When You’re Out of the Loop, Don’t Forget That Secrecy Is the Soul of Diplomacy

Posted: 1:26 am EDT

 

As the media reported on the Iran prisoner swap this weekend, HuffPo’s Ryan Grim wrote Here’s Why We Held The Story On The U.S.-Iranian Prisoner Exchange, on January 16. It deserves a good reading because there’s a lesson here somewhere:

One of the four men was Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who had covered the Iran nuclear talks. Rezaian was being held on baseless charges of espionage in order to try to extract concessions from the Americans. Our source, State’s Chase Foster, was upset that the U.S. had failed to secure the Americans’ release as part of the nuclear deal, and it was his understanding that the talks had since collapsed. But as we reported out the tip, we discovered that, unbeknownst to Foster, the talks had never really stopped.
[…]
What added an extra wrinkle to this ethical dilemma was the State Department official, Foster, Schulberg’s on-the-record source. To describe such a situation as unusual wouldn’t do it justice: State Department officials with specific knowledge of prisoner negotiations don’t talk publicly about them. It just doesn’t happen. Yet to Schulberg’s credit as a reporter, Foster was doing so in this case. His frustration motivated him to speak out — and, eventually, to quit his job, which he did late last year.

Any public official willing to air grievances on the record, whether those grievances are legitimate or not, should be thought of as a whistleblower. And if a whistleblower is willing to risk his career and reputation to share information he thinks the public needs to have, a news outlet needs to have an awfully good reason not to run his story. On the other hand, we never asked him not to talk to other outlets or to take his concerns public on his own, which was always an option, but one he didn’t take. And had he known the talks were once again going on, that may have changed his calculus about going public, which in turn was something we had to keep in mind. And it wasn’t something we could share with him.
[…]
When we reached out to the administration, the frontline press folks there were extremely aggressive and served up a bunch of garbage we later confirmed to be garbage. But when we approached administration officials higher up the chain, they told us what was actually happening. They told us that reporters for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal were withholding details of the talks as well, though neither knew of Foster, whose identity we never revealed to the government. They did not put hard pressure on us to hold our story, but instead calmly laid out their analysis of the possible consequences of publishing, and offered confidence that the talks were moving forward and headed toward a resolution.

Read in full here. After reading that, you might also want to read The New Yorker’s Prisoner Swap: Obama’s Secret Second Channel to Iran by . She writes in part:

More than a year of informal discussions between Sherman and her counterpart, Majid Takht Ravanchi, the Iranian Foreign Ministry official in charge of American and European affairs, led to an agreement, in late 2014, that the issue should be handled separately—but officially—through a second channel. After debate within the Administration, Obama approved the initiative. But it was so tightly held that most of the American team engaged in tortuous negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program were not told about it.[…] Brett McGurk, a senior State Department official, headed the small American team, which also included officials from the Department of Justice, the F.B.I., and the intelligence community.

According to NYT, Mr. McGurk’s team sat down with their Iranian counterparts in Geneva for the first time in November 2014, according to an account by several American officials on the condition of anonymity.

HuffPo’s source Chase Foster, a Foreign Affairs officer at the State Department since 2012, was reportedly upset that the U.S. had failed to secure the Americans’ release as part of the nuclear deal according to the Huffington Post.  FAOs are civil service positions at the State Department that typically requires regional or functional expertise.  His LinkedIn profile says that he had an advanced degree in Professional Studies in Persian and speaks Persian. It does not say which bureau he works in.  But by the time he quit the State Department in frustration late last year, the negotiations for the prisoners release has been going on for about 13 months.

Foster was willing to risk his career by speaking on the record. That’s not something we often see these days. His heart was in the the right place, and we won’t blame him for it.  But he may have also forgotten what François de Callières said about secrecy as being “the very soul of diplomacy.”  

If mentorship works at State as it should have, somebody could have counseled him quietly that absence of apparent action does not mean lack of action.  The American team working the nuke negotiations was not even told about the second channel secret negotiations. We would not be surprise if the top honchos at the NEA bureau with decades of USG service were also out of the loop. And no one has even mentioned James O’Brien, the newly appointed Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.

This could have easily gone the other way. We’re glad that it didn’t, that senior administration officials did not dish more garbage, that the journalists listened, and the negotiations worked out in the end.

