Matt Armstrong: No, we do not need to revive the U.S. Information Agency

Posted: 3:55 am EDT


Matt Armstrong (@mountainrunner) is a lecturer on public diplomacy and international media. He is writing a book on how the White House, State Department, Congress, and the media fought, struggled, and ultimately collaborated in 1917-1948 to establish U.S. “public diplomacy.” In 2011, he served as executive director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. He was nominated and confirmed as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) on August 1, 2013.  He blogs sometimes at He recently wrote, No, we do not need to revive the U.S. Information Agency for War on The Rocks.  Below is an excerpt. He says that the views expressed in this piece are his own, so don’t blame anyone else.



More than once in the past decade or more, I guarantee that you have heard — or read — someone declare the United States would be better off today if the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) were still around and how without it, the United States was robbed of the ability to properly engage in information warfare today. Some of these discussions have been in Congress and at least one bill was introduced in recent years to try to recreate a limited USIA. However, laments about USIA are really a coded way of saying that we lack a strategy, an organizing principle, and empowered individuals to execute information warfare today.
In 1999, the “peace dividend” needed more money, and either USAID or USIA was going to help fund it. While USAID’s chief fought for his agency, USIA’s did not. But why was USIA even on the chopping block? Partly because of the incomplete, or tainted, knowledge of its role (primary credit goes to Fulbright), but also partly because USIA’s narrative, its raison d’être, had failed to adapt to the new normal, which would have been a lot like its early years.

Abolishing USIA was messy. Parts went to State, mostly under the purpose-built office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, but not all. And the broadcasting portion was spun off into a separate federal agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors. A 2000 report on the status of the so-called merger captured part of the culture clash. While accounting at USIA served the mission and the field, at State, former USIA employees saw “accounting is an end itself.”
If we truly want to recreate USIA, the public affairs officers and their sections at our Embassies and Consulates would go to the new agency. The libraries and America’s Corners and all the similar programs would be moved, and likely moved out from behind fortress walls where some are invite-only, if they are accessible at all. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs would also leave State. The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs would be abolished, though the Bureau of Public Affairs would remain in the department. The Broadcasting Board of Governors would be merged with this new entity as well. Perhaps most important of all, the Defense Department would defer to this new agency in its public communications, as would USAID and other agencies. Obviously such a reorganization is not going to happen.

We must remember that USIA operated in a simpler time of limited information flows and limited government communications. It virtually owned access to many foreign media markets, markets where the only “competition” was local government propaganda or silence.

Perhaps State could revamp itself. It is worth noting here that the title “public affairs officer” used by State and the United States Information Service were created in 1917 by the foreign section of the Committee for Public Information because State refused to do “public diplomacy” abroad. Nelson Rockefeller’s Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs was established prior to Pearl Harbor as a USIA-like organization focused on Latin America because State refused to respond to FDR’s requests and engage the public. In 1953, State was all too eager to dump the responsibilities of engaging foreign publics directly in the interest of “streamlining.” And in 1999 through today, we see how poorly State integrates, funds, and prioritizes “public diplomacy” into its operations. Even the title of the public diplomacy chief is discordant: “Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.”

The lesson here is that each successful change followed a clearly defined and articulated requirement to fulfill a strategic purpose. Consolidation, or dis-aggregation, is not a strategy and it will not conjure up a strategy. In today’s noisy communications environment, we need coordination that comes not from a supremely empowered individual or central organization, but comes from a clear mission and purpose. USIA is held out as a symbol of our success to organize for information warfare, but it really was part of a larger effort. And ultimately, it came to reflect the segregation of “public diplomacy” from “diplomacy” that remains today. Today is not yesterday, so let’s stop looking at a mid-twentieth century solution for a 21st century problem.

Read in full here via War on The Rocks.

Click here for the end notes.


Richard Holbrooke Film Airs Tonight on HBO — Nov 2, 8pm

Posted: 4:26 pm EDT






Ambassador Chas Freeman on Diplomatic Amateurism and Its Consequences

Posted: 3:02 am EDT


Ambassador Chas Freeman did a speech on Diplomatic Amateurism and Its Consequences at Foggy Bottom’s Ralph Bunche Library earlier this month. He also recently spoke about America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East.  We need more people like Ambassador Freeman telling it like it is; unfortunately that often puts people like him in the outs with people who do not want to hear what needs to be said. More often than not, the top ranks have large rooms for obedient groupies and not much room for anyone else.

Below is an excerpt from his diplomatic amateurism speech:

In other countries, diplomacy is a prestigious career in which one spends a lifetime, culminating in senior positions commensurate with one’s talents as one has demonstrated them over the years.  But, in the United States, these days more than ever, the upper reaches of diplomacy are reserved for wealthy dilettantes and celebrities with no prior experience in the conduct of relations with foreign states and peoples, national security policy, or the limitations of the use of force.  Policy positions in our government dealing with such issues are now largely staffed by individuals selected for their interest-group affiliation, identity, or sizable campaign contributions.  These diplomatic neophytes are appointed for the good of the political party with which they are affiliated and to reward their loyal service during political campaigns, not for their ability to do the jobs they are given.  It is assumed that they can learn on the job, then move on after a while to give others a chance at government employment.  But whatever they learn, they take with them when they leave, adding nothing to the diplomatic capacity of our government.

If you tried to staff and run a business or a sports team like this, you’d get creamed by the competition.  If you organized our armed forces this way, you’d be courting certain defeat.  You can judge for yourself how staffing and running a foreign policy establishment through the spoils system is working out for our country now that our margin for error has been reduced by “the rise of the rest” since the end of the Cold War.  Staffing national security policy positions and ambassadorships with people whose ambition greatly outstrips their knowledge and experience is a bit like putting teenagers in charge of risk management while entrusting lifeguard positions to people with no proven ability to swim.  Hit and run statecraft and diplomacy were never wise, but they didn’t matter much when America was isolated from the world or so powerful that it could succeed without really trying.  Neither is the case anymore

The United States is now the only great power not to have professionalized our diplomatic service.  As the trove of diplomatic reporting spewed out by WikiLeaks shows, our career people remain very bright and able. But their supervisors are less prepared to carry out their duties than their counterparts in the diplomatic services of other great and lesser powers.  One of the 20th century’s greatest diplomats, Abba Eban put it this way

“The word ‘ambassador’ would normally have a professional connotation but for the American tradition of ‘political appointees.’ The bizarre notion that any citizen, especially if he is rich, is fit for the representation of his country abroad has taken some hard blows through empirical evidence, but it has not been discarded, nor should the idea of diluting a rigid professionalism with manpower from less detached sectors of society be dismissed out of hand. Nevertheless, when the strongest nation in the world appoints a tycoon or a wealthy hostess to head an embassy, the discredit and frustration is spread throughout the entire diplomatic corps in the country concerned.”

That was in 1983. Quite a bit before that, about 130 years before that, demonstrating that this is indeed a lengthy American tradition, the New York Herald Tribune observed, “Diplomacy is the sewer through which flows the scum and refuse of the political puddle. A man not fit to stay at home is just the man to send abroad.”

These American observations, or observations about American diplomacy, contrast quite strikingly with the views expressed by the classic writer on diplomatic practice, François de Callières. Writing now almost exactly three centuries ago, in 1716, he said:

“Diplomacy is a profession by itself, which deserves the same preparation and assiduity of attention that men give to other recognized professions. The qualities of the diplomatist and the knowledge necessary to him cannot indeed all be acquired. The diplomatic genius is born, not made. But there are many qualities which may be developed with practice, and the greater part of the necessary knowledge can only be acquired by constant application to the subject.

“In this sense, diplomacy is certainly a profession, itself capable of occupying a man’s whole career, and those who think to embark upon a diplomatic mission as a pleasant diversion from their common task only prepare disappointment for themselves and disaster for the cause that they serve. The veriest fool would not entrust the command of an army to a man whose sole badge of merit was his eloquence in a court of law or his adroit practice of the courtier’s art in the palace. All are agreed that military command must be earned by long service in the army. In the same manner, it must be regarded as folly to entrust the conduct of negotiations to an untrained amateur.”

There is indeed every reason for diplomacy to be a learned profession in the United States, like the law, medicine, or the military.  But it isn’t.  When top positions are reserved for people who have not come up through the ranks, it’s difficult to sustain diplomacy as a career, let alone establish and nurture it as a profession.  Professions are human memory banks.  They are composed of individuals who profess a unique combination of specialized knowledge, experience, and technique.  They distill their expertise into doctrine – constantly refreshed – based on what their experience has taught them about what works and what doesn’t.  Their skills are inculcated through case studies, periodic training, and on-the-job mentoring.  This professional knowledge is constantly improved by the critical introspection inherent in after-action reviews.

