Category Archives: Book Notes

Old Bugaboo of Packout Bothers You? Pick Up This Foreign Service Companion

— By Domani Spero 

*You Might Be in the Foreign Service If…

√  The sound of packing tape makes you cringe.

√  Every time you stay in a hotel, the kids ask if it is their new home.

√  You look at everything you want to buy with a view to: A., how much does it weigh and B., will it explode without a transformer.

√  When you return home, you have a nervous breakdown in Walmart because there are too many choices.

√  You come back to the States for home leave and your 3-year-old yells, “Look, Mama, they have McDonald’s in AMERICA, too!”

Miving Your Hosehold_AAFSW

Every day, somewhere in the world, one or more of the 13, 787 Foreign Service employees and unknown numbers of family members are in the process of moving.  The largest rotation often happens during the summer transfer season, typically after school is out.  This is one of the most stressful part of the Foreign Service, one that we don’t think ever gets easier with time.

If you want to know what moving is like every few years, pick up The Foreign Service Companion Moving Your Household Without Losing Your Mind. This  is a 180-page book divided into five sections: The Big Picture;The Nitty-Gritty; Kids, Pets, and Moving; When Things Go Off-Script and Taking Care of Ourselves.

Eva Groening, a 30-year veteran of FS life with seven consumables posts writes that “moving begins, at least in your mind, the day you learn you will be leaving “here” and going “there.” Then this gem:

“Barter is a wonderful thing – some roach killer for a few tubes of toothpaste? A box of corn starch for a package of chocolate chips?  I treat expiration dates as mere suggestions, but bulging cans go in the trash immediately. 

Ana Gabriela Turner, a spouse who naturalized in 2012 writes about foreign born spouses: culture shock particularly for those moving to the United States, the naturalization process, to work or not to work and other challenges. She forgot to add obtaining a driver’s license as one of the necessities for foreign born spouses navigating their new lives in the United States.

Ed Dyer is part of a trailing household currently assigned to Harare, Zimbabwe writes about the Azimuth Check,  a bearing point or why you need that home leave.

Danielle Dumm, a traveling, writing, shutterbug mama currently in New Delhi, India writes that storing your household’s most important documents and most treasured media in digital form has never been easier and tells you How to Digitize Your Life.

FSO Janet Heg from US Embassy Kabul writes about Packing for an Unaccompanied Tour, what to put in your “Go Bag” and passes on an advice for “shoes that are not only comfortable but also allow you to run in an emergency.”

Michele Hopper, a mom of four who “lives by a well-stocked pantry” writes about Shopping for Consumables and advises readers that  “A full pantry of familiar foods eases even the most difficult day.”   True dat.  Also, how can one not enjoy having a grocery store in your very own home?

FSO Sadie Dworak writes about losing her faithful 10-year-old shih tzu, Hattie during her assignment to Saudi Arabia. A heart-wrenching experience at home but particularly overseas where so many things can go wrong.

Then there’s Public Diplomacy Officer Marlene Monfiletto Nice’s Packing Out is Hard to Do to the tune of Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.”

Don’t take my plates away from me, My pots and pans, my cutlery,
Got more entertaining to do,
And packing makes it hard to do.

Remember when we first arrived,
It took so long to get the house just right, Now I can’t wait to start anew,
But packing up is hard to do.

But our favorite contribution is hands down, The Slacker’s Guide to Moving by “Ima Spouse Oh”

An international move could be compared to a hurricane: You know it’s coming, you look at maps and worry, and you do the best you can to get ready, whether that means securing patio furniture or downing huge tropical drinks.

The list of things that you “should do” before a move can darken your mood faster than a chocolate shortage. For instance, the first chapter of the State Department’s Foreign Service Assignment Notebook fills 13 pages with preparation suggestions.

This Slacker is here to tell you that you can skip pretty much every- thing in that chapter and still arrive at your destination. In many cases, spending more hours on your move will not actually result in a better experience at post.

Somebody described this book like having folks over and chatting about packouts. If so, then we’d all be happy to have jugs of coffee with EFM, ‘Ima Spouse Oh’ and her pearls of wisdom.  Do you know that you can have things moved in “as-is” condition?  “Yes, the trusty toaster oven arrived complete with crumbs and blotches of melted cheese.”

We had a full laundry basket and a trash can moved in “as-in” condition. Both survived the transfer.

Looking for work before you get to post? Forgetaboutit. “All of the local work Ms. Spouse Oh eventually found was obtained once she started meeting people face-to-face. She decided to change from a job “hunter” to a job “gatherer”: The work is sitting there, she just has to show up in the right place and load it into her basket!”

Mrs. ‘Ima Spouse Oh’  is also huge on delegation, unless “it’s too much effort:”  “Ask the movers to unpack the boxes. Claim you have to work and let your spouse handle everything…. Go on vacation and let the Foreign Service officer in the family manage the move –that’s what would happen if he/she were single anyhow! Just promise not to complain about how things were done if you did not help do them.”

Hah!

The only thing missing in this book is when a spouse is ditched by the FSO overseas, and how that packout in the midst of a separation or a divorce can be extremely messy.

The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) has put together this Foreign Service Companion Moving Your Household Without Losing Your Mind.   The book edited by Kelly Bembry Midura and Zoe Cabaniss Friloux.  Kelly blogs at wellthatwasdifferent.wordpress.com.  The editors and authors are volunteers. Your purchase will benefit the programs of the AAFSW.  We understand that this is part one of a series planned for publication, we look forward to the rest of the books in the series.

*You Might Be in the Foreign Service If… excerpted from the book.

(^_^)

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Book Notes: Alison Krupnick’s Ruminations from the Minivan

Alison Krupnick is a former world-traveling diplomat, turned minivan-driving mom and writer. As a Foreign Service officer with the State Department (March 1986-September 1995), she served in India, Thailand and Vietnam and in Washington, D.C. on the country desks for Egypt, Sri Lanka and the Republic of Maldives. Her writing has been published in Harvard Review, Brain, Child, the magazine for thinking mothers, Seattle magazine, Crosscut and other news and trade publications, literary journals and anthologies. She is the author of the blog Slice of Mid-Life (http://www.sliceofmidlife.com). Alison lives in Seattle with her husband and two daughters. She is also the author of a newly released book, Ruminations from the Minivan: musings from a world grown large, then small.