 

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But…you mean…diplomacy works? #ImplementationDay #IranPrisonerSwap

Posted: 5:57 pm EDT

 

 

In related news:

And just a few days ago:

Diplomacy is under appreciated because it is often misunderstood.  But when it works, it beats the alternative.

 

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From Creeping to Warp-Speed? Militarization of American Foreign Policy

Posted: 4:42 pm EDT

 

Via NYT, December 10, 2015

WASHINGTON — As American intelligence agencies grapple with the expansion of the Islamic State beyond its headquarters in Syria, the Pentagon has proposed a new plan to the White House to build up a string of military bases in Africa, Southwest Asia and the Middle East.

The bases could be used for collecting intelligence and carrying out strikes against the terrorist group’s far-flung affiliates.
[…]
The plan has met with some resistance from State Department officials concerned about a more permanent military presence across Africa and the Middle East, according to American officials familiar with the discussion. Career diplomats have long warned about the creeping militarization of American foreign policy as the Pentagon has forged new relationships with foreign governments eager for military aid.

Officials said the proposal has been under discussion for some time, including this week during a White House meeting with some members of President Obama’s cabinet. Shortly after General Dempsey retired in September, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter referred to the plan in a little-noticed speech in Washington. “Because we cannot predict the future, these regional nodes — from Morón, Spain, to Jalalabad, Afghanistan — will provide forward presence to respond to a range of crises, terrorist and other kinds,” Mr. Carter said. “These will enable unilateral crisis response, counterterror operations, or strikes on high-value targets.”

Pentagon planners do not see the new approach as particularly costly by military standards. One official estimated it could be in the “low millions of dollars,” mainly to pay for military personnel, equipment and some base improvements.
[…]
For the approach to have any chance of success, analysts said, regional American commanders, diplomats and spies will have to work closely together and with Washington — something that does not always happen now — to combat threats that honor no borders.

Continue reading, Pentagon Seeks to Knit Foreign Bases Into ISIS-Foiling Network.

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Related items:

These are all the countries where the US has a military presence

Mapping the growth of bases worldwide (August 2015)

Overseas Basing An Assessment of Relative Costs and Strategic Benefits (Rand, 2013)

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US Embassy Thailand: Bangkok Police Launch Inquiry Into Ambassador Davies’ Speech. Huh?

Posted: 3:21 am EDT

 

On November 28, Ambassador Glyn T. Davies presented his credentials to the Crown Prince on Bangkok.

Previously, Ambassador Davies gave a talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand on Nov. 24. A few days later, Ambassador Davies got his first protest in Bangkok (see US Embassy Thailand: Ambassador Glyn Davies’ Talk Sparks Protest in Bangkok).

Apparently the Bangkok police department has now launched an inquiry into “whether a controversial speech by US ambassador Glyn T Davies condemning long prison sentences for lese majeste convictions violated Thailand’s royal defamation.”

 

 

In related news, the British Ambassador to Thailand Mark Kent, tweeted this:

According to Bangkok Post, the government has also “slammed the British ambassador’s comments “supporting law-breakers” and is considering whether to summon him for talks.” Tsk! Tsk!

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John Kerry Breaks Hillary Clinton’s Travel Miles as SecState, Plus JK’s Inner Circle Album

Posted: 2:30 am EDT

 

In November 2013, David Rohde, a columnist for Reuters, and a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize penned a lengthy piece for The Atlantic on How John Kerry Could End Up Outdoing Hillary Clinton. Below is an excerpt:

“… (If you ask long-serving diplomats—the vast majority of whom are politically liberal—to identify their favorite secretary, they will name Powell.) Before taking office, Kerry conducted long interviews with every living former secretary of state—Kissinger, George Shultz, Baker, Madeleine Albright, Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Clinton—and set out to model himself after Shultz, who, in six and a half years serving under Ronald Reagan, was seen as a combination of the two prototypes, both a great diplomat and a good manager. “Beyond going around doing things as secretary of state,” Shultz told me in an interview, “you have to recognize that you have managerial responsibilities.”
[…]
Richard Armitage, who served as Powell’s deputy secretary of state, praises Clinton but says she was poorly served by her aides. “My view is that she was pretty sheltered,” he told me. “They were not interpersonally pleasant, and they were very protective of her. You can get into a cocoon.”
[…]
Kerry also works in a cocoon, albeit one of a different sort. Very quickly he earned a reputation in the State Department for being aloof, keeping to himself, and not bothering to read staff memos. Diplomats outside Kerry’s inner circle complain that they have little sense of his priorities or plans. One former aide told me Kerry is “lovably unapproachable.” Career State Department officials complain to journalists that, under Kerry’s leadership, power has become so centralized among the secretary and a small coterie of his aides that decision making in the building slows to a crawl during his frequent overseas trips. Others in the State Department say Kerry has a kind of diplomatic attention deficit disorder—he shifts from topic to topic, changes his schedule often, and fails to focus on long-term strategy. State Department employees say morale in the building is lower now than under Clinton, despite Kerry’s early diplomatic achievements.
[…]
Colin Powell told me that before he became secretary of state in 2001, he received a letter from George Kennan, the famed foreign-policy thinker, then in his 90s. Kennan warned Powell about the dangers of traveling too much—of prioritizing activist diplomacy over providing the White House with solid foreign-policy analysis. “This office has in recent decades, in my view,” Kennan wrote, “been seriously misused and distorted.” Kennan urged Powell to minimize his travel and focus on advising the president. Powell gave a copy of Kennan’s letter to Kerry. So far, Kerry is not following the advice.

The Rohde piece was written slightly over two years ago. As Secretary Kerry winds up his tenure in the next 12-13 months, it is likely that somebody will revisit this topic again.  Meanwhile, it doesn’t look like his globetrotting days are going to let up anytime soon.  In late November, Secretary Kerry travelled to France, Belgium, Kosovo, Serbia, Cyprus, and Greece (November 30-December 4, 2015).  He came back briefly and is now off again, to Paris, from December 7-11, 2015 to attend the 21st UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP21).

Since assuming office in February 2013, Secretary Kerry has traveled 422 days. As of this writing, he has traveled  a total of 957,744 miles with visits to 77 countries according to state.gov. (Secretary Clinton covered 956,733 miles in her four years on the job. Condoleezza Rice’s record is 1.06 million miles in the air).

About that small coterie of aides, below is an album of sorts with some members of the Kerry inner circle in the last couple of years:

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with his chief of staff, David Wade, and State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki before his airplane departs Moscow, Russia, on May 8, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with his chief of staff, David Wade, and State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki before his airplane departs Moscow, Russia, on May 8, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

9:59 p.m., September 11, 2013 - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits in the aisle of his Air Force jet as he chats with, from left, Executive Secretary John Bass, Deputy Chief of Staff Jonathan Finer, Counselor to the National Security Advisor Salman Ahmed, and Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman about upcoming negotiations with Russian officials focused on eliminating Syrian chemical weapons. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

9:59 p.m., September 11, 2013 – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits in the aisle of his Air Force jet as he chats with, from left, Executive Secretary John Bass, Deputy Chief of Staff Jonathan Finer, Counselor to the National Security Advisor Salman Ahmed, and Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman about upcoming negotiations with Russian officials focused on eliminating Syrian chemical weapons. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry prepares with his Deputy Chief of Staff, William C. Danvers, for a joint press availability in Istanbul, Turkey, April 7, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry prepares with his Deputy Chief of Staff, William C. Danvers, for a joint press availability in Istanbul, Turkey, April 7, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom, and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah discuss the Secretary’s upcoming trip to Africa during a meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on April 25, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom, and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah discuss the Secretary’s upcoming trip to Africa during a meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on April 25, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and State Department Executive Assistant Jennifer Davis, bangs the gavel to begin a meeting of more than 60 anti-ISIL coalition parties held on December 3, 2014, at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. [State Department photo /Public Domain]

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry leads his staff in an airborne rendition of “Happy Birthday” on April 15, 2015, as they celebrate the birthday of and final trip for State Department Executive Director Kathleen Hill, a career Foreign Service Officer departing to a new assignment after organizing Secretary’s visit to Lubeck, Germany, and his 59 preceding international trips across 765,000 miles since he assumed office in February 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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State Department Chief of Staff Jon Finer speaks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on July 29, 2015, before he joined U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, U.S. Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in testifying about the Iranian nuclear deal before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

16603345777_20ee101955_z

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and a group of advisers – State Department Executive Assistant Lisa Kenna, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Egypt and Maghreb Affairs John Desrocher, and Chief of StaffJon Finer – sit with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain and his advisers on March 14, 2015, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, at the outset of a bilateral meeting amid an Egyptian development conference. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with State Department Chief of Staff Jon Finer and Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Frank Lowenstein before addressing reporters on November 24, 2015, following his meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Muqata’a Presidential Compound in Ramallah, West Bank. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

17260378901_49083b85ec_z

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Senior Aide Jason Meininger laugh as bar patrons at the Navigator Inn invite the Secretary in for a drink as he walked through Iqaluit, Canada, just below the Arctic Circle, after the United States assumed a two-year chairmanship of the body during a meeting of its eight member nations and seven Permanent Representatives on April 24, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, accompanied by State Department Deputy Chief of Staff Tom Sullivan, walks through the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France, after addressing members of the bilateral Mission, UNESCO, USOECD and their families on November 17, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, accompanied by State Department Deputy Chief of Staff Tom Sullivan, walks through the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France, after addressing members of the bilateral Mission, UNESCO, USOECD and their families on November 17, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Jonathan Finer and Jennifer Park, @JohnKerry's Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff.

Ambassador to Seoul Mark Lippert with Jonathan Finer and Jennifer Park Stout, @JohnKerry’s Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff. May 17, 2015 via Twitter

 

And let’s not forget Ben F. Kerry, Secretary Kerry’s best friend in Washington, D.C. who apparently performs ribbon-cutting events on occasion, and all he gets is an extra homemade kibble.

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Related posts:

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Meet John Doe, an Iraqi Refugee Who Works For Uncle Sam, and Still Waiting For Resettlement in the Home of the Brave

Posted: 3:01 am EDT

 

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, opposition is growing in the U.S. to the Obama administration’s plans to admit up to 10,000 refugees from Syria’s civil war. Below via the Pew Research’s Fact Tank:

A new Bloomberg Politics poll found that 53% of Americans don’t want to accept any Syrian refugees at all; 11% more would accept only Christian refugees from Syria. More than two dozen governors, most of them Republicans, have said they’ll oppose Syrian refugees being resettled in their states. And on Thursday the House of Representatives passed a bill blocking the admission of Syrian and Iraqi refugees unless they pass strict background checks.

According to the Washing Examiner, under the legislation, no Syrian or Iraqi refugee would be admitted into the United States until the nation’s top federal law enforcement officials certify that they do not pose a safety or terrorism threat.

Now this …

 

The GOP candidates appear to be in a parallel race on who can put out the most dehumanizing idea when talking about refugees: spoiled milk, rabid dogs, Muslim database, special IDs, ending housing assistance, etc. What’s next?

We will remember this week as that time when the 2016 presidential campaigns have gone heartless for the win.

Here’s one story that might give folks a glimpse of how lengthy, and how convoluted is the USG refugee process.

On November 3, 2015, Judge Richard W. Roberts allowed John Doe, an Iraqi refugee to file his complaint under a pseudonym in the District Court of the District of Columbia:

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According to court documents, John Doe voluntarily assisted with the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts following the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, and has received numerous recommendations for his work in connection with those efforts.  But this assistance has come at a significant cost to John Doe and his loved ones. Because of his work, John Doe is a target for those who seek to intimidate, harm, and kill those who have assisted the U.S. in its reconstruction efforts.

Court documents also say that John Doe served as a Provincial Model Clinic Support Coordinator in a USAID funded program. As part of his service, John Doe reportedly worked to improve access to primary health care in and around Kirkuk, Iraq by coordinating health clinics, training clinic staff, and conducting health surveys. Since October 2014, John Doe has served as a Senior Medical Officer at another USAID-funded projects. As part of his service, John Doe’s reported responsibilities include planning, development, implementation, oversight, monitoring, and reporting for two projects: static, camp-based medical clinics and mobile medical units that move throughout displaced populations in and around Erbil.

John Doe is an Iraqi citizen currently residing in Erbil, Iraq. For over two years, since fleeing to Erbil, John Doe has worked for programs funded by USAID in furtherance of the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. During this time, John Doe has risked his life alongside U.S. personnel to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure. By helping with the U.S. reconstruction efforts, John Doe has knowingly placed himself, his wife, and his small child in danger. If John Doe’s service to the United States were to become fully known in Iraq, he would likely be killed by persons opposed to the United States and to the Iraqis who have assisted the United States.

He applied as a refugee in 2010:

John Doe first sought protection from the U.S. Government through his application for emigration to the United States with the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

On April 8, 2010, John Doe requested to be added to his sister’s USRAP application out of fear for his own safety after members of his family were threatened and physically assaulted because of their work for the U.S. Government. John Doe provided all necessary documentation and took all steps necessary for his USRAP application, including attending his Department of Homeland Security (DHS) interview. On September 22, 2010, he was notified that his case was deferred and would continue to be processed. Despite continued assurances that his case is being processed, John Doe has yet to receive a decision on his USRAP application. As of the filing of this complaint, it has been over five years and four months since John Doe first submitted his USRAP application. Over five years have elapsed since John Doe attended his DHS interview. In addition, it has now been over four years and eleven months since John Doe was notified that his application was deferred for further processing.

He also applied under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program in 2012:

Finding himself with a deferred USRAP application and with no indication that he would receive a timely response to the application, John Doe sought to avail himself of the protections offered by the SIV program. On August 11, 2012, John Doe’s wife submitted on behalf of herself and John Doe all documents needed to obtain Chief of Mission Approval (COM Approval). COM Approval was granted on June 17, 2013, and John Doe submitted all necessary documentation for the SIV application (the SIV Application) on August 15, 2013. On November 19, 2013, John Doe attended his visa interview at the U.S. Embassy.

As of the filing of this Complaint, it has been over three years since John Doe first filed his papers for COM Approval. Over two years have elapsed since John Doe submitted his SIV Application materials. In addition, it has now been over one year and nine months since John Doe completed his interview, the final step in his application process.

John Doe has exhausted efforts to work with Defendants to receive a timely decision on his SIV Application. Following repeated requests for information concerning his application, John Doe has been told by the U.S. Embassy on several occasions that his case remains in “additional administrative processing” and that no estimate of how long it will take to complete such processing can be provided.

Defendants’ substantial delay in processing John Doe’s SIV Application is not only unreasonable, but egregious-particularly given the dangerous situation faced by John Doe. Each day that John Doe remains in Iraq leaves him in mortal danger. This danger increases by the day as the security situation in Iraq deteriorates. Additionally, John Doe’s wife and child who have been issued SIVs-plan to travel to the United States on October 5, 2015 in advance of the November 4, 2015 expiration of their visas. By failing to make a decision on John Doe’s SIV application, Defendants have created another hardship for John Doe in forcing him to be left behind and separated from his wife and young child.

The court filing says that given the urgency of John Doe’s situation, and because Defendants have been unresponsive to John Doe’s repeated requests that his SIV Application be decided, John Doe has no choice but to seek relief from this Court compelling Defendants to adjudicate his SIV application.

If this is what happened to an Iraqi refugee who helped with USG reconstruction efforts in Iraq, what can other Iraqi and Syrian refugees expect with their resettlement hope in the United States?

And since you’ve read this far, do read Phil Klay’s response to the refugee crisis.  He  served with the U.S. Marines in Iraq during the 2007 and 2008 surge. He is the author of Redeployment, which won the National Book Award for fiction in 2014. He tweeted his powerful reaction to the congressional news today. In one of them Klay wrote, “It’s only during frightening times when you get to find out if your country really deserves to call itself the ‘home of the brave.'”

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USAID Finally Gets an Inspector General 1,496 Days After Job Went Vacant

Posted: 12:17 am EDT

 

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been without a Senate-confirmed inspector general for four years.  The position became vacant in October 2011 following Donald Gambatesa’s resignation (he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in December 2005).

On June 20, 2013, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Michael G. Carroll as the next Inspector General.  According to WaPo, Michael G. Carroll, who was USAID’s acting inspector general, withdrew his name from consideration to be President Obama’s permanent inspector general after it has been pending for 16 months. This came amidst WaPo’s report that negative findings in USAID OIG’s reports were allegedly being stricken from audits between 2011 and 2013.   On November 12, 2014, the White House officially withdrew the Carroll nomination.  WaPo reported Mr. Carroll’s retirement on December 8, 2014 (see USAID watchdog Michael Carroll retires in wake of whistleblower claims).

In May this year, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ann Calvaresi Barr, as the next Inspector General for USAID.

On May 11, the Senate received and referred Ms. Barr’s nomination  to the Committee on Foreign Relations; it was  also sequentially referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs for 20 calendar days.

