Category Archives: Foreign Policy

Burn Bag: Post Closure — O Courage, Where Art Thou?

 

Via Burn Bag:

“This place will be closed. It’s inevitable because it’s just too dangerous. We’ve got only a skeleton staff of direct hires here now because of the danger. But the bureaucracy is, it seems, incapable of having the courage to make the decision that will result in the flag being lowered once and for all. A week passes. And then another. Still, no decision. So we raise the flag every day. And wait. We live in limbo–and fear of another attack. Fingers crossed we don’t get killed while waiting.”

Photo via state.gov

 

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USCG Osaka-Kobe, Japan: Consul General Patrick Linehan – It Gets Better

– Domani Spero

Last Friday, Secretary Kerry released a statement on the 2014 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month noting that “we have made marked progress in tearing down the unjust and unfair barriers that have prevented the full realization of the human rights of LGBT persons. We know there is more to do, but here, the arc of history is bending towards justice.”

For LGBT Pride Month, we want to revisit this video by US Consul General Patrick Linehan of Osaka-Kobe supporting the It Gets Better campaign.

 

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Now This — A WH Petition to Remove Amb to Thailand Kristie Kenney For Twitter Selfies

– Domani Spero

On May 24, 2014, somebody named T. D. from Garden Grove, CA created a White House petition asking the Obama Administration to remove Ambassador Kristie Kenney from her post in Thailand. Below is the purported justification for the petition:

 

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Our ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president, but career ambassadors typically serve three years at their foreign posts. Sometimes, they’re extended for another year.  Ambassador Kenney has been in Bangkok since December 2010.  She is due for a reassignment not because of a petition but simply because that’s how the Foreign Service works.

We do not know Ambassador Kenney personally but we have followed her tenure in this blog and this seems not only unfair but steams from misunderstanding of an ambassador’s role.  Career ambassadors in particular are not rogue operators.  They do not originate an administration’s policy, they do not act on whims, they implement and defend the policy of the administration of the day and follow the instructions from the State Department. And when they can no longer do that, they quit as Ambassador Robert Ford did.

It looks like the petitioners were especially incensed by Ambassador Kenney’s  “never-ending Twitter selfies.” Are we proposing recalling our various ambassadors for conducting selfie diplomacy?  The thing is — ambassadors have marching orders for public engagement in social media. Some are more active and have better reach than others. @KristineKenney, one of the early adopters of Twitter among chiefs of mission currently has over 50K followers.  When Bush 43’s Karen Hughes talked about “a rapid response unit, ” Twitter was at its infancy.  Today, you have a chief of mission responding to rumors as quickly as you can say boo!

 

 

We looked at the ambassador’s timeline on Twitter, just because.  The recent selfies  had to do with  cotton and bagels, which may seem petty and all except that this is cotton USA and the bagels were from a partly US-owned business during American Restaurant Week in Bangkok.  We should note that economic diplomacy is the buzzword in Foggy Bottom — this includes not only in attracting direct private investment to the United States but also in helping to expand foreign markets for U.S. businesses.  In fact, State is proud to tout that it generates $150 billion in trade and even has a map that shows how the work of the Department benefits each U.S. State, and all for about 1% of the Federal budget.

So how can we fault her for these?

Photo via Instagram

Photo via Instagram

 

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In some places, commercial promotion becomes the main priority for chiefs of mission (see US Embassy Abu Dhabi: A+ for Commercial Promotion, “Below Average Scores on Every Leadership Category”).  And while this photo below is not a selfie but obtained via Flickr, note that we even promote U.S  beef in Africa.

U.S. Beef with Ambassador to Senegal Lewis Lukens

U.S. Beef with Ambassador to Senegal Lewis Lukens

 

The US Mission in Bangkok has about 10 social media platforms including Ambassador Kenney’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. Not sure what is its total reach like, but here’s a shoutout to its American Citizens Services @ACSBKK tweeting security updates, curfew reminders, as well as IRS, voting, and other relevant  and timely information to overseas Americans. No, we do not expect ACS anywhere to live-tweet a coup, good gracious!

 

 

We’re sure that our folks overseas, like most of us would probably like some quiet time to read a book or have a private dinner with family and friends. Instead — they’re promoting U.S. businesses because that’s part of the job.  Oh yeah, how would you like to be that guy promoting beef?

