Category Archives: McCain

US Embassy Oslo: Clueless on Norway, Murder Boards Next?

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– Domani Spero

In the short path to the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway, this episode has now been recorded for posterity.

Also made it to Anderson Cooper’s “RidicuList” and now posted on YouTube.

This episode shows that cramming for a job that takes 30 years to prepare for the regular service can be quite perilous for aspiring ambassadors with deep pockets. Despite a week or so of training at the Foreign Service Institute one can still end up as the Norwegians put it, “trampling through the salad bowl.” Imagine that.

We’ll never look at our salad bowl the same way again.

Maybe the SFRC will start conducting closed hearings for these nominees to save us from the embarrassment?  Well, we hope not. Now that Senator McCain has brought the badass back into the confirmation hearings, we’ll have to start watching these hearings again.  A few more of these incidents and the nominees will need to be put through “murder boards.”

In the meantime, U.S. Embassy Oslo had to managed this “uncomfortable” episode.

Via News In English Norway:

TV2 reported that the embassy expressed in the “private conversations” that Tsunis’ remarks amounted to an episode that was both “uncomfortable” and “regrettable,” and one they gladly would have avoided. They reportedly stressed that Tsunis’ remarks did not represent either the attitudes of the US Embassy in Oslo or US authorities in Washington DC.

Kristian Norheim, a Member of Parliament and international secretary for the Progress Party, confirmed he has “been in dialogue” with the embassy since the hearing and told TV2 there was “no doubt” that Tsunis’ remarks were problematic. “The embassy therefore had a need to clarify that they also think this was an uncomfortable episode,” Norheim told TV2.

Norheim’s party colleague Jan Arild Ellingsen, who demanded an apology from Obama himself last week, said that Tsunis clearly needs to undergo some “adult education” and that both he and other party members would welcome him to a meeting at the parliament, assuming the senate goes through with his confirmation as ambassador.

 

News in English Norway, in a follow-up item today reports this update:  “George James Tsunis, the wealthy New York businessman tapped to be the next US ambassador to Norway, has reportedly told Norway’s TV2 that he regrets remarks he made at his US Senate confirmation hearing earlier this month that showed him to be ignorant of the country where he was being sent.”

We are unofficially sorry for you folks, damage control and all that, but you gotta do what you gotta do. We hope you put the next ambassador on Twitter as soon as he is confirmed.

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Filed under Ambassadorships, Foreign Service, Hearings, McCain, Media, Nominations, Realities of the FS, SFRC, State Department, U.S. Missions

Benghazi Hearings with Hillary Clinton: Some Take Aways

So after months of endless chatter and lots of ink spilled on Secretary Clinton testifying on Benghazi, the moment finally arrived on January 23, 2013. You’d think that after over four months waiting for the Secretary of State to appear in Congress to answer questions about the Benghazi attack, that our elected representatives had the time to craft questions that would help inform us better.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.    Did we learn anything new from the hearing? Well, not really but we did have a few take aways.

I.  Folks elected to Congress apparently do not need to know basic information before coming to a hearing and asking questions. Uh-oh, brains going commando!  But that’s part of the perks of being an elected representative.  You don’t have to know anything or a lot.

Rep. Joe Wilson asked why there were no Marines in Benghazi.  Oh, Joe!

Rep. Kinzinger suggested that an F-16 could/should have been have flown over Benghazi to disperse the mob/crowd or whatever you call those attackers.

We’ve heard of things called pepper sprays, tear gas, even pain rays for crowd control but this is the first time we’ve heard of the suggestion of using F-16s for crowd dispersal.  You need to get one of those for your post asap.

Rep. Juan Vargas asked again why there were no Marines in Benghazi. Ugh! Juan, do your homework or dammit, listen!

Rep. McCaul asked why Stevens was in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.  Did he bother to read this report, or did he read it and did not believe it?

Rep. Marino on State Dept personnel who were put on administrative leave in the aftermath of the ARB report: “Why haven’t they been fired?” Clinton: “There are regulations and laws that govern that.”