Ms. Barr did not get her confirmation hearing until August 4. Two months later, the Barr nomination was cleared by the SFCR on October 1, and by the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on October 22.  On November 19, the full Senate confirmed Ms. Barr by voice vote, 1,496 days after the job went vacant and 192 days after President Obama announced her nomination.

Ms. Barr should have a lengthy junkyard dog list. Just look at this:

Stricter definition?  Help, where’s my smelling salt …

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Related posts:

Nepal-India Blockade Continues, USAID’s Programs Grinding to a Halt and the Ugly in the Horizon

Posted: 1:29 pm EDT


Via
time.com

On Sept. 16, Nepal passed a long-awaited constitution containing several controversial clauses. Chief among these was a refusal to allow for Madhesi- and Tharu-majority provinces near the Indian border. While supporters insisted such a move was necessary to counteract Indian dominance, ethnic Tharus and Madhesis termed it a form of prejudice. Protests began in August and have been, at times, violent, reportedly claiming more than 40 lives. Citing security concerns, India launched an unofficial border blockade shortly after the constitution was enacted. While many here believe the blockade is an expression of India’s disapproval of the constitution, New Delhi has steadfastly denied political interference. “The reported obstructions are due to unrest, protests and demonstrations on the Nepalese side, by sections of their population,” said a statement issued on the Indian Foreign Ministry website on Sept. 25.

Regardless of intention, the impact has been substantial. In early October, Nepal’s scant reserves neared exhaustion and the government was forced to introduce fuel rationing. Since then, the effects have spread to every sector. At local markets, food prices have gone up — 30%, 50%, 100%. Restaurants are raising prices and scaling back production and, even in the capital city of Kathmandu, homeowners have begun switching from propane to firewood. Buses are severely overloaded, private transport uncomfortably expensive. Getting petrol requires waiting for hours, or even days, on queue for the government ration or paying black market rates out of reach for most Nepalese. Ambulances don’t have enough petrol to operate, hospitals are running out of supplies, social services severely curtailed.

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Below is what Gulfutar, a neighborhood about 3 kilometers north of the US Embassy in Kathmandu looks like.  The lines for cooking fuel are said to be also huge.  We understand that USAID programs are reportedly grinding to a halt for lack of fuel and so are other development agencies that are trying to help Nepal recover from the quake. With the winter season just a few weeks away, “this could get very, very ugly” is what we’re hearing.

USAID programs in Nepal reportedly seeks to reinforce recent gains in peace and security, stabilize the transitional government, strengthen the delivery of essential social services, expand proven health interventions, and address the global challenges of food insecurity and climate change.

How do you do that when on the ground reality is like this?

20151105-8774

Thousands of Nepalis line up for a small allotment of fuel in Kathmandu as the “unofficial blockade” continues. Photo by Derek Brown via FB (used with permission)

With extremely limited fuel, people are reportedly resorting to extreme measures to get around.   A bus with approx 90 people (a vehicle with a 35 person capacity) went off a cliff last week.

The most recent embassy message to U.S. citizens on travel and fuel is dated over a month ago, and the fuel situation has not gotten better as the blockade continues:

We recommend that travelers evaluate any upcoming travel plans in Nepal.  Due to the nationwide fuel shortage, due to blockages at the border with India, many of the safety measures that would normally be relied on in an emergency situation may become unavailable.  These measures include air medevacs and local hospitals.  As of today these services are still operational, but service providers are facing dwindling supplies.  If you are planning multi-day travel the situation could change drastically during your trip.  Please consider that if you are trekking in a remote area and become injured, there will be limited options for you to be rescued until the fuel situation returns to normal.  Tourist facilities continue to operate in the Kathmandu valley, but levels of service may be lower than normal.  It is estimated that the fuel situation will not return to normal until 2-3 weeks after the border supply lines are fully restored.

The UKFCO has issued a travel advice and notes that delays at border crossings have caused a severe fuel shortage which is affecting travel and provision of some emergency services. Some airlines have stopped or reduced the number of domestic flights they’re operating in Nepal until further notice.

Meanwhile, on November 5, the US Embassy in Nepal released the following statement about being “deeply concerned by the increasingly volatile situation along the Nepal-India border.”  You could practically see folks rolling their eyes:

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DOD Builds the World’s Most Expensive Gas Station in Afghanistan For $43M, Oh, Joy!