In the course of one’s time as a foreign service officer, one acquires languages and a hodgepodge of other skills relevant to the conduct of foreign relations.  If one is inclined to reflect on one’s experience, one begins to understand the principles that undergird effective diplomacy, that is the arts of persuading others to do things our way, and to get steadily better at practicing these arts.  But, in the U.S. foreign service, by contrast with – let’s say – the military, there is no systematic professional development process, no education in grand strategy or history, no training in tactics or operational technique derived from experience, no habit of reviewing successes and failures to improve future performance, no literature devoted to the development of operational doctrine and technique, and no real program or commitment to the mentoring of new entrants to the career.  If one’s lucky, one is called to participate in the making of history.  If one is not, there is yet a great deal to learn from the success or failure of the diplomatic tasks to which one is assigned.

As an aside, I also don’t believe that, as an institution, the Department of State now understands the difference between bureaucrats and professionals.  (I’m not sure it ever did.)   Both have their place in foreign affairs but the two are quite different.  Bureaucrats are trained to assure uniform decisions and predictable outcomes through the consistent interpretation and application of laws, regulations, and administrative procedures.  Professionals, by contrast, are educated to exercise individual, ad hoc judgments, take actions, and seek outcomes autonomously on the basis of principles and canons of behavior derived from experience.  They are expected to be creative, not consistent, in their approach to the matters in their charge.


There is an obvious alternative to this bleak scenario.  That is that the secretary of state – this secretary of state, who is the son of a foreign service office and who has personally demonstrated the power of diplomacy to solve problems bequeathed to him by his predecessors – will recognize the need for the U.S. diplomatic service to match our military in professionalism and seek to make this his legacy.  In the end, this would demand enlisting the support of Congress but much could be done internally.

Read in full here:

AFSA’s media digest failed to include Ambassador Freeman’s event in its daily digest for members. But AFSA members got a nice treat with the inclusion of Taylor Swift: America’s Best Public Diplomat? as reading fare.



Related posts:

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

Lessons from America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East


Q&A on QDDR, Now Includes Officially Cleared State Department Answers

Posted: 12:47 am EDT


On August 13, we posted this: Q&A With QDDR’s Tom Perriello, Wait, What’s That? Whyohwhyohwhy?. Last Friday, Kathryn Schalow, the new director of the QDDR office sent us the long-awaited answers to our questions with a brief note saying, “As the new director of the QDDR office, I am excited to carry on the work of this office and look forward to working with everyone –both inside and outside the government – who wants to help with the implementation of the review’s recommendations.”  

The answers are published below in full:

#1.  QDDR/CSO: The 2010 QDDR transformed the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) into the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) to enhance efforts to prevent conflict, violent extremism, and mass atrocities. The 2015 QDDR says that “Some progress has been made in this area.”  I understand that CSO no longer has any mission element about stabilization and stabilization operations. It also remains heavy with contractors.  One could argue that the current CSO is not what was envisioned in QDDR I, so why should it continue to exists if it only duplicates other functions in the government? Can you elaborate more on what is CSOs new role going forward, and what makes it unique and distinct from the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives?  

The Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations is one of many offices in State/USAID working to prevent, respond to, and stabilize conflict and crisis.  CSO maintains the specific goal of stability in its mission statement.  The Bureau advises the Secretary, Regional Bureaus and Ambassadors on diplomatic action to address conflict and prevent mass atrocities, violent extremism and political violence.  Central elements of CSO’s mission were reinforced as top priorities for the Department and USAID in the 2015 QDDR, specifically the policy priority to prevent and mitigate conflict and violent extremism.  Many elements within the State Department and USAID also work to support the Administration’s policy on this topic, including the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA) at USAID, and the Bureaus of Counterterrorism (CT) and CSO at the State Department, as well as Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications Rashad Hussain.

#2. Innovation and Risks: The QDDR talks about “promoting innovation.” Innovation typically requires risk. Somebody quoted you saying something like the gotcha attitude of press and Congress contributes to risk aversion from State and USAID. But risks and risk aversion also comes from within the system.  I would point out as example the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications previously headed by Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, and its controversial campaign “Think Again Turn Away” which afforded the USG a new way to disrupt the enemy online. Ambassador Fernandez was recently replaced by a political appointee with minimal comparable experience.  It also looks like CSCC will be folded into a new entity. So how do you encourage State/USAID employees “to err on the side of engagement and experimentation, rather than risk avoidance” when there are clear bureaucratic casualties for taking on risks?

The Department encourages informed risk taking and innovation, and the QDDR reports on a number of State and USAID initiatives to facilitate innovation and creativity in solving complex problems.  In particular, the Department’s Innovation Roundtable, the Consular Affairs Bureau’s 1CA Office and Teamwork@State initiatives, Public Diplomacy and eDiplomacy Innovations Funds, and USAID’s Global Development Lab demonstrate a commitment to fostering creativity and experimentation.  The 2015 QDDR (p. 56) highlights outcomes from these initiatives such as efficiency improvements at U.S. Embassy Mexico City’s American Citizen Services Unit or the LAUNCH open innovation platform founded by NASA, NIKE, USAID and State that is accelerating the market adoption of sustainable technologies.

Ambassador Fernandez retired from the State Department last spring, and  Rashad Hussain was chosen as his successor.   He has brought to the position his strong academic and professional background in national security, diplomatic experience engaging Muslim-majority countries as Special Envoy to the OIC, and published writings and engagement over the past decade on a range of CVE issues. Under his leadership, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) remains an innovative organization that works to counter ISIL’s appeal, including by helping other countries and NGOs expand their anti-ISIL messaging capacity within their own societies.  The recently-opened Sawab Center in the United Arab Emirates is one example.   The CSCC also continues to challenge online extremism on a number of social media platforms in multiple languages.  The CSCC remains a stand-alone office reporting to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and has expanded to include a new counter-ISIL cell to the Center’s operation.  

#3. Engagement with American Public: The QDDR says:  “Make citizen engagement part of the job. Every Foreign Service employee in the Department and USAID will be required to spend time engaging directly with the American people.” Are you aware that there are over 500 blogs run by Foreign Service employees and family members that could potentially help with engagement with the American public? Isn’t it time for these blogs to be formally adopted so that they remain authentic voices of experience without their existence subjected to the good graces of their superiors here or there?

One of our goals is to expand our communication with fellow Americans so that they gain a better understanding of the Department’s and USAID’s work and how it affects them.  The Hometown Diplomats program, started in 2002, is the main way we conduct these dialogues with the American people.  More than 1200 Department employees – both Foreign and Civil Service – have met with high school and college students, social and professional organizations, and media in their hometowns.  So far in 2015 we have organized 56 Hometown Diplomat engagements.  The 2015 QDDR has a number of recommendations for boosting the Hometown Diplomats program, as well as creating new outreach initiatives.  For instance, technology and social media expand opportunities for employees at overseas posts and in Washington to engage the American people and help educate young Americans about global issues and how U.S. diplomacy and development improve Americans’ lives.  The Bureau of Public Affairs has already begun a program of virtual Hometown Diplomats speaking from post via videoconference to domestic audiences, and the preliminary feedback is positive.  This year we have held four virtual Hometown Diplomat events from overseas posts that reached almost 300 Americans.

The Department encourages employees, in both their official and personal capacities, to undertake activities, including public communications, devoted to increasing public study and understanding of the nation’s foreign relations.  The private blogs of employees can be an important contributor to this effort and they have a role in informing the public about the work and experiences of our officers and their families.  The private blogs and social media posts of employees that do not discuss official Departmental policy or actions do not need formal Department adoption (or review) to be part of the broader conversation about U.S. foreign policy.

#4. Eligible Family Members:  The State Department has talked about expanding opportunities for eligible family members for a long time now and I regret that I have not seen this promise go very far. There are a couple of things that could help eligible family members — 1) portability of security clearance, so that they need not have to wait for 6-12 months just to get clearances reinstated; and 2) internship to gain experience from functional bureaus or section overseas. Why are we not doing these?  And by the way, we’re now in the 21st century and FS spouses still do not have online access to State Department resources that assist them in researching assignments and bids overseas. Employees are already afforded remote access, why is that not possible for family members? Wouldn’t taking care of people start with affording family members access to information that would help them plan their lives every three years?

Work life balance and the wellbeing of our Foreign Service families is of paramount importance to the Department.   Programs such as the Expanded Professional Associates Program (EPAP) and the Global Employment Initiative are increasing the number of jobs for eligible family members and receive positive reviews from FSOs and family members.  The QDDR commits us to expanding these programs even further and making them easier to access through a single portal; creating a database to assist EFMs and employers to connect and take advantage of EFM Non-Competition Eligibility earned overseas; and identifying ways to address the challenges with security clearance.  This QDDR also commits State and USAID to “continue pursuing mechanisms to facilitate the security clearance process for EFMs so they can begin work at post without lengthy delays.”

The Department has two great sources of information to help employees and their families research post conditions, schools and employment opportunities – both are completely accessible to EFMs.  The Overseas Briefing Center manages an extensive comprehensive public website that provides information about preparing for life at overseas posts, the logistical requirements of moving, and much more.  EFMs are able to readily receive post-specific material electronically by sending a simple email request to the Overseas Briefing Center.  Overseas Briefing Center personnel also engage with EFMs by email, phone, and through social media to offer suggestions and guidance on obtaining resources and resolving questions related to relocating and living overseas.  Secondly, the public website of the Family Liaison Office provides extensive resources to help FS spouses interested in pursuing employment overseas – either within a US Embassy or Consulate or on the local economy.

The Department of State is committed to increasing the accessibility and usability of Department information for all Foreign Affairs agency employees and their families.  The Foreign Affairs Network 3.0 (FAN3), developed under the Department’s Bureau of Information Resource Management will allow eligible family members to access appropriate State systems using existing credentials.   This will greatly facilitate EFM access to Department networks.

#5. Foreign Assistance: One of the criticisms I’ve heard about QDDR is how it did not even address the reality that the United States has far too many foreign assistance programs — “an uncoordinated diaspora of offices and agencies scattered around the bureaucratic universe in D.C. from the Justice Department to the DoD to the Commerce Department to the Export-Import Bank to the Treasury Department and beyond, to the bewilderment of anyone the United States does business with overseas.” What do you say to that? 

The number and variety of assistance programs is actually a great strength.  The number of U.S. foreign assistance programs is large because there is a broad diversity in need, and specific departments and agencies are best placed to deliver the specialized assistance that is required.  For example, USAID is advancing a new model of development that combines local ownership, private investment, and multi-stakeholder partnerships to provide assistance that is coordinated with investments by national/regional/local governments, the private sector, and multilateral development banks.  These efforts complement, and are coordinated with, the assistance activities carried out by other U.S. government agencies, such as the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Treasury Department, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

Although interagency coordination can be complex and difficult, the 2015 QDDR builds on recommendations from the 2010 QDDR to improve coordination of assistance by creating Integrated Country Strategies (ICS) and making clear that at posts abroad the Ambassador has oversight over assistance efforts.  The ICS serves as an overarching strategy that encapsulates U.S. government policy priorities, objectives, and the means by which diplomatic engagement, foreign assistance, and other tools will be used to achieve them.  The development of the ICS involves all agencies in the country under Chief of Mission authority and, as such, incorporates a “whole of government” approach to guide U.S. government activities in each country.  The result improves coordination not just for foreign assistance programs, but for our entire overseas interagency presence (see p 61).

#6. Data Collection: Somebody called the second set of “three Ds” — data, diagnostics, and design as the “most revolutionary, disruptive element of QDDR II.” I can see development subjected to these three Ds, but how do you propose to do this with diplomacy where successful engagements are based on national interests and the human element and not necessarily data driven? Also data is only as good as its collector. How will data be collected?

One of the QDDR priorities is to ensure that Department and USAID employees have greater access to, and are better utilizing, the vast amounts of data and information available today.  We want diplomats in the field and in Washington to be better informed through a variety of internal and external data sources.  We want to better empower and prepare our employees by giving them new tools to better understand the issues they work on and to identify new opportunities for engagement.   In many instances our policy is data-driven and similarly, there is benefit to having diplomats who are data-informed.  For example, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator combines epidemiological evidence, expenditure data, and local information to determine where PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) resources can have the greatest impact.  More broadly, State and USAID are implementing the President’s Open Government Initiative through tools such as the Foreign Assistance Dashboard.

Data are collected from a variety of sources, including governments, international organizations, academia, NGOs and the private sector.  We want to lower barriers to information access, provide standardized platforms and better disseminate the data we have.  USAID’s Global Development Lab and the agency’s data policies including the Open Data Policy, the Department’s Enterprise Data Quality Initiative, global partnerships including GODAN, and community-engagement based programs such as MapGive have each demonstrated progress in increasing the accessibility and usability of high-quality data.  These efforts ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to leverage the information at hand.  The QDDR recommends bringing additional organizational support to efforts like these – as well as adding new programs to the mix.

#7. Institutional WeaknessesSome quarters look at the State Department and points at several institutional weaknesses today: 1) the predominance of domestic 9-5 HQ staff with little or no real field experience, foreign language and other cultural insight, and 2) the rampant politicization and bureaucratic layering by short term office holders with little or no knowledge of the State Department and less interest in its relevance as a national institution. How does the QDDR address these weaknesses? How does the QDDR propose to recreate a national diplomatic service based on a common core of shared capabilities and understanding of 21st century strategic geopolitical challenges and appropriate longer term responses? 

The Department and USAID’s greatest asset is human capital.  Our employees, whether Civil Service, Foreign Service, non-career appointees, or contractors, are the foundation upon which our institutions stand and the source of our achievements.

The QDDR endorses a common training core, called Diplomatic Mastery, for all incoming  Foreign Service generalists, starting from the orientation (“A-100”) course, and continuing in the first two tours, as an additional prerequisite for tenure (along with proficiency in a foreign language).  Diplomatic Mastery will include subject areas such as diplomatic history, negotiating skills, and building esprit de corps.  A new curriculum will also be made available to Foreign Service Specialists and Civil Service employees.  FSI has been developing in-depth, interactive modules to be used overseas for this and other training purposes.

In March 2014 Secretary Kerry introduced a new set of Leadership and Management Principles to serve as a standard for all Department employees (3 FAM 1214).  The QDDR complements and supports these principles by recommending strengthened mandatory leadership training, increasing accountability, as well as expanding long-term training opportunities and excursion tours at mid- and senior-levels of the Foreign and Civil Services.  These assignments outside the Department will increase expertise and experience through time at a university, in the private sector, at an NGO, or with other U.S. government agencies.   This will allow the Department and USAID to make their organizations more flexible and adaptive, with a more agile and mobile workforce.

#8: QDDR Operation: I remember that you sent out a solicitation of ideas and suggestions for QDDR II and I’m curious at the kind of response you got. Can you also elaborate the process of putting together QDDR II? Finally, the success of QDDR II will be on implementation. Who’s leading the effort and what role will you and the QDDR office have on that? Unless I’m mistaken, the QDDR implementers are also not career officials, what happens when they depart their positions? Who will shepherd these changes to their expected completion?

Secretary Kerry launched the second QDDR process in April 2014 and tasked us with creating a “blueprint for the next generation of American diplomacy.”  The report was co-chaired by the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources, Heather Higginbottom, and USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt.  The impact of this QDDR will depend on its implementation and Deputy Secretary Higginbottom is overseeing implementation of the QDDR as a whole, with action on particular recommendations being driven by a range of senior leaders across the Department.  The QDDR office is currently staffed by a dedicated team of career FSOs and Civil Service employees, who are facilitating and monitoring the implementation of the report’s recommendations. Individuals throughout State and USAID – in dozens of bureaus and offices – are involved in the implementation.

Over the course of the year-long research and drafting process, we solicited ideas and suggestions through a variety of forums, and we were very pleased with the response and the interest that people took throughout the process.   For example, we conducted a QDDR Sounding Board Challenge, garnering 200 ideas and 1,900 votes from over 4,700 viewers, at all levels at the Department.  We also conducted meetings with stakeholders from throughout the Department and USAID, the interagency, Congress, and NGOs.  With this input and guidance from senior leaders at State and USAID, including an Executive Committee (listed at the back of the report), we determined the policy and operational priorities to highlight.  The Secretary also asked us to produce a report that was shorter and more tightly focused than the first QDDR, and we met that objective.


We should note that Tom Perriello was appointed Special Representative for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) in February 2014, and was the original recipient of our questions. On July 6, 2015, he was appointed Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He succeeds former Senator Russ Feingold in that position. No one has yet been announced as Special Representative for the QDDR as of this writing; the next report is not due for another four years.


UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond Reopens British Embassy @UKinIran in Tehran

Posted: 1:46 pm EDT
Updated: 2:31 pm EDT




Speaking at the re-opening ceremony of the British Embassy in Iran, the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, has said:

I am delighted to be here today. I am the first British Foreign Secretary to visit Tehran since Jack Straw in 2003, and only the third British Minister to visit since 1979. It’s a huge pleasure and privilege to be here.
This Embassy, and this beautiful compound, is a special place. Britain acquired in it 1869 for 20,000 tomans, then £8,000. A huge sum, in those days, but it has repaid us many times.

It has witnessed great moments in the history of both Iran and Britain. The Bast of 1906 that led to Iran acquiring its first Constitution and National Assembly, for example. And the Tehran Conference of 1943, when Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin dined here and planned a second military front in Europe.

The attack in 2011 which forced our Embassy to close was a low point. But since the election of President Rouhani, we have seen our relationship steadily improve, step by step. In 2014, we appointed non-resident Chargés. Last autumn, Prime Minister David Cameron met President Rouhani in New York, the first meeting at that level since 1979 between the leaders of our countries.

Last month’s historic nuclear agreement was another milestone, and showed the power of diplomacy, conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect, to solve shared challenges.

Re-opening the Embassy is the logical next step. To build confidence and trust between two great nations.