Whether the signature threshold in the WH petition is reached or not, Ambassador Kenney is expected to rotate out of Bangkok in the near future. We, however, imagine that the WH may opt to keep her at post for the full fourth year, precisely because of the petition. Thailand is a country of over 66 million people. Still, we do not think the WH would like to see a perceived precedence that a petition could unseat a president’s personal representative by way of a petition. But should this petition reach 100,000 signatures in 30 days, it is assured an official response from the Obama Administration.

Note that thousands of people petitioned the White House to “secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.” It got an official response but sorry, we’re not gonna build a Death Star.

 

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Snapshot: Top Sectors for State Dept Reconstruction Awards in Afghanistan (2002-2013)

– Domani Spero

Via SIGAR:

We identified seven project sectors for Department of State reconstruction awards in Afghanistan. The project sectors include mine removal, governance and rule-of-law, support to cultural activities and civil society, education, humanitarian aid, human rights, and economic development. The governance and rule-of-law project sector had the highest amount of total awards with $3.5 billion, of the $4.0 billion in total awards. Governance and rule-of-law projects include rule-of-law activities such as counternarcotics programs and justice sector reform, peacekeeping initiatives, and government outreach programs. Land mine removal programs had the second-largest proportion of total awards with $150.7 million. Table 1 includes the total awards for each identified project sector as well as the percentage of total awards.

 

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Read more here (pdf).

 

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Snapshot: Top Recipients of State Dept Afghanistan Reconstruction Funds (2002-2013)

–Domani Spero

Via SIGAR:

State data indicated that the top-five recipients of State Afghanistan reconstruction awards by total obligations accounted for approximately $3.5 billion, or 87 percent, of total State reconstruction obligations. State awarded the remaining 13 percent of obligations to 766 recipients,who averaged about $676 thousand each in total obligations.

The top recipient of State reconstruction funding by total awards was Dyncorp International Limited Liability Corporation (Dyncorp). Dyncorp received approximately $2.8 billion in contracts, accounting for 69 percent of total State Department reconstruction awards. The majority of Dyncorp contracts were for governance and rule-of-law activities such training and equipping the Afghan National Police. Dyncorp contracts included police trainers, construction of police infrastructure, and fielding police equipment and vehicles. PAE Government Services Incorporated (PAE) received the second largest amount of total State reconstruction awards, receiving $598 million in contracts. PAE contracts supported development of the rule of law, including police training, counter narcotics advising, and justice sector development.

Of the total reported awards between the beginning of fiscal year 2002 and March 2013, 98 percent of awards by total value were scheduled to be complete by the end of calendar year 2013.

Screen Shot 2014-04-22

According to SIGAR, the U.S. Congress appropriated $96.57 billion between fiscal year (FY) 2002 and FY 2013 for Afghanistan reconstruction, principally for the Departments of Defense (DOD) and State (State) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). SIGAR analysis of Department of State data indicates that State obligated nearly $4 billion for reconstruction in Afghanistan between the beginning of fiscal year 2002 and March 2013.

Read more here (pdf).

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Cuban Twitter: Short Message Service for Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan?

– Domani Spero

The month of April started off with a bang for USAID!  We saw the Twitter Cubano story first, and then there’s USAID’s reportedly $1billion a year “DARPA-like” innovation lab.  Also SIGAR John Sopko accused USAID of cover up in Afghanistan. And no, USAID Administrator is not going to New Delhi as the next US Ambassador to India. We were seriously intrigued by  the ZunZuneo story, the secret Cuban Twitter reported by the Associated Press. Can you blame us?

 

We thought the Associated Press did a great investigative piece. Sorry, we are not convinced that this was ‘breathlessly written.’

In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.

McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company’s ties to the U.S. government.

McSpedon didn’t work for the CIA. This was a program paid for and run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid.

For a look on how much the U.S. Government spent on Cuban Democracy between 1996-2011, see a snapshot of the funding here.

In an interview with Popular Science, USAID’s Administrator, Rajiv Shah, who led USAID through the program, defended it.

“One of the areas we work in is in the area of rights protection and accountability,” Shah said. The highest-level official named in the AP documents is a mid-level manager named Joe McSpedon.

But Shah—despite the fact that the program was unknown to the public—said the idea that ZunZuneo was a covert operation is “inaccurate,” and pointed out that there are other USAID programs that require secrecy, such as protecting the identities of humanitarian workers in Syria. “These projects are notified to Congress and the subject of a thorough accountability report,” he said.

 

The AP story mentions two USAID connected companies: Creative Associates International as contractor and Denver-based Mobile Accord Inc. as one of the subcontractors.

According to Denver Business Journal, Mobile Accord is the parent organization of the mGive business, which helps nonprofits raise donation via text message, and of the GeoPoll business handling opinion surveys in developing nations.

The Guardian reports that the money that Creative Associates spent on ZunZuneo was “publicly earmarked for an unspecified project in Pakistan, government data show. But there is no indication of where the funds were actually spent.”

So we went digging over at USASpending.gov. The first contract we located is a State Department contract with Mobile Accord in the amount of $969,000 and signed on September 18, 2009.  The contract description says: “Short Message Service Support to Be Provided to Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of PAKISTAN.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-04

 

The second contract also with Mobile Accord in the amount of $720,000 was signed in July 8, 2010:

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So if Twitter Cubano was not a “covert”operation, what’s this over $1.6 million contract between the State Department and Mobile Accord for the Northwest Frontier Pakistan about?  The folks who prepared this data for USASpending.gov did not really intend to be inaccurate with this public information, right?  They just inadvetently spelled ‘Cuba’ as ‘Northwest Frontier Pakistan.’

And this is the official version of  ‘truth in reporting”as public service? What you don’t know can’t harm you?

If this money actually went to Twitter Cubano, and was hidden in plain sight, how are we to believe the accuracy of the data we see on the USASpending website?

Where else do we have similar projects for democracy promotion and/or regime change if possible, do you know?

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Snapshot: Cuba Democracy Funding to State and USAID – FY1996-2011

– Domani Spero

The Associated Press recently produced an investigative piece on ZunZuneo, a Twitter Cubano reportedly aimed at undermining the socialist government in Cuba that was managed by USAID.

The official government response cited a GAO report from 2013 which make no mention of ZunZeneo. The report, however, provides a snapshot of how much we have spent on the Cuba Democracy project from 1996-2011. Ay mucho dinero:

In fiscal years 1996 through 2011, Congress appropriated $205 million for Cuba democracy assistance, appropriating 87 percent of these funds since 2004. Increased funding for Cuba democracy assistance was recommended by the interagency Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which was established by President George W. Bush in 2003.13 Program funding, which peaked in 2008 with appropriations totaling $44.4 million, has ranged between $15 and $20 million per year during fiscal years 2009 through 2012. For fiscal year 2013, USAID and State reduced their combined funding request to $15 million, citing operational challenges to assistance efforts in Cuba.14

In fiscal years 1996 through 2011, $138.2 million of Cuba democracy funds were allocated to USAID and $52.3 million were allocated to State. (see GAO report pdf).

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-03

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Meanwhile in Santo Domingo: Ambassador Brewster’s Husband Not Invited ‘Cuz He’s Not a “Wife”

– Domani Spero

Ambassador James (Wally) Brewster was officially sworn in as Ambassador to the Dominican Republic by Vice President Biden on November 22, 2013. He is now at post, accompanied by his partner of 25 years, Bob Satawake.  Prior to departing for the Dominican Republic, the couple celebrated their 25th anniversary together and got married in  Washington, D.C. (see Officially In: James “Wally” Brewster, Jr. to the Dominican Republic, an Island of Grace and Tolerance).

Photo via US Embassy DR/Facebook

Photo via US Embassy DR/Facebook

Blabbeando, the blog of LGBT-rights advocate Andrés Duque has covered the controversy over his appointment as ambassador to the Dominican Republic from the start.  Apparently,a month after assuming charge of the US Embassy in Santo Domingo, Ambassador Brewster did a reception at the embassy for the Dominican LGBT community with his husband in attendance.  According to Blabbeando, even before the Ambassador’s meeting with LGBT leaders, “Reverend Luis Rosario staged a press conference to say that the arrival of the new ambassador and his husband sent an “extremely negative message” to the Dominican people.”

“It’s a very sad state of affairs we are living at this moment,” Rev. Rosario added, “and it makes our nation seem like a great hospital for the sexually ill.”

Is this the same guy who called unnamed “sexual stimulant drugs” a time bomb?

This week, Blabbeando reports on his blog an earlier kerfuffle over a cancelled January 22nd diplomatic event in honor of Dominican Republic president Danilo Medina. Ambassador Brewster’s husband was reportedly not invited to that event because he was not considered a “wife.” Consequently, several diplomats reportedly refused to attend and the event had to be “suspended.”

And here is the most interesting part via Blabbeando:

Organized by the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the gathering was meant to be a private opportunity for diplomats and their spouses to honor the President but, as Acento reported yesterday, the Dean himself raised objections about extending an invitation to Ambassador Brewster’s husband and made a personal call to ask the Ambassador for his understanding and consideration.

From a private letter sent to all diplomats after questions were raised about the decision as translated from Spanish:

1. Reasons why the partner of the U.S. Ambassador was not invited to the Diplomatic Cocktail in honor of the President of the Dominican Republic: The partner of the U.S. Ambassador is not accredited as a “wife” but, instead, as a “dependent” of the Ambassador. In the Constitution of the Dominican Republic, same sex marriages are not recognized. Thus the Dominican authorities cannot officially recognize him as his “wife.”

2. This explains why he was not invited to accompany the Ambassador.

3. It would be incorrect and in some ways offensive to the entire Diplomatic Body to go against the Constitution and, worse yet, in front of the President of the Republic and in the presence of representatives from all the Diplomatic Missions accredited by the Dominican Republic.

4. The Dean of the Diplomatic Corps has spoken to the U.S. Ambassador regarding this impasse and has asked for his understanding regarding this question, particularly about its delicate nature as he well knows.  We expect the Ambassador to accept this calmly and with due consideration. The use of prudence would insure a proper way to handle this issue.

5. This does not imply any prejudice in the understanding, respect and tolerance the Colleagues from the Diplomatic Corps have towards the U.S. Ambassador, Mr. James W. Brewster.

6. An authority from the Foreign Affairs Ministry called on Saturday, January 18th, to express that the “Foreign Affairs Ministry” has no objection regarding to the attendance of the partner of the U.S. Ambassador. Naturally, the responsibility then falls on the Diplomatic Body.

7. Later, speaking to an authority from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, it was acknowledged that the largest obstacle still remained: The fundamental question raised by the Constitution. The Dean reaffirmed that it would be completely wrong for the Heads of the Missions to go against the Constitution in front of the President. The ministerial authority immediately recognized the severity of the circumstance and how local media might make an issue out of it.

Since when have spouses been accredited by foreign governments?  Spouses, straight or gays are not employees of the U.S. government and do not receive official accreditation.  This is a damn cocktail for god’s sake. We imagine no girlfriends, live-in partners, or people living in sin are also invited to the diplomatic receptions there?

Blabbeano notes that the letter was signed by the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo who is the new envoy from the Vatican to the Dominican Republic.  Bishop Okolo replaced Polish Archbishop Josef Wesolowski as Vatican Ambassador in the DR after the later was forcibly removed by Pope Francis amid a sex abuse investigation.

But somebody has been leaking internal correspondence over there. Yesterday, accent.com.do published  a January 20 letter from Steven M. Fisher, the British Ambassador to the DR to Bishop Okolo calling the discrimination of Ambassador Brewster’s husband  “unjustifiable.”

Le reitero la sugerencia que le hice en mi correo del 18 de enero de modificar la invitación para que podamos incluir a todos de manera igualitaria.

En caso de que se mantenga la decisión de no tratar a todos por igual, respetando su estatus civil, lamentablemente me temo que no participaría en el cóctel.

Ambassador Fisher urged that the invitation be modified to be more inclusive and if not, then he would not be in attendance. We are glad that the event was cancelled.

The Dominican Republic’s foreign ministry reportedly had no objection to the attendance of Mr. Satawake.  So, of course, the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, had to defend DR’s constitution because it would be “completely wrong” for a gay person to attend an event where the president of the republic is also in attendance.

Because what –  Mr. Satawake might bite President Medina?

Had this event went through as planned, Mr. Satawake, the husband of President Obama’s top representative in Santo Domingo would have been excluded from subsequent diplomatic functions for similar reasons.

Yo! Bishop Okolo, you keep at this, you’ll end up with lots of stale canapés the next couple of years.

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Dear Congress: You Are Not Allowed to Make Fun of Secretary Kerry’s Asia Pivot Shirts

– By Domani Spero

The cancellation of President Obama’s trip to Asia lent to hyperventilating descriptions about the president’s “Asia Pivot” — “falters,” “in shambles,” “goes pffft,” “in jeopardy” and such.

Well, frankly, not sure where that is going. But we could certainly imagine the political hay that would have been expended over POTUS trip to Asia during a government shutdown.

In any case, Secretary Kerry took the trip instead.

Dear Congress, this is what happened to America in Bali, Indonesia.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Official Dinner in Bali, Indonesia, on October 7, 2013. [State Department photo by William Ng/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Official Dinner in Bali, Indonesia, on October 7, 2013. [State Department photo by William Ng/ Public Domain]

So you’re not allowed to make fun of that shirt or any other shirts, kapish?

We actually think that purple batik suits him well.  Had they asked him to put on a gray one, he would have worn it too, even if he would have looked wash out in it.  Because he’s our top diplomat. Yes, diplomats are known to wear (and eat) things that their compatriots often find strange or weird. (See Round-Up: Headgears in the Foreign Service).

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, dressed in a traditional batik shirt, speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the two join other heads of delegation for a family photo before the APEC Leaders Dinner on October 7, 2013. in Bali, Indonesia. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, dressed in a traditional batik shirt, speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the two join other heads of delegation for a family photo before the APEC Leaders Dinner on October 7, 2013. in Bali, Indonesia. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow foreign ministers, all clad in batik shirts favored in Brunei, enter a gala dinner at the ASEAN ministerial meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan on July 1, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow foreign ministers, all clad in batik shirts favored in Brunei, enter a gala dinner at the ASEAN ministerial meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan on July 1, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with other regional heads of state and leaders of delegation before the start of a dinner and cultural program at the ASEAN Summit meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, on October 9, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with other regional heads of state and leaders of delegation before the start of a dinner and cultural program at the ASEAN Summit meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, on October 9, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

These are way tamer in comparison to what President Bush had to wear during his tenure.

Unfortunately, Tropical Storm Nari caused the cancellation of Secretary Kerry’s trip to the Philippines, so we are missing Secretary Kerry wearing the country’s famous Barong Tagalog.

Anyhow, we understand that Australia continues to host annual six-month training deployments of US Marines to its base in the Northern Territory. Australia’s Courier News reports today that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has promised the necessary infrastructure will be put in place to accommodate the expected presence of a 1000 U.S. Marines set to train there next year. The government is preparing to construct additional accommodations at two bases in Darwin.

So there’s that.

Then we heard that we are helping the Philippines develop Oyster Bay, a postcard-perfect cove on Palawan Island into a port for naval frigates and eventually for American warships?  All, of course, overlooking the disputed South China Sea.  But given all that’s happening in Washington, D.C….

No wonder Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the later’s 61st birthday “quaffing vodka and wolfing down cake”:

“It was 11:00 pm. I offered our Chinese friends to raise a shot of vodka,” Mr Putin said, according to Russian state news agency ITAR-TASS.

“They did not refuse, so we did just that.” As for the cake: “We wolfed it down successfully”. Needless to say, Mr Putin described his meeting with Mr Xi as “very warm” and “friendly”.

We can’t say if Secretary Kerry was in attendance for that “quaffing” and “wolfing” event.

Meanwhile, back in Foggy Bottom:  The East Asia Pacific bureau has six deputy assistant secretaries, twice as many as in 2004, and a deputy assistant secretary-level U.S. senior official for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. State/OIG reports that “the bureau needs to streamline front office staffing” — top heavy structure for the second smallest regional bureau in the house needs fixing.  Why? Because as in other bureaus, “the proliferation of DASes has diminished the role of office directors and reduced responsibility at every level.” Also this:

The administration’s rebalance toward Asia has not been matched by additional financial or human resources. A Congressional Research Service memorandum notes that “[new] initiatives have not, however, been accompanied by a significant increase in the State Department or USAID’s programmatic resources devoted to East Asia.” Foreign assistance to the region in FY 2013 is 19 percent below the FY 2010 peak. U.S. military resources for the region have increased, but sequestration may impact future plans.

Folks, somewhere, some heads of state are laughing their heads off.

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Snapshot: Afghan Opium Produced and Seized (2008-2012)

Via SIGAR

Screen Shot 2013-09-19

 

 

 

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