Posted: 1:01 am EDT

 

Apparently, we’ve built a compressed natural gas (CNG) automobile filling station in the city of Sheberghan, Afghanistan. The project cost almost $43 million, and the average Afghans can’t even afford to use it.

The Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO or Task Force) was originally created by the Department of Defense (DOD) to help revive the post-invasion economy of Iraq. In 2009, TFBSO was redirected to Afghanistan, where its mission was to carry out projects to support economic development. From 2010 through 2014, Congress appropriated approximately $822 million to TFBSO for Afghanistan, of which the task force obligated approximately $766 million.

The contract awarded to Central Asian Engineering to construct the station was for just under $3 million. Yet according to an economic impact assessment performed at the request of TFBSO:

The Task Force spent $42,718,739 between 2011 and 2014 to fund the construction and to supervise the initial operation of the CNG station (approximately $12.3 [million] in direct costs and $30.0 [million] in overhead costs).

SIGAR says that the $43 million total cost of the TFBSO-funded CNG filling station far exceeds the estimated cost of CNG stations elsewhere. According to a 2010 publication of the International Energy Association, “the range of investment for a public [CNG] station serving an economically feasible amount of vehicles varies from $200,000 to $500,000. Costs in non-OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries are likely to be in the lower end of this range.”

The SIGAR report notes that the total cost of building a CNG station in Pakistan would be approximately $306,000 at current exchange rates.  In short, at $43 million, the TFBSO filling station cost 140 times as much as a CNG station in Pakistan.

$43 million from the American taxpayers.

The SIGAR report also says that its ’s review of this project was hindered by DOD’s lack of cooperation, and when it comes to TFBSO activities, DOD appears determined to restrict or hinder SIGAR access.

It is both surprising and troubling that only a few months following the closure of TFBSO, DOD has not been able to find anyone who knows anything about TFBSO activities, despite the fact that TFBSO reported directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, operated in Afghanistan for over five years, and was only shut down in March 2015.

Further, SIGAR says that “If TFBSO had conducted a feasibility study of the project, they might have noted that Afghanistan lacks the natural gas transmission and local distribution infrastructure necessary to support a viable market for CNG vehicles.  Additionally, it appears that the cost of converting a car to run on CNG may be prohibitive for the average Afghan. TFBSO’s contractor, stated that conversion to CNG costs $700 per car in Afghanistan, where the average annual income is $690.”

We meant well in Afghanistan, too. Oh, joy!  What edition are we on?

But serious question. How can we have something happen like this, with DOD hindering/restricting SIGAR’s access and no one is in jail?

The read and weep report is available online here: https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/special%20projects/SIGAR-16-2-SP.pdf 

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Snapshot: Unaccompanied Children By Country of Citizenship (FY2009-2014)

Posted: 12:25 am EDT

Via GAO

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the number of UAC from any country apprehended at the U.S. border climbed from nearly 28,000 in fiscal year 2012 to more than 42,000 in fiscal year 2013, and to more than 73,000 in fiscal year 2014. Prior to fiscal year 2012, most UAC apprehended at the border were Mexican nationals.5 However, as figure 1 shows, starting in fiscal year 2013, the total number of UAC from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras surpassed the number of UAC from Mexico and, in fiscal year 2014, far surpassed the number of UAC from Mexico.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27

Recent data and research indicate that, while fewer UAC are being apprehended in the United States in 2015, the pace of migration from Central America remains high. According to DHS, as of August 2015, apprehensions at the southwest border are down 46 percent compared with last year—with more than 35,000 UAC apprehended in fiscal year 2015 compared with about 66,000 through the same time period in fiscal year 2014. However, analyses of DHS data indicate that apprehensions in the month of August 2015 increased compared to previous months this year and exceeded by nearly 50 percent August 2014 apprehensions. Moreover, research by two nongovernmental organizations indicates that a greater number of Central Americans this year are being apprehended in Mexico. According to the Migration Policy Institute,6 Mexico has increased its enforcement capacity and is apprehending a greater number of Central American migrants, including children.

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In fiscal year 2014, USAID, State, DHS, and IAF allocated a combined $44.5 million for El Salvador, $88.1 million for Guatemala, and $78 million for Honduras. In addition, MCC signed a threshold program agreement with Honduras in fiscal year 2013 totaling $15.6 million, a compact agreement with El Salvador in fiscal year 2014 totaling $277 million, and a threshold program agreement with Guatemala in fiscal year 2015 totaling $28 million.

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