Iran is, and will remain, an important country in a strategically important but volatile region. Maintaining dialogue around the world, even under difficult conditions, is critical. And Embassies are the primary means of achieving this.

Mr. Hammond thanked the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swedish Embassy, represented by their Chargé, Ewa Nilsson, “for their generous and unstinting solidarity over the last four years, initially acting as the UK’s protecting power, and continuing to help us with all manner of ways in areas from consular to finance,” and its Embassy staff, for their “commitment and loyalty over the years.”






UK Ambassador to Lebanon Signs Off With a Memorable Blog Post: So…Yalla, Bye

Posted: 12:58 am EDT

“The driving quest of diplomacy is for imperfect ways to help people not kill each other.”
-Tom Fletcher

The Naked Diplomat is done for now.  Tom Fletcher, the British Ambassador to Lebanon signed off from his diplomatic assignment recently. Quite a valedictory address blogpost. Excerpt below:

Dear Lebanon,

Sorry to write again. But I’m leaving your extraordinary country after four years. Unlike your politicians, I can’t extend my own term.

When I arrived, my first email said ‘welcome to Lebanon, your files have been corrupted’. It should have continued: never think you understand it, never think you can fix it, never think you can leave unscathed. I dreamt of Beirutopia and Leb 2020 , but lived the grim reality of the Syria war.

Bullets and botox. Dictators and divas. Warlords and wasta. Machiavellis and mafia. Guns, greed and God. Game of Thrones with RPGs. Human rights and hummus rights. Four marathons, 100 blogs, 10,000 tweets, 59 calls on Prime Ministers, 600+ long dinners, 52 graduation speeches, two #OneLebanon rock concerts, 43 grey hairs, a job swap with a domestic worker, a walk the length of the coast (Video). I got to fly a Red Arrow upside down, and a fly over Lebanon’s northern border to see how LAF is enforcing Lebanese sovereignty. I was even offered a free buttock lift – its value exceeded our £140 gift limit, so that daunting task is left undone.

Your politics are also daunting, for ambassadors as well as Lebanese citizens. When we think we’ve hit bottom, we hear a faint knocking sound below. Some oligarchs tell us they agree on change but can’t. They flatter and feed us. They needlessly overcomplicate issues with layers of conspiracy, creative fixes, intrigue. They undermine leaders working in the national interest. Then do nothing, and blame opponents/another sect/Sykes-Picot/Israel/Iran/Saudi (delete as applicable). They then ask us to move their cousin’s friend in front of people applying for a visa. It is Orwellian, infuriating and destructive of the Lebanese citizens they’re supposed to serve. But this frustration beats the alternative – given potential for mishap, terror or invasion, there is no substitute for unrelenting, maddening, political process.

Continue reading,  So…Yalla, Bye, running on over 300 comments right now.


Thank You, Switzerland … Good Morning, American Embassy Havana!

Posted: 12:30 am EDT


As announced on July 1st, the U.S. and Cuba will officially re-establish diplomatic relations today, July 20. This is the day when both interest sections will become embassies. A State Department official who gave a special briefing on the re-opening of embassies last week told reporters that there is not a legal requirement to fly a flag, so that will not happen until Secretary Kerry travels to Havana later this summer:

Secretary will be there to officiate for these very important events of raising the flag and unveiling the signage for the U.S. Embassy in Havana. He does – his presence there is ceremonial. It’s important, it’s historic, but legally the embassy will be functioning on Monday, July 20th. There is not a legal requirement to fly a flag, and we wanted the Secretary to be there to oversee these important events.

There will also be a flag installation in Foggy Bottom but this is apparently a “routine installation with no public or media component.”  All American employees of the interest section in Havana will be re-accredited as employees of the embassy but there will be no new additional employees at this time.



Our DCM in Havana, Conrad Tribble tweeted just minutes ago:


July 20 also marks the day when the agreement with Switzerland as the “protecting power” of the United States  in Cuba is terminated.  That will require a technical exchange of notes because the Government of Switzerland has been the United States’ protecting power for many years, and that agreement between the U.S. and Switzerland, and another agreement between Cuba and Switzerland, will be terminated as a result of the upgrade from interest sections to embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C.

Photo via US Embassy Havana/FB

Photo via US Embassy Havana/FB



The Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. will hold its ceremonial re-opening in the morning of July 20 with very limited attendance by a U.S. Government delegation to be lead by Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson.

In the early afternoon Secretary Kerry will meet his counterpart, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, at the State Department for an historic meeting. Afterward at 1:40, they will have a joint press conference, “sort of the first historic joint press conference between the Secretary of State and the Cuban Foreign Minister,” according to the State Department.

Excerpt below from the special briefing:

QUESTION: Thank you. So starting Monday, what changes, what is different at the now-U.S. Embassy in Havana? Can anyone go? Is it like other embassies in the world where you have to have a previous appointment? What is going to happen with U.S. diplomats? Do – starting Monday, are they free to roam the country as they haven’t been before? Can you be more specific on the logistics please?

STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. Yes, on Monday they will – all of the employees of the – the American employees of the interest section will be re-accredited as employees of the embassy. So it is an upgrade in status for the – for all the U.S. employees there. The chief of mission will be upgraded to charge d’affaires, and they will be then entered as a member of the diplomatic corps in Havana, and that will mean that they are invited to diplomatic functions just like any other country. That has not been the case previously. And yes, there are conditions that we have talked about previously, about – when we made the agreement to open the embassies. And there will be some – those conditions will all be active and effective on July 20th and will begin to function under those new conditions. Those new conditions do include greater freedom for U.S. diplomats to travel throughout Cuba.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Quickly, will the charge d’affaires, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, be in Havana, and will he do anything in Havana on Monday? Did you get the new employees that you asked for and will they be there start this – starting next week? And you said they get an upgrade of employees that are at the Interests Section. Do they also get a pay upgrade?

STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The – actually, Jeff DeLaurentis will be – and I should have mentioned that earlier – he will be in the delegation that is here in Washington, and that’s a fairly standard practice and especially for a historic meeting that our representative in the embassy would come back for that meeting. So he will be here in Washington. And so our deputy chief of mission in Havana will actually on that day be in charge of the post. And again, there is no other activity other than we’re going to have a statement put out by the embassy announcing that they have indeed elevated status to an embassy that morning.

There also will be a technical exchange of notes because the Government of Switzerland has been providing us protecting power for many years, and that will now be – that agreement between the U.S. and Switzerland, and another agreement between Cuba and Switzerland, will be terminated as a result of the upgrade.

As for the employees, there may be some confusion in that the discussion of personnel and staffing that we had with the Cubans referred specifically to American employees, and that’s a personnel issue that we’ll work out in the months to come. So on that day, we would not get new employees. In fact, the employees at the Cuban Interests Section will be the same employees and they – as I understand it, they’re excited about becoming (inaudible) of the U.S. embassy.

Read more here.


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Iran, World Powers Agree to Historic Deal in Vienna

Posted: 1:31 am  PDT
Updated: 1:29 pm PDT




Via NYT:

VIENNA — Iran and a group of six nations led by the United States have agreed to a historic accord to significantly limit Tehran’s nuclear ability for more than a decade in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions against Iran, a senior Western diplomat involved in the negotiations said on Tuesday.

The deal, which President Obama had long sought as the biggest diplomatic achievement of his presidency, culminates 20 months of negotiations.

A formal announcement of the agreement was expected later on Tuesday, when foreign ministers from Iran and the six nations it has been negotiating with will meet at a United Nations complex in Vienna. Catherine Ray, a spokeswoman for the European Union, said a final plenary meeting of the six nations — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — would take place at 10:30 a.m. in Vienna, followed by a news conference, but she provided no further details.












Washington and Havana Formally Restores Diplomatic Relations After 54 Years

Posted: 2:17 pm  EDT


According to, the United States remained in Cuba as an occupying power until the Republic of Cuba was formally installed on May 19, 1902 following the defeat of Spain in 1898.  On May 20, 1902, the United States relinquished its occupation authority over Cuba, but claimed a continuing right to intervene in Cuba. Diplomatic relations and the U.S. Legation in Havana were established on May 27, 1902, when U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary Herbert Goldsmith Squiers presented his credentials to the Government of the Republic of Cuba.  Following an act of Congress, the U.S. Legation in Havana, Cuba, was raised to Embassy status on February 10, 1923, when General Enoch H. Crowder was appointed Ambassador. The United States severed diplomatic relations with Cuba on January 3, 1961, citing unwarranted action by the Government of Cuba that placed crippling limitations on the ability of the United States Mission to carry on its normal diplomatic and consular functions.

Today, after over 50 years, a new day. For once, instead of boots on the ground, diplomatic negotiations and engagement made this day possible. It appears that we have rediscovered the non-coercive instruments of statecraft (as Ambassador Chas Freeman spoke about so eloquently), that persuaded the Cubans that they can benefit by working with us rather than against us. A big shout-out to our diplomats who labored so hard to get us here!