Well, dammit, who wrote those regulations and laws?  Oooh!

 Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on the Benghazi ARB not having interviewed Clinton: “I think that’s outrageous.”

The good congresswoman from Florida would have wanted the ARB Benghazi to interview the Secretary of State for a report that will be submitted to the Secretary of State. That would have been certainly outrageous, too, no?

She also asked: Why did State not immediately revamp our security protocols prior to the September 11th attacks?

Huh?

Sen. Jeff Flake  asked if Clinton was consulted before Susan Rice was chosen to go on Sunday morning shows.

Rep. Matt Salmon: “Eric Holder has repeatedly misled about an international gun-trafficking scheme.”

Gawd, no more Rice, pleeeeaase! And did somebody scramble Matt’s hearing schedule again?  Was Eric Holder in the building?

At the SFRC hearing, the more deliberative kind, Senator Rand Paul gave himself a lengthy talk and then asked: “Is the U.S. involved in shipping weapons out of Libya to Turkey.”

Clinton’s response: “To Turkey? I will have to take that question for the record. That’s … Nobody has ever raised that with me.”

Dear Senator Paul, please check with OGA, the Annex people may know.

Of course, President Senator Paul will also be remembered for stealing the thunderbolts from Senator McCain with his: “Had I been president at the time and I found out that you did not read the cables … I would have relieved you of your post.”

Hookay!

Senator Paul was only topped by Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin with his inquiry which started a heated exchange with Clinton:  “Did anybody in the State Department talk to those folks [people evacuated from Libya] very shortly afterwards?”

With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” Clinton told him angrily. “Whether it’s because of a protest or whether a guy out for a walk decided to go kill some Americans, what difference at this point does it make?”

And perhaps because of that heated exchange, we will forever remember Senator Johnson as the guy who got Hillary mad, and got a public spanking in the process.  His response? “Thank you, Madame Secretary.”

II.  2016 looming large in their minds, oh my!

Tom Udall of New Mexico praised Secretary Clinton for her work on “cookstoves” which  improve lives for third world people.

Were there cookstoves in Benghazi?

Rep. Ami Bera said: “I think I speak for all the freshmen that we’re not gonna get much time to serve with you, but we hope in a few years we’ll get that chance to serve again.”

Rep. Juan Vargas said: “I have to say that because it’s true, one, and secondly, I don’t think that my wife, my 16-year-old daughter or my nine-year-old daughter … she’d probably even turn on me and wouldn’t let me in the house if I didn’t say that.  You are a hero to many, especially women ….”

That’s just a sampling of the other extreme reception that Secretary Clinton received from one side of the aisle while the other side were reportedly “grilling” her.  If you call what she got a grilling, we hate to see what a real roasting is like.

III.  1.4 million cables

Secretary Clinton told Congress that about 1.4 million cables go to the State Department every year, and they’re all addressed to her.  All you need to do is peek at those Wikileaks cables and you’ll quickly notice that almost all cables going back to Washington are addressed to  SECSTATE.  The Secretary doesn’t read all of them because that would be a crazy expectation; that’s why there are tiered leadership within that building.  There’s a cable reportedly floating around the net sent by Ambassador Stevens to the State Department about security. From best we could tell, the cable was drafted by one officer, cleared by one officer, and released by one officer under Ambassador Stevens’ signature. He is the chief of mission. All cables that went out of Tripoli were sent under his signature.

The question the reps should have asked is how many NODIS cables did Ambassador Stevens send from Tripoli?  Cables captioned NODIS identifies messages of the highest sensitivity between the chief of mission and the Secretary of State.  All other regular cables marked Routine, Priority or Immediate would have gone through the appropriate distribution channels, and up the offices and bureaus within State.  Security request cables would have been received at Diplomatic Security, any deliberation beyond the bureau would have gone up to the Under Secretary for Management (“M”).  That’s within their pay grades.  We doubt very much that any would have gone to the Secretary’s office.  Note that this is not the first time that an ambassador’s request for additional security was not seen by the Secