When President Obama recently nominated Gayle Smith to be the next administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, many members of the country’s small Africa-related foreign policy community howled.
Smith’s critics, myself included, have objected to the fact that over the years, this former journalist has been a conspicuous backer of authoritarian regimes in places like Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Rwanda. When I first made this point publicly, a former White House staffer offered a disconcertingly ambivalent response: “I’m not sure if there were more compelling candidates out there,” he said.
He may well be right – and the reason for the lack of qualified personnel is a direct consequence of Washington’s long failure to devise a coherent policy toward Africa.
[…] Gayle Smith should certainly not stand alone to answer for this horrible record, for which the American foreign policy establishment has never given anything like a proper reckoning. One of the reasons for that, though, is the persistence of people like Smith, and her patron, Susan Rice, in positions of high authority. Another, equally pernicious, is the general disinterest that Africa receives from the foreign policy thinkers.
As a region of the world, Africa is virtually alone in being consigned to people with thin expertise and little policy background or clout to shape and guide American diplomacy. Top Africa jobs have often become a kind of sop for African Americans within the bureaucracy. Celebrities like Bono, George Clooney, and Ben Affleck are looked to help set priorities and galvanize public interest. That this should be necessary must be seen as a failure of the policy establishment itself to think more creatively and with more ambition about such a large part of the world.
Ms. Smith’s nomination requires Senate confirmation. It is currently pending at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Howard W. French journalist, author, and photographer, as well as an associate professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was previously a Senior Writer for The New York Times, where he spent most of a nearly 23 year career as a foreign correspondent, working in and traveling to over 100 countries on five continents. From 1979 to 1986, he lived in West Africa, where he worked as a translator, taught English literature at the University of Ivory Coast, and lived as a freelance reporter for The Washington Post and other publications. From 1994 to 1998, he covered West and Central Africa for the NYT, reporting on wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Central Africa, with particular attention to the fall of the longtime dictator of Zaire Mobutu Sese Seko.
It looks like Nacho Libre‘s “Friar Storm” was reassigned from Mexico to Pakistan and we’re going to get Foreign Service officer Alex Talbot in a business suit. The Brink, is coming to HBO on June 21 with Jack Black playing FSO Alex Talbot and Tim Robbins, apparently playing the philandering or kinky (take your pick) Secretary of State Walter Larson. Aasif Mandvi, of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” plays Rafiq Massoud, a Pakistani employee of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. TV.com says that the dark comedy focuses on a geopolitical crisis (some rogue general took over somebody’s nukes) “through the eyes of three disparate, desperate men” who must “pull through the chaos around them to save the planet from World War III.” Sounds so totally not Madam Secretary.
Jack Black sure makes the apocalypse look fun in this new trailer for HBO’s “The Brink” http://t.co/gbR3pZX89d
We understand that if it catches on, we could be watching The Brink tackle different crises in different parts of the world for its next seasons. We would like to make a public appeal now that Alex Talbott put in Venezuela top of his bidlist so the next season will be set in the Western Hemisphere.
The Brink’s 10-episode season premieres June 21 at 10:30PM on HBO. Get your funny bones ready, or if you don’t have one, stay away from teevee this summer.
We don’t know who administered the oath of office, it looks like that official was cut off from the photo below except for his arm. According to the official schedule, the swearing-in ceremony at the Department of State was attended by Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Charles Rivkin but it was otherwise closed to the press.
We look forward to welcoming Ambassador Bell and her family to Hungary in January! Photo: swearing-in ceremony http://t.co/FCk9PHqqOk
“As my family, friends and many colleagues know, I am gay. I have been open about that fact for several decades and view sexual orientation as both a private matter and merely one factor contributing to each individual’s uniqueness. I look forward to continuing to represent my country and its values, including tolerance and diversity, throughout my assignment in Turkey,” Hunter told the Hürriyet Daily News on Dec. 12 after reports in the Turkish media. via
Tea Leoni stars as the Secretary of State, one of the most powerful people in the nation. After years away from the CIA, she is pulled back into the political arena where she gets things done, even if it means not always playing by the rules. She’s tough, fair and smart driving international diplomacy and wrangling office politics. But when she goes home for dinner with her husband and teenage children, politics takes on a whole new meaning.
@MadamSecretary is already on Twitter. Let’s see what she’ll do with the hashtags.
The actress told E! News, “There was something—I adored her. I adored her by page two, there’s no sarcasm to her. Sarcasm is too slow….”I want to wake up and be her every day.”
Next season, Madam Secretary will be in excellent company on Sundays. 60 Minutes kicks off the night at 7 pm, Madam Secretary at 8 pm and the number #1 in viewers on Sunday, The Good Wife at 9 pm.
We’re cautiously optimistic as we anticipate the first season. The last State Department related drama series dates back to 2002, with the short-lived The American Embassy at Fox. The series aired in March-April 2002, and was canceled before the sixth episode where JO Emma Brody was sent from London to Paris to authenticate the ownership of a painting. See the problem in that one? The series was executive produced by Danny DeVito.
Below are some names/credits from the Madam Secretary team that may make your Sunday this fall with the fictional Seventh Floor interesting. Or not. We shall see!
Producer/Writer: Barbara Hall (Homeland, Joan of Arcadia) Executive Producer: Morgan Freeman (Producer: Invictus, 10 Items or Less) Executive Producer: Lori McCreary (Invictus, Curiosity) Executive Producer: Tracy Mercer (Through the Wormhole, Curiosity) Executive Producer/Director: David Semel (Intelligence, Person of Interest)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry swears in Caroline Kennedy as U.S. Ambassador to Japan at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on November 12, 2013. Ambassador Kennedy is accompanied by her husband, Edwin Schlossberg, and son, John “Jack” Schlossberg. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
“U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. hosted “Forward Fashion,” U.S. Embassy’s first eco-fashion show on September 17, 2013 at his residence. The event was a celebration of U.S.-Filipino collaboration in eco-fashion and design, corporate social responsibility, and sustainable development under the creative direction of Aristeo Tengco and showcasing eco-fashion designs of Dita Sandico-Ong and Paul Cabral. Some of the celebrities who donned the designs for the runway were Anne Curtis, Dennis Trillo, Matteo Guidicelli and Venus Raj.”
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 calledthe movie “a fictionalized version of real events.”
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.
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.
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:
The Gangnam Style video by South Korean rapper Psy has been viewed over 480,000,000 million times on YouTube as of October 17, 2012. So sorry did not get to see Ambassador Kim as the first Gangnam Style Ambassador but at least he got a “mob” of interns willing to do the dance. Check below at the 00:20 – 1:00 mark, where I would have chopped this video off:
And then what do you know? Psy stopped by at the US Embassy in Seoul “on a visa matter.” Well, not on the same day. Ambassador Kim blogsthat “Psy keeps getting asked to perform in the U.S. The wonderful side effect is that we occasionally get to see him at the U.S. Embassy.”
US Ambassador to Seoul Sung Kim with Psy (Photo via US Embassy/FB)
That’s Psy without his blue jacket and eyeglasses and no crazy horse riding dance this time. Psy reportedly got an “O” visa for “aliens of extraordinary ability.” And like all visa applicants, he was interviewed, fingerprinted and had a chit-chat with the ambassador. :smile:
Will Smith & Tommy Lee Jones return as Agents J and K in the third installment of the sci-fi action comedy Men in Black 3. The movie which also stars Josh Brolin will hit theaters on May 25. One of the MiB, Agent J wearing white stopped by the at US Embassy in Paris and had the following pic with Ambassador and Mrs. Rivkin and the marines.