a total of 11,620 — are not working.
Family Member Employment, State Department, Nov 2014 (click image for larger view)
I went and look at the FLO website just now. Good heavens, the Global Employment Initiative (GEI) is still on! That exciting program “helps family members explore employment options and opportunities, and provides career development services.” Want to know how effective is that program? Me, too!
Madam le Consul started blogging at The Consuls’ Files — ‘bringing humanity, common sense, realism and humor to the work of the US consul’ — in May 2009. By October that year, she was gone, chewed to death by bureaucratic tigers. She later came back for sporadic posts.
Today, she told me she’s officially back. And she just revised her 1,000-word disclaimer to 15 words! Her first blog post: Yes, You’re King of the World. She writes:
Madam would like to think that US chiefs of mission will always set the best possible example for their underlings – an example for said underlings to aspire to, be proud of, and remember with fond admiration. Sadly, the newest crop of inspection reports confirms that far too many ambassadors are instead still playing the role of the biggest kid on the block – or the biggest frog in the puddle. […] It appears that, still, a knuckle slap by inspectors may or may not lead to a leash-jerk by the appropriate bureau, which may or may not lead to improved behavior, which may or may not last longer than it takes to write a reassuring email and then forgetting about it. But at the same time, all ordinary, well-behaved, well-trained, doing-the-best-they-can FSOs know that they will be the ones who will suffer if they try to follow the rules when the boss’s boss doesn’t want them to. A single sentence in an EER review statement can doom a good officer to years of undeserved 03-dom.
Ah well, as Madam has often said, we don’t do our jobs for thanks. And yet, to all those good officers who do their best under pressure to not do their best from those who should be setting the highest-quality example but instead can’t be bothered, thank you.
Pardon me? There are folks hyperventilating already in the next corridor? My web doctor says they need to go get a brown bag. Check out The Consuls’ Files and welcome Madam back to the blogosphere!
“The best way to treat obstacles is to use them as stepping-stones. Laugh at them, tread on them, and let them lead you to something better.”
― Enid Blyton, Mr Galliano’s Circus
The Tumblr for Foreign Service Problems has been around for many months now. Sometime this past spring it also joined Twitter. Yes, it is hysterical and absolutely spot on. Below are some of our favorite entries to delight your day. Unless, the Foreign Service has also ruined your sense of humor, in which case, we pray you get it back — fast! or that could quickly be a future entry. With permission from @FS_Problems:
When someone mistakes you for being the Ambassador’s personal household help rather than a Foreign Service Officer or Specialist
When you know that you won’t be promoted before you TIS/TIC out and just don’t care any more.
— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) August 22, 2014 (Note: TIS for time-in- service, time in a combination of salary classes, computed from date of entry into the Foreign Service; TIC for time-in-class, time in a single salary class).
One of our readers pointed us to this MamaCongo blogpost (thanks A!). We’ve requested and was granted permission by the author to excerpt it here. She is the country representative of the Mennonite Central Committee, a nongovernment organization operating in Burkina Faso, and a marvelous storyteller. In the post below, she tells us a slice of life amidst a crisis in a foreign land. Reminds us of Four Globetrotters’ blogpost about what an FSO and her colleagues went through during the attack of the U.S. Embassy in Tunis in 2012 (see Attack here).
The following post from MamaCongo is a first person account of an American expat during the recent revolution in Burkina Faso, a land-locked country in the center of West Africa with one of the highest poverty rates in the world. According to Diplomatic Security’s Crime and Safety Report, Burkina Faso was also rocked by several months of protests, civil unrest, and lawlessness in 2011. In the event of lawlessness or protests by armed groups, including such incidents perpetrated by soldiers and police, the official advice is to seek a safe location, remain indoors, and shelter in place. The shelter in place advice, of course, that does not work, if the house you’re in is a target for burning, and looting,, as was the case here.
There is a shoutout in the blogpost for Kristin, an FSO at our embassy in Ouagadougou. For all the consular officers and duty officers out there who seldom get a mention for their work, this one’s for you. And those French, by heavens, they remain cool and collected with smokes and drinks even in a crisis?
* * *
Burkina Faso’s Revolution. Or the day mama jumped in the pool fully clothed.
It’s taken us a bit of time to process Burkina Faso’s recent uprising, or revolution, or coup, or junta, or whatever you want to call it. Granted we’re not Burkinabé nor were we anywhere near the front lines, but our expat lives were a bit shaken up. I mean, we’re not in Congo anymore so life should be easy peasy for goodness sake.
In short, Blaise Compaoré, Burkina Faso’s longtime president of 27 years, decided he wanted to change the constitution to extend term limits. But folks had another idea. As in, on the day of the vote thousands of people mobilized to stop it.
On that morning, we planned to introduce the director of our organization (who was visiting from the States – perfect timing) to participants we work with at the prison. No big deal, Adam would take him in the morning before the vote results were announced. I’d stay back in the office and hold down the fort. Of course no one else was dumb enough to come to work that day. So there I sat alone while they headed off to the prison.
About the time they arrived at the prison, the city exploded. Tens of thousands of people protested and then attacked the parliament building setting it on fire. There was gunfire, then helicopters dropped tear gas. I spent the morning pacing up and down the office hallway. Convincing myself my eyes were burning from really intense dust and not tear gas. I also sent messages to Jill because how can this be happening and I have no one to talk to?!
I won’t mention how many paces it took me to remember my children playing outside a few blocks away. But I did eventually call Anastasie and ask her to take the girls inside and close the windows. Clearly she had already done this. Because tear gas.
Meanwhile at the prison, a mob had gathered outside and began banging on the doors, so needless to say, Adam and our director were stuck inside. I’ll keep this exciting part about Adam short due to his issue with reading long posts and all: Prison guards quickly change into military uniforms. Everyone running. Adam stuck inside. Me thinking it’s slightly funny he’s got himself and our director trapped in a prison during a coup. Me waiting a long time, not thinking it’s so funny anymore. Crowds getting bigger. Me making lots of phone calls and driving back and forth through protestors to attempt to free them from prison. They eventually escape with zero help from me. 30 minutes later factory across from the prison is looted and burned. Revolt later that day in the prison and 3 people killed. Us breathing sigh of relief.
The stuck in prison situation is the kind of experience I’m happy to have had when it’s over. It was equal parts tense and exciting and it makes for a good story. All’s well that ends well. We are safe and sound at home. Boy was that crazy! So glad this whole revolution thing is over. I put up a semi-clever post on Facebook with a synopsis of the day. We’re proud of ourselves for distracting our children from the gunfire. They didn’t even notice! We’re so cool. Goodnight.
Compaoré resigned the next morning and left the country in a heavily armored motorcade. A general in the military was then named interim leader. Turns out this guy was not so popular and the city erupted once again. Oh wait, this revolution thing isn’t over yet?
A tactic that proved quite effective the day before was the burning and looting of former Compaoré government official’s houses along with those of his relatives and friends. A house a few blocks in front of our’s was burned as well as another house behind us. We got word that our next door neighbor’s house, with whom we share a wall, was next on the loot and burn list. A mob was on its way. Our neighbor on the other side yelled for us to quick get out of our house.
It’s safe to say this was not my calmest moment in motherhood. I went into full panic mode and ushered my children next door – to the safe neighbor’s house. We’ve been down this leave-the-house-and-all-of-your-belongings road before in Congo, so I grabbed their growth chart off the wall, the baby quilt and the princess dresses. Because I can hide from our children the fact that our house has been burned to the ground, but they’re definitely going to notice if their princess dresses are missing.
We took shelter next door. And again the pacing sets in. At this point we crossed a line we had never crossed before. Our children were scared and crying and asking what was going on. Guards were gathered in the road. And everyone was just waiting for the inevitable to happen. It didn’t ease our minds that a document had been looted from the president’s brother’s house, photocopied in mass and distributed throughout the city listing the addresses of houses that the president had bought for his friends. Our neighbor’s house number was #2 on the list.
I kind of just wanted the looters and burners to show up so it could just happen and be over. Someone suggested I call the embassy. After 6 years in Congo, I have their emergency number on speed dial. I don’t know how many times in Kinshasa I had to call an annoyed 18-year-old Marine and explain how we got our car booted in the middle of the road again.
Here in Ouagadougou it’s a kind woman named Kristin, who bless her heart, must have been a 911 operator or worked at a suicide prevention hotline in a previous life. She was so sweet and encouraging and for the first time since this whole ordeal began, I was talking with someone to whom I didn’t need to show a brave face. I started to tear up, so I took myself into my neighbor’s garage and had a good cry with dear, sweet Kristin. (Kristin, I hope you never read this. I would like to remain the anonymous, unstable expat caller.)
For whatever reason the mob had yet to come and it’s clear that pacing at our neighbor’s house all day was not a good plan for anyone. So we scurried across the street to distract our children and let them swim at the pool of our neighborhood French compound.
And folks, I kid you not. Those Frenchies were smoking and drinking and having a grand old time behind their wall, not 20 feet away from our panic attack across the street.
Our girls soon forgot their trauma and swam and joined in the carefree French time. Meanwhile, Adam and I were poolside sending emails and making hurried phone calls to our organization’s headquarters in the States, all the while keeping an ear out for approaching angry mobs.
At this point, as if our world had not stopped already, I glanced in the pool and Ani was bobbing and gasping for air in the deep end. So naturally, I jump in the pool, in front of all those relaxed French folk – fully clothed, leather clogs and all – to pull that poor girl out.
I swear to you, at this moment another military plane buzzed overhead and after the near-burning of our house and the near-drowning of my child, I took a moment to tread water and have a mini breakdown right there in the pool. I’ll never forget Adam and our director looking down at me, offering hands to help me out. But I just stayed. And treaded water. And cried.
And then my loving husband said, “That was crazy. It was kind of embarrassing that you had to jump in the pool like that to save her, but none of these French people even noticed. No one turned their heads. How are they so cool about everything?!”
I spent the rest of the day sitting by the pool. Sopping wet. You know, because of no spare clothes due to being evacuated from my house and all. Then after the curfew set in (which is announced in the curious way of police going through the streets and shooting in the air) our house was still standing and it was deemed safe to go home.
Our neighbors in question had rallied their burliest male relatives to set up camp outside their house to protect it. We managed to fall asleep that night, but it’s practically impossible to distinguish between the noises of a mob of men guarding a house and a mob of men attacking a house.
We debriefed with the girls and asked them how they felt when we had to leave our house and run next door. Because afterall, they were upset and scared and I don’t want that coming back at us in adolescence.
They didn’t really seem to remember it, so we didn’t press it. They were too distracted and confused about why mama jumped and cried in the pool. “No really, why were you crying in the pool?” they asked, “And why didn’t you put on your bathing suit first?” A full month later, they are still talking about this. “Hey! Remember that time mama jumped in the pool with her clothes on?!”
Thank the lord they’re not asking, “Remember that time we ran screaming from our house because we thought it was going to burn down?”
There’s more. Read the entire blogpost here via MamaCongo.
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:
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.
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?
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.
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 holiday. As 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.”
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🍹!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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:
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.
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 reportedyesterday 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.
“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.