Book by Alison Krupnick

Book by Alison Krupnick
(image used with permission)

Below is an excerpt from the book (republished with permission).  This story, Benefit of the Doubt was originally published in the Harvard Review.

I am standing in the lobby of the former Majestic Hotel trying to make a break for it. At the hotel entrance, a throng of fans is waiting for my companions and me. They’ve been waiting there all day, ever since they broke away from the roped off area at the airport and began to chase us. Chase us on foot, chase us by bicycle, chase us on mopeds. They chased us as we left the decrepit airport and drove into town. They chased us as we passed billboards for state-run enterprises and posters with Soviet-style artwork celebrating the workers’ struggle that look out of place in this tropical environment. They chased us as we attempted to enter the hotel. They chased us and they called out to us by name and tapped us on the shoulders, trying to hand us scraps of paper with names and numbers written on them. Now, hours after our arrival, we want to go to dinner. But if we leave by the front door we will be mobbed. We are ushered out of the hotel via the service entrance and manage to slip away to Maxim’s, a nearby restaurant. We are given a private room. We enjoy a dinner of crab farci, while musicians serenade us with traditional songs of old Vietnam. Then I have a moment to digest what has happened. This is the closest I’ll ever come to knowing how it feels to be a rock star, I think. Nobody has ever wanted me so much in my entire life.

It’s December 1988. Twenty-seven years old, fresh from a year of intensive Vietnamese language training, I have arrived in the former South Vietnamese capital of Saigon, renamed Hồ Chí Minh City by the post-war Communist Vietnamese government. I am part of a team of U.S. government officials. Our mission is to interview and decide whether to grant visas to Amerasians (the wartime offspring of Vietnamese women and American men); former prisoners of Communist “re-education camps;” and beneficiaries of immigrant visa petitions filed by family members already in the United States. We do so as part of the Orderly Departure Program (ODP), which was created under an international agreement to stop the dangerous flow of “boat people,” who had been risking their lives to flee Vietnam. The United States has had no diplomatic relations with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam since 1975, no Embassy where Vietnamese people can simply apply for a visa. The ODP makes it possible for qualified applicants to meet face-to-face with a U.S. government official in Vietnam. The alternative is to take their chances with escape, which, even if successful, could leave them languishing for years in one of the many overcrowded refugee camps of Southeast Asia.

For nearly four years, I will participate almost every month in these ten-day interview trips, which are physically exhausting and emotionally draining. Despite my extensive training and the fact that I have experience conducting visa interviews in India, the stakes are higher in Vietnam. As I find myself in the uncomfortable position of making decisions that will literally change another person’s life, the responsibility to do the right thing, sometimes with very little to guide me, is daunting. Ultimately the guilt that I have not done enough, that nobody can ever do enough, that we are being asked to do too much, will take its toll on me.

Click here to read more about the Orderly Departure Program from Vietnam which was established in 1979-1994 to provide a safe and legal means for people to leave Vietnam rather than clandestinely by boat.

We asked Alison to sum up what it was like being female and single in the FS during the time she was in and below is her response:

“I felt that there was a double-standard for single female FSOs during my era, especially in the developing world.  Several of my male peers dated and eventually married local women, but dating locals was frowned upon for female FSOs and I felt our behavior was more scrutinized. The opening chapter in the book (Junior Officer) touches on this.”

Why she left the Foreign Service in 1995?

I left the Foreign Service to marry an American traveler I met in Vietnam 1991. After we each returned to the U.S. in 1992 (him to Seattle, me to D.C.) we had a three-year, pre-Internet long distance relationship. This was at the time that Sleepless in Seattle had come out and I think I saw that film at least twice on trans-continental flights.  He was reluctant to follow me into the Foreign Service, so I tried some creative solutions so we could be together (including creating a Pearson appt. in Seattle, which the Department assigned to someone else).  Finally, since we had never spent more than two weeks in the same place, an understanding boss gave me a few months of LWOP, just prior to my having to bid on my next overseas assignment.  Summer is deceptively dry and beautiful in Seattle.  The weather and my boyfriend convinced me that Seattle should be my next “assignment.”

We also wanted to know what made her write this book. If this book is mostly about her experience during her FS years or is this more about her transition back to life outside the FS/the beltway. Here is what she said:

My experience in the Foreign Service was life-changing and continues to influence me. The book is divided into four parts. The first part deals with my Foreign Service life and pre-Foreign Service international awakening.  I was living in Paris in 1979-1980, a pivotal year when the U.S. hostages were taken in Iran and  the U.S. boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow.  I decided to study international relations at Monterey Institute of International Studies, and later join the State Department,  to make sense of situations such as these and  because of my exposure in Paris to a wide range of nationalities and their impressions of Americans and of U.S. foreign policy.

Other sections of the book are about post-Beltway life. I often joke that being in the Foreign Service is like being in a leper colony and it can be challenging to transition out of the fold.  Few outside of the community understand the unique facets of this life, or fully appreciate the role FSOs play in promoting international understanding.  During my early years with kids I didn’t travel internationally, was acutely frustrated by this and missed being a player on the world stage.

I eventually figured out that just because your world shrinks, your world view doesn’t have to. The Internet and the massive changes in information technology have made it much easier to stay informed and connected from almost anywhere.

If you’re in the DC area, you’ll get a chance to see Alison when she visits to promote her book sometime this year.  The book is available at amazon.com here. The Kindle edition should be available in the next few weeks.

domani spero sig

 

 

 

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Submission Call– In the Line of Fire: American Diplomacy in a Dangerous World

Charles Ray, a 30 year Foreign Service veteran who previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe (October 2009August 2012) and Cambodia (December 2002July 2005) has a new book project that FS folks may be interested in.  Below via:

I am currently working with the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) on updating a book on “Diplomacy in a Dangerous World.”  To that end, I am seeking stories from Foreign Service Officers (active and retired), their families, former Marine Security Guards, and other people who have served in U.S. diplomatic establishments abroad regarding the sometimes hazardous situations American diplomats face on a daily basis as they perform their vital missions.

The working title of the book I plan to write is “In the Line of Fire:  American Diplomacy in a Dangerous World.”  I plan to structure it as follows:

  1.  Embassies under attack:  stories of attacks on diplomatic establishments from the point of view of those who were inside the facilities.
  2. Off-duty danger:  stories of hazardous situations faced by our diplomats in their countries of assignment even when not on duty.
  3. Not all danger is physical:  in addition to the dangers of physical attack, our diplomats face moral, ethical, and emotional dilemmas continually.  I would like to include a section in the book on the non-physical crises these people deal with.
  4. The ultimate sacrifice:  no story of the dangers our diplomatic personnel face would be complete without a tribute to those who have lost their lives while serving abroad.

If you have a story that you’d like to share, or you know of someone who has, please contact me at charlesray.author@yahoo.com.  You can either provide a brief synopsis of the story, including the names of those involved, or the story itself either in the body of or as an attachment to your email.  If you have clear digital images, and the rights to their distribution, I would also be happy to look at them.

Most people in the U.S. are unaware of the dangers our diplomats face, except on those occasions when something terrible happens and it appears in the press.  I hope, through this book, to fill in the blanks and show that it’s not just the incidents like the terrible tragedy at Benghazi, but that it is a part of the everyday life of an American diplomat.

Ambassador Ray’s other books are available at amazon.com here.

domani spero sig

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Canadian Caper, CIA Exfiltration, Ben Affleck’s Argo and Hurt Feelings

In 1980, PBS aired a 54:02 video about the escape from Iran by 6 Americans who were United States Embassy employees.  The “Canadian Caper” as it is known is the rescue effort by the Canadian Government and the Central Intelligence Agency of six American diplomats who evaded capture during the seizure and hostage taking of the United States embassy in Tehran, Iran on November 4, 1979.  If you watch the video below, you will note that there is no mention of the CIA.  The closely guarded secret of the CIA’s role was only revealed in 1997 as part of the Agency’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Two years later, in the Studies in Intelligence (Winter 1999-2000), the CIA’s former chief of disguise, Tony J. Mendez (played by Ben Affleck in Argo) wrote A Classic Case of Deception: CIA Goes Hollywood. You can read it online here.

The six rescued American are as follows:

Robert Anders, 34 – Consular Officer
Mark J. Lijek, 29 – Consular Officer
Cora A. Lijek, 25 – Consular Assistant
Henry L. Schatz, 31 – Agriculture Attaché
Joseph D. Stafford, 29 – Consular Officer
Kathleen F. Stafford, 28 – Consular Assistant

The Ben Affleck film, Argo reportedly borrows from the memoir of Tony Mendez, “The Master of Disguise,” which originally details how he devised an incredible escape from Tehran for American diplomats posing as a Canadian film crew.  According to Mendez’s website, http://www.themasterofdisguise.com/ Warner Brothers and George Clooney optioned the rights to his book “The Master of Disguise” following a May 2007 “Wired Magazine” article on Tony’s rescue operation during the Iranian hostage crisis.  The script was written by Chris Terrio who reportedly also drew on that 2007 Wired Magazine article and called the movie “a fictionalized version of real events.”

In addition to The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA (William Morrow and Company, 1999. 351 pages), Mendez has also just released the book Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled off the Most Audacious Rescue in History (Viking Adult, September 13, 2012. 320 pages).  That’s 320 pages of details on how the escape came down from the perspective of the chief exfiltrator.

In any case, Argo had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 7, and who was not invited? For godsakes this is Toronto as in Canada!  Ken Taylor, the former Canadian ambassador to Iran who sheltered the six Americans, that’s who, and our next door neighbors were not too pleased.

Via The Star:

Friends of Ken Taylor, the former Canadian ambassador to Iran, are shocked and upset by the way he was portrayed in Argo …. The ultimate put-down comes with a postscript that appears on the screen just before the final credits, savouring the irony that Taylor has received 112 citations. The obvious implication is that he didn’t deserve them.

A separate piece had this quote from the former ambassador:

“The movie’s fun, it’s thrilling, it’s pertinent, it’s timely,” he said. “But look, Canada was not merely standing around watching events take place. The CIA was a junior partner.”

Ambassador Taylor was awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal in 1980. In his remarks on presenting the medal, then President Reagan described not only “Ambassador Taylor’s courage but also the contribution of all the Canadian Embassy personnel in Tehran and the Canadian Government in Ottawa.” 

According to Reuters, both Affleck and writer Chris Terrio maintain that the broad thesis of the film is based on actual events, although traditional Hollywood dramatic license includes a climax scene where Iranian police chase a jumbo jet down a runway.  In his presscon after the TIFF premier, Affleck was quoted saying: “Because we say it’s based on a true story, rather than this is a true story,” he said, “we’re allowed to take some dramatic licence. There’s a spirit of truth.”

Things could still have gotten messy but did not.  Affleck apparently changed the offending postscript at the end of the movie, which Taylor’s friends regarded as an insult both to him and to Canada, was removed and replaced by a new postscript: “The involvement of the CIA complemented efforts of the Canadian embassy to free the six held in Tehran. To this day the story stands as an enduring model of international co-operation between governments.”

Ambassador Taylor and his wife were invited by Affleck to Los Angeles and attended a private screening of Argo on the Warner Bros. lot. They were also invited to the Washington DC premiere during a private screening at the Regal Gallery cinemas in downtown Washington on October 10, 2012.  Click here for a video of Affleck addressing a packed auditorium during the screening that included embassy staff, lawmakers, former CIA and former hostages.

Ambassador Taylor and his wife have reportedly taped a commentary for the extra features on the DVD version of Argo, but this will not be released until 2013.

Meanwhile, the film has now also upset the British diplomats who helped our diplomats in Iran.

I should note that among the six Americans featured in Agro, one is still in the Foreign Service. Joseph D. Stafford, III is currently assigned as Charge’ d’ affaires at the US Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan.  Except for a brief mention that he joined the FS in 1978 and that he had earlier assignments in Algiers, Kuwait, Cairo, Palermo, and Tehran, there’s no mention of that daring scape from Tehran in his official bio.

But Mark J. Lijek, one of the Argo six has written a detailed memoir of his experience in The Houseguests: A Memoir of Canadian Courage and CIA Sorcery.  The book is available in digital edition at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

After Tehran, Mark J. Lijek went on to assignments in Hong Kong, Kathmandu, Warsaw, Frankfurt and several tours in Foggy Bottom. On his website, he writes that the Iran experience remained a constant in his life but that while media interest came and went, he never forgot the selfless help provided by Canadian Embassy personnel during the crucial months following the takeover.  He writes that remained in touch with several of the Canadians and served as the US-side coordinator for the periodic reunions hosted by the Canadian side.  He and his wife, Cora, apparently also continued their friendship with Tony Mendez who masterminded their rescue. Both have been involved on the margins with the film which he calls “a dramatized version of Tony’s escape plan.”

Click here for Mark’s photos in FB from his Escape From Iran Album and the Argo Six Hollywood experience.

If you want to have a rounded view of what happened behind the Argo rescue and the hostage crisis, you may also want to read a couple more books:

Our Man in Tehran: The True Story behind the Secret Mission to save Six Americans during the Iran Hostage Crisis and the Foreign Ambassador Who Worked with the CIA to Bring Them Home by Robert A. Wright

Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam by Mark Bowden

 

 

 

 

 

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The Foreign Service is like your husband’s crazy college girlfriend … Va Va Voom — oh, but …

One of our favorite Foreign Service writers, Kelly of Well, That Was Different has her blog fingers right on the button on this.   When the Foreign Affairs Fudge Factory (by John Franklin Campbell) or The Theory of Public Bureaucracy (Politics, Personality, and Organization in the State Department)  (by Donald Warwick) ever gets updated for the 21st century, there definitely needs to be a section for the crazy old girlfriend’s schizophrenic outbursts and not too endearing qualities. Kelly writes:

The Foreign Service is like your husband’s (‘scuse the masculine, but that’s how it is for us) crazy college girlfriend. She is sexy as hell, which is how she seduced your husband in his young and foolish student days. But, she is also bipolar and totally narcissistic.

She can be really nice when she wants to be, or more accurately, when it’s in her interest to do so. Every couple of years, she comes knocking at the door, all charming and cute, with slick promises of promotion, money, and other goodies, and chances are, your husband will be suckered once again.

She even has long periods of sanity sometimes—at least I think I remember one of those. (It lasted about 8 years.)

The manic phases are interesting. Sometimes, she even gets a wild hair and builds a huge mansion in, like, the worst neighborhood on the planet, then expects everyone to be totally excited to work and live there.

But look out when she is on a downswing. You are just cannon fodder then, and she’ll be seriously pissed if you don’t toe the line. She gets especially cranky when she’s running out of money, or someone is giving her a hard time. She doesn’t take criticism very well. In fact, her general approach is to deny that there is a problem. Being basically insane, she may actually believe this to be true.

 

Tee-he! Can’t help but appreciate the sustained simile.  Continue reading In Which I Am Shocked To Discover That I No Longer Absolutely Loathe Foreign Service Bidding.

 

 

 

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Summer Reading: The Dictator’s Handbook, A Practical Manual for the Aspiring Tyrant

In a December 2011 article in NPR, Alan Greenblatt writes that 2011 has been a rough year for dictators pointing out that several of the world’s longest-serving autocrats have either died or been ousted from power: North Korea’s Kim Jong Il who died from heart failure and the leaders ousted in the Arab Spring: Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Moammar Gadhafi of Libya, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen.

The piece also quotes Nicolas van de Walle, a government professor at Cornell University saying, “It’s not only that there are fewer dictators, but there are virtually no dictators left who don’t talk the language of democracy and turnover of executive power.”

He is absolutely right, of course. That’s right out of Chapter 10 of the The Dictator’s Handbook, A Practical Manual for the Aspiring Tyrant by Randall Wood and Carmine DeLuca. The chapter includes a helpful section on Working with the Foreign Diplomatic Community, specifically on how to deploy the charm offensive.

For example, the Handbook suggests employing “the right talk”:

“Wax eloquent about democracy, transparency, decentralization, development, control of corruption, and accountability. This has worked astonishingly well for leaders who went on to practice none of those philosophies: Laurent Kabila (Congo), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia), and Isaias Afawerki (Eritrea). Bill Clinton lauded these men as the “new generation of leaders” in the “African Renaissance” sweeping the nation.[26] They generally turned out to be nothing of the sort, and several of them figure prominently in this book.”

Secretary Clinton meets with President Yoweri Museveni who has been President of Uganda since 26 January 1986. He was re-elected on 20 February 2011 making him
the fifth longest serving African leader.
(Photo from August 2012 Visit via State Department)

Another suggestion is to cultivate “the right look”:

“It was true about getting put into power and remains true while you are in power; it’s true furthermore when it comes to getting funding: Westerners have a propensity for funding and supporting those leaders they feel are most like themselves. And they adore English-speaking technocrats with degrees from Western universities. If you have carefully groomed yourself on the way to power with the right accent (a British accent is well worth the trouble learning), the right look, and the right “persona,” you may be richly rewarded.”

Here is one who is not from Africa and has only been in power since 2004, but an English-speaking somebody the western world absolutely adores despite allegations of election fraud:

President George W. Bush and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai shake hands after cutting the ceremonial ribbon, Wednesday, March 1, 2006, to dedicate the new U.S. Embassy Building in Kabul, Afghanistan.
White House Photo by Eric Draper

But it’s not enough to have the “right talk” and the “right look” alone.  The aspiring dictator must also have the “right political philosophy” according to the Handbook:

It’s important to know your audience when you speak, as the right words can make the cash register go ‘cha-ching!’ During World War II, when the Allies were looking for support in Africa, several African leaders managed to persuade the West they were staunchly anti-Communist even as they erected neo-communist regimes at home. Likewise, when George W. Bush announced the American ‘war on terror,’ many African leaders otherwise well-skilled in the arts of terrorism where their own people were concerned – from Charles Taylor (Liberia) to Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) and Omar al Bashir (Sudan) – came forward with wars against terror of their own. And they were well-funded by the Americans for it. Charles Taylor, to his (ahem) credit, even established an “anti-terrorist” unit that went on to terrorize the Liberians, and the warlords of Mogadishu formed a “Coalition Against Terrorism” in 2006, which the CIA amazingly agreed to fund.[26]

President Karimov greets General Petraeus at Oksaroy during the general’s visit to Tashkent on 08/18/2009. President Karimov is the first and only President of Uzbekistan, serving since 1990.
(US Embassy photo)

And last but not the least, the Handbook recommends “the right spouse”:

“One point in Assad’s favor was his charismatic and lovely wife Asma, raised in London and of course perfectly fluent in English. She became the “face” of what Westerners hoped was a more pro-West Syria. If you yourself are not the Western educated, fluent English speaker Western governments adore so much, it is a smart idea to marry one. She may have been the perfect spouse for other reasons as well, as she was mostly content to focus on shopping for luxury goods while her husband oversaw the extended slaughter of thousands of Syrians in 2011–2012.[102]“

The most apt part is probably what the authors call “cooperation diplomacy” with the following suggestion to all aspiring dictators:

“Couch all your relations with countries otherwise inclined to press you for reforms, in the language of “cooperation” and “dialogue.” Both are politically neutral, infinite, and respectful. Neither commits you to do anything you don’t want to do, and neither insists on reform. Dialogue can go forever, lead to nothing, and keep the money flowing.”

Randall Wood is an engineer and co-author of two books, Moon Nicaragua (a best-selling travel guidebook to Nicaragua) and Living Abroad in Nicaragua. He works for an aid agency and currently lives with his family in Senegal. He previously worked for  USAID, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and was a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Carmine DeLuca, a writer and history enthusiast, has long cultivated an interest in the authoritarians of every stripe. In part this fascination stems from his personal life – a Bonapartist father, an aunt named after the Battle of Adowa, and a grandfather and great uncle in Mussolini’s army.

I asked Randy what made him write this book.  He told me that living overseas and realizing that dictators are copying each other’s move, it started for him with a simple question — “if those douchebags are all working off the same instruction manual, what must it look like?”

And The Dictator’s Handbook, A Practical Manual for the Aspiring Tyrant was born (it took another three years of work, after his gov work “and when the kids were in bed (i.e. 8PM to 1AM on two cups of coffee)” before the book was published.  The handbook is extensive at 320 pages long, including 500 bibliographic references, 100 footnotes, and a full index. It is available both a paperback and an ebook.

You can check out and buy the book at: http://dictatorshandbook.net

Randy’s website is: www.therandymon.com.

The book also has an accompanying blog here: http://lounge.dictatorshandbook.net/

Indeed, the Dictator’s Handbook gives you a road map to tyranny, step by step. Chapters include Getting to Power, The Culture of Fear, Building Your Financial Empire, Managing Your Legacy and more.   The chapter on Strategies of Suppression: Dealing with Enemies is surprisingly quite familiar particularly if you have lived in third world countries plundered infamously so by dictators.

Domani Spero

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Twelve Take Aways from Chandrasekaran’s Little America (Deadwood) Excerpt

Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a senior correspondent and associate editor at the Washington Post and author of the new book making waves, Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan. On June 26, an exclusive excerpt from his book titled Deadwood was published by Foreign Policy. The lead question, Why did America send its C team to Afghanistan? 

Our twelve take aways below:

  1. The US Embassy in Kabul has an invisible giant reset button that gets pushed once a year, and mission life starts anew each summer.
  2. Staff members could have done a lot more stuff (maybe answer more now emails) in Washington, DC but then they would not count as a number in the “civilian surge.”
  3. The Baghdafication of Kabul appears complete with Kabul sounding as familiar as Chandrasekaran’s Emerald City. Rajiv needs his kevlar, incoming fire starts right about now.
  4. An agency who clings fervently to mandatory age retirement for the proper functioning of the Foreign Service sent a 79-year-old man to the reconstruction team in Kandahar.
  5. When a senior State Department official told the writer, “We’re at Team C” he’s either preparing for retirement or won’t mind hate mail swamping his State Department inbox.
  6. The top State Department official in Kandahar was thrown out of the Kandahar Governor’s office and survived to order a non-disclosure agreement to protect his office’s combination lock codes from his military colleagues.
  7. Summer Coish prominently mentioned in the article may be bound for high places, just not to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) in Foggy Bottom. 
  8. Forty percent of U.S. government civilians who were assigned to Helmand from July 2009 to June 2010 did not last six months.
  9. By late 2010, USAID was reportedly hiring 20 new people a month to go to Afghanistan, but it was losing seventeen.  The three who remained were not desperate.
  10. A senior State Department official told the writer:  “[...] there’s enough deadwood here that it’s becoming a fire hazard.” No one has ordered a firetruck, but the State Department might order that the official’s desk be foam sprayed.
  11. Urinating on the US Embassy chancery wall or near the flagpole can get you sent home, unless you are the deputy Turkish ambassador, or someone with a small bladder who threatens to complain under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  12. Alcohol purchases at the embassy convenience store was limited to two bottles of wine or one bottle of spirits per person per day. One bottle of spirits (distilled beverage) can have as high as 40% alcohol by volume (ABV), so that’s a hell of a restriction.

Read the full article here in Foreign Policy.

Domani Spero

 

 

 

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Filed under Af/Pak, Afghanistan, Book Notes, Contractors, Foreign Assistance, Foreign Policy, Media, Special Envoys and Reps, State Department, US Embassy Kabul, USAID, War

Remember When – Colin Powell at the UN, Now with a New Book on Leadership

The 65th Secretary of State has a new book.  The book, “It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership,” released today is reportedly a series of leadership parables from Secretary Powell, who now spends a lot of time lecturing and giving paid speeches.

Not too long ago, we admired Secretary Powell; we were even  fond of him, if you can call it that.  He was an inspiring leader who regularly swore in not only ambassadors but also the new classes of Foreign Service Officers.  He was known for holding morning meetings with undersecretaries and assistant secretaries but also for chatting with secretaries and maintenance workers. He was successful in gaining substantial increase in the State Department’s funding from Congress. He boosted new embassy constructions and upgraded building security. He ditched the Wang and made  Internet accessibility across the department a reality; making State, according to this, “a fully wired bureaucracy for the first time in its history.” Two other notable changes during his tenure was the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI) launched in 2001 which ramped up staffing levels under a three-year plan and his institution of mandatory leadership and management training within the organization.  So yes, folks at State and those in the foreign affairs community have exceptionally good reasons to be fond of him.  That said, we cannot ignore the large role he played in getting us into Iraq.

Here he is in February 5, 2003 at the United Nations Security Council.

If your memory is foggy, the text of his speech is here.

We have not seen the book; we’ll read it when our local library get its copy.  We have a standing policy in our house not to spend money on any book written by anyone who helped took us to war in Iraq, and that includes, retired four-star general, and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Bloomberg writes that Colin Powell Says Iraq ‘Blot’ Teaches Need for Skepticism:

“Yes, a blot, a failure will always be attached to me and my UN presentation,” the former U.S. secretary of state writes in a new book of leadership parables that draws frequently on his Iraq war experience. “I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me.”

In the lead up to the book’s publication, Dan Froomkin also writes, Colin Powell’s New Book: War With Iraq Never Debated:

All in all, Powell acknowledges that the speech was “one of my most momentous failures, the one with the widest-ranging impact.” But he also concludes that “every senior U.S. official would have made the exact same case,”

He adds: “I get mad when bloggers accuse me of lying — of knowing the information was false. I didn’t.”

The lesson of all this, Powell writes, is to follow these guidelines: “Always try to get over failure quickly. Learn from it. Study how you contributed to it. If you are responsible for it, own up to it.”

Secretary Powell’s former chief of staff, Col. Larry Wilkerson was interviewed by HuffPost about these rules.  And he said, quote: “Powell’s rules are for everyone else.”

Somehow, we don’t think that blurb will make it to the book’s jacket.

The “blot” on Secretary Powell’s record led to a $3 trillion war,  and killed more than 100,000 Iraqis. It is estimated that four to five million or about 15% of the Iraqi population was displaced during the war years.  Some 2 million Iraqis emigrated primarily to Syria and Jordan; some went to Egypt, Lebanon, the Arab countries and Europe. The Middle East Institute says that “the United States has taken in fewer than 10,000 under a strict visa policy that has come under increasing criticism.”

The Iraq War left 4,487 U.S. service members dead and officially, 32,226 U.S. service members wounded. The US Government has yet to calculate the physiological damage the Iraq war has brought to our young men and women in the armed services and the cost of hundreds of civilians and private contractors killed, maimed and broken in Iraq.

We will eventually read the book and see how much of the Iraq War he owns up to in this new book, Frankly, we’ve gotten tired of hearing that mistakes were made but never learned who were responsible for such mistakes.  Or if this is, as these books tend to be — one more history bending, finger-pointing exercise that’ll break our hearts.

Domani Spero

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Filed under Book Notes, Diplomatic History, Iraq, Secretary of State, War

Insider Quote: The Business of US Mission India?

Is business.

Here is the notable quote:

“This helps me to emphasize a point I intend to make again and again: the business of the U.S. Mission in India is business.”

Remarks by Ambassador Nancy J. Powell at the American Chamber of Commerce’s 20th Annual General Meeting (As Prepared for Delivery)
New Delhi | April 27, 2012

A paraphrase of the most famous “misquotation” (according to the CC Memorial Foundation) of Calvin Coolidge’s “The Business of America is Business?”

Which makes me think of two things – one, it’ll be a lot easier this year to solicit contributions from American companies, or local outlets of U.S. companies in India for the US Embassy’s Fourth of July big bang do.

And two, it’s not so surprising that economic statecraft is coming back big time, after all, did it ever go away? Steve Coll has a new book, and put out an excerpt in Salon.com about U.S. foreign policy, brought to you by ExxonMobil:

“As part of the research for “Private Empire,” I filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the U.S. State Department seeking embassy cables and other documents about how the Bush administration managed ExxonMobil’s position in the Aceh conflict. The cables revealed a startling series of episodes in which the administration worked with ExxonMobil in Indonesia to extract the corporation from the conflict and reduce the violence that was destabilizing Indonesia’s fledgling democratic order. In one episode previously unreported, the Bush administration threatened to designate G.A.M. as a terrorist organization if it did not stop attacking ExxonMobil’s property and personnel. The excerpt below, from a chapter titled “Do You Really Want Us as An Enemy?” describes what happened.” –Steve Coll

Active links added above.  It is not a pretty read, really, especially if you joined the service to change the world; this world, I mean.

Oh, and I just thought of a third thing – it’s probably time to update the State Department’s Mission Statement:

“Shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.”
–From the FY 2011 Agency Financial Report, released November 2011

And then I don’t have any more thought, thank goodness!

Domani Spero

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Filed under Ambassadors, Book Notes, Countries 'n Regions, Foreign Policy, Quotes, State Department

State Dept Throws Sink + All Fixtures But One at FSO-Non Grata, Peter Van Buren

Some State Department folks are now one step closer to unwrapping themselves around the axle over Peter Van Buren.  Last week, WaPo reported that the State Department is moving to fire him based on eight charges, ranging from linking on his blog to documents on the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks to using “bad judgement’ for criticizing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former GOP presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann (see he labeled her, R-Pluto). Excerpt below:

With his book, based on a year he spent in the Iraqi desert in 2009-2010, and an unauthorized blog (wemeantwell.com) he started in 2011 that frequently skewers American foreign policy, Van Buren has tested the First Amendment almost daily.

He and his attorneys maintain that his right to free speech has been trampled, and they say he is a victim of retaliation for whistleblowing— not only because his account of the reconstruction effort alleges unqualified staff, corruption and billions of dollars in wasted programs.

A State Department spokesman said the diplomat’s claims of retaliation are “without merit.”“There are protections within the government for freedom of expression and for whistleblowers,” spokesman Mark C. Toner said. “The State Department has followed process and acted in accordance with the law.”

Van Buren’s termination letter came within days of a decision by the Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency that investigates government wrongdoing and complaints of retaliation by those who report it, to look into his case.
[...[
He was charged with eight violations of State Department policy. They include linking in his blog to documents on WikiLeaks; failing to clear each blog posting with his bosses; displaying a “lack of candor” during interviews with diplomatic security officers; leaking allegedly sensitive and classified information in his book; and using “bad judgement’ by criticizing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann on his blog.

Read in full here.

Actually, we have confirmation that the eight violations include the charge of improper handling of classified information, citing links from his blog to WikiLeaks (one confidential cable from 2009, and one unclas/sensitive/noforn cable also from 2009) but does not/not include the allegation of leaking "classified" content from his book. Which is just terribly odd.

Readers of this blog might remember that last fall, Dana Shell Smith, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (PDAS) of the Bureau of Public Affairs wrote to Mr. Van Buren's publisher, Macmillan, requesting some 30 word redactions of “classified” information contained in the book purportedly "to avoid possible harm to U.S. national security." (read "Classified" Information Contained in We Meant Well – It’s a Slam Dunk, Baby!)

So -- what happened? Testing time folks, multiple choice below:

  1. The folks over at HR forgot to include the allegation from PDAS Smith; even smart people sometimes forget, you know.
  2. Somebody finally discovered that "Mogadishu" is not/not a "classified" item and the government lawyers did not want to be laughed at all the way to court.
  3. The letter to the publisher was a scaredy tactic that did not work, and on 2nd 3rd nth thought should not have been sent.
  4. All of the above.

Anyway, back to Peter Van Buren -- he is reportedly facing eight charges, including profiting from the sale of his book, We Meant Well.  He will be given a chance to respond, of course, because this is America, but the ultimate intent is to separate him from the Foreign Service for cause.

We dug up 3 FAM 4360 on separation for cause which says that "if the agency recommends separation for cause, the employee must be placed in a leave-without-pay status or remain in an absence-without-leave (AWOL) status pending final resolution." He has 15 days from the date of notification to respond to these charges. Response time if employee is assigned overseas is bumped up to 30 days.

A whole bunch of folks at State must be relieved; they can do their real jobs now instead of monitoring Mr. Van Buren's blog posts, interviews, twitterspeak, etc. The boss must also be relieved on not having to write about Mr. Van Buren's telecommuting performance for the later's EER come April.


The Hunt for Leakers of Classified Materials, a Bad Reality Show

Perhaps it is comforting to some to hear that the State Department will finally get to penalize Mr. Van Buren for linking to two non-secret cables on WikiLeaks.  But we gotta ask -- whatever happened to the 2010 Diplomatic Security investigation on the leak of two secret 2009 Eikenberry cables to the NYT in 2010?

Or for that matter, is anyone investigating the leak of Ambassador Crocker's top-secret cable to Washington in January this year, warning that the persistence of enemy havens in Pakistan was placing the success of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan in jeopardy.

Somebody really should check out the status of these investigations and see if anyone has been prosecuted yet. The public may get the wrong impression that linking to non-secret cables in a blog is more dangerous than the actual leaks of secret and top secret materials to the newspaper of record.


What folks are saying

POGO writes, "Given the fact that waste, fraud and abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq has been well-documented by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, it seems misguided that the State Department is emphasizing throwing its manpower into investigating a whistleblower—rather than his actual claims."

The democraticunderground.com headline says State Dept. Seeks Firing of Peter Van Buren, Whistleblower who Exposed Wasteful Iraq Projects. Post includes video interview with Democracy Now.

Mother Jones says: "Talking back certainly isn't a crime. One thing the Wikileaks cables show is that diplomats don't always have to be diplomatic: They can be critical of world leaders, policies, and events, but evidently only if they have achieved sufficient rank and subtlety—and only if they do it behind State-approved firewalls."

The Atlantic Wire is not too sympathetic, writing:

"It's worth pointing out that Van Buren agreed to a certain code of conduct when he took his job at the government; what the government is saying now is that he broke that code. In addition to linking to the WikiLeaks document, they say that Van Buren is guilty, to borrow Reins' phrasing, of "failing to clear each blog posting with his bosses; displaying a 'lack of candor' during interviews with diplomatic security officers; leaking allegedly sensitive and classified information in his book; and using 'bad judgment’ by criticizing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann on his blog." Indeed, some of these offenses sound serious. And Van Buren's only been more outspoken about his disdain for the department since trouble started brewing last year. But is this a simple case of an employee breaking the rules at work or, as Van Buren would have us believe, a violation of an American citizen's First Amendment rights?"

Out there on the Fed page of WaPo are multiple comments including the following:

wmbrent | 3/16/2012 5:00 AM PDT

"I wouldn't bet that Van Buren is conservative. After all, the billions we threw away in Iraq were mostly programmed by the Neocons. There are plenty of very liberal Foreign Service officers like me who were disgusted by the diversion of resources from worthy development efforts elsewhere to hoist the development "flag" and civilian "step-up-to-the-plated-ness" in Iraq and Afghanistan."

cbl55 | 3/14/2012 2:00 PM PDT

"[...] But part of the deal – as any of us know who have worked at State or the foreign affairs agencies – is that the deal is incredibly screwed up. As Daniel Ellsberg once wrote in the Pentagon Papers decades ago, the ‘establishment’s line was that ‘if you only knew what we knew, you wouldn’t be demonstrating in the streets.’ To which Ellsberg replied, ‘if we really knew what they knew, we wouldn’t have waited so long’ to save hundreds of thousands of lives in unnecessary, stupid wars. So let’s forgive Van Buren his juvenile descriptions of the Secretary’s naughty bits and focus on the content of his message. If I were GAO, I’d hire him on the spot.”

From overseas, the Voice of Russia, the Russian government’s international radio broadcasting service gleefully calls the case a “human rights thriller” and notes that “even the Soviet bureaucrats did not have to “clear” their letters with their superiors.” We have no way of verifying that of course, but clearly, you can see that VoR has developed some sense of humor!

And we have yet to hear anything from Xinhua, but the Chinese probably think Mr. Van Buren had it easy here. In China, dissenters and troublemakers are sent on forced psychiatric hospitalization with accompanying sedation.


So how should you get off the bus?

The comment that we often hear is that, he should have done the honorable thing and resigned from his job before writing this book or before skewering his employer in his blog.

And we understand that sentiment; for the bureaucracy to “function,” it must have order. For order to exist, employees must follow the line and not be going off every which way. If employees disagree with a policy, there is what they call the “Dissent Channel,” to register one’s disagreement with official policy.  As an aside, AFSA even gives out awards for what it calls “constructive dissent.”  We have it in good authority, by the way, that Mr. Van Buren has been nominated by more than one person for AFSA’s William R. Rivkin Award for midlevel officials. Let’s see if AFSA can find an excuse not to give out the award this year.

In any case, it is worth noting that the State Department is not obligated to share the dissent received with the American public, nor is it obligated to report what action it takes in response to such a dissent. If that fails, resignation from one’s job has been the accepted course of action, a norm drilled into the heads of our State Department folks.

John Brady Kiesling was the first of three U.S. foreign service officers to resign, on February 25, 2003, to protest the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 2006, he authored the book, “Diplomacy Lessons: Realism for an Unloved Superpower” (Potomac Books 2006).

Kevin Maher, the former Director of the Japan Desk at the Department of State was removed from his post a day before the historic 9.0-magnitude earthquake after  stirring outrage in Japan for reportedly belittling Okinawans (he stayed on for another month to coordinate the US disaster response). He retired instead of accepting a post in Australia, then wrote the book, “The Japan That Can’t Decide,” on how Japan’s indecisiveness hindered the initial response to the March 2011 natural and nuclear disasters and impacted Tokyo’s security relationship with Washington. AFP reported that the book, written in Japanese sold more than 100,000 copies and for weeks topped the country’s best-seller list for non-fiction paperbacks. In the AFP piece, he criticized the two officials he said were behind his dismissal — then deputy secretary of state Jim Steinberg and Ambassador to Japan John Roos.

“They just wanted to get this out of the press and decided that the best thing was not to address whether these press reports were actually true or not but just to remove me from my position,” Maher said.

While we understand what appears to be a prevailing collective desire that the employee who disagrees with policy leave in polite terms, we are wondering if the time has come to rethink that.  Getting off the bus quietly is encouraged in that culture, and presumably from the perspective of the organization that’s the best course of action. It avoids controversy and the parties can pretend the separation is like a marriage that no longer works, etc — but is this necessarily good for the paying public?  Should the employees ought to just be thankful they have a job and keep quiet? And for those who can’t keep quiet for whatever reason, must they give up their livelihood for pointing out the stinky elephant in the room?

Tomdispatch calls it, “as an act of personal “reconstruction,” as a method of occupying yourself in a new way, even as it may also be deconstructing your career.  Such acts are favors to the rest of us in what we still claim is a “democracy,” even if the money of the truly wealthy rules the day and your state, the national security one, has moved beyond all accountability into a post-legal era.”

And that’s some food for thought…

In the long history of the State Department, Peter Van Buren is probably the only one who has written a book on matters of official concern, a critical one at that, who has refused to leave quietly.  The book came out shortly before we pulled out our military forces from Iraq. But US Embassy Iraq is still 16,000 people strong.  And the baghdafication of Afghanistan is still a work in progress.

Had Mr. Van Buren, a midlevel FS-01 quit after his return from Baghdad Iraq, then wrote his book, we probably would be talking about his book for like, 15 minutes, then forget about it.   But that’s not how it happens.  He got his 15 minutes of fame plus more.  Along the way, we learned a bit more not only about how we spent $44.6 billion in taxpayer funds on rebuilding Iraq but also on the the shallowness of our convictions– from our tolerance to dissenting views, to our much touted push for Internet Freedom and 21st Century Statecraft, as long as they’re not our guys, that is.

Instead of taking this case seriously as a good excuse to look inward and review the policy of reconstruction in war zones, and absent a change of direction, develop more effective metrics and accountability for these projects, the State Department took its fight to the messenger.  And wasted time and resources there. Meanwhile, our Afghanistan nation building project is going down in flames.  The civilian surge is now without fizz, and President Karzai had just called all Americans in Afghanistan, “demons.” Is it possible that we are once more repeating our mistakes in Iraq in our nation-building efforts in Afghanistan but our leaders are too wimpy to acknowledge it?  We seem to be saying, it’s possible, but we can’t say for sure, because we’re afraid to look.


The C. Street Billboard Now with a New Warning

The State Department spends much money and effort to recruit and train the “best and the brightest” to represent America overseas, then proceeds to hammer and shape them into, I’m sorry to say, drones, who follow directions, not create waves and most importantly, whose stingers are without barbs.

A recently retired FSO who blogs at Diplomad 2.0 writes:

“The State Department bureaucracy is very much a mental bee hive: independent thought is not encouraged. You must conform to the hive. The hive does not respond to the President or to the national interest; the hive takes care of itself.”

How can we cultivate leaders, risk takers, innovators and independent thinkers for the 21st century in an environment that penalizes such traits? Um, pardon me?  The answer is in the QDDR? Good luck looking it up.

No matter how Peter Van Buren’s case turns out, the signal had been sent loud and clear. A Director General of the Foreign Service once testified in the case of a  DS agent dismissed for “notoriously disgraceful conduct” and  said, “I think it’s important to send a message to the entire State Department that. . . you cannot do this.”

That’s the same message broadcasted now in Foggy Bottom’s billboard.

For FSOs serving in our other war in Afghanistan who may be thinking about writing a book, this is the large neon sign saying, “forgettaboutit” or “look out, this could happen to you!” And here I was hoping for We Meant Well in Afghanistan, Too.

I’m sure the State Department can argue that “enforcing” the rules, however selectively, is done to promote the proper functioning of the Service. But should the proper functioning of the Service trumps everything else?  Whether you agree with Mr. Van Buren’s message or not, his method of delivery or not, his case has created a precedent. Throwing the sink and all fixtures at him would help ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.  I suspect that would be good for the State Department. Order restored.  Life goes on.

But are we, the American public better served?

Domani Spero

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under AFSA, Book Notes, Dissent, FS Blogs, FSOs, Leaks|Controversies, Org Culture, Peter Van Buren, Regulations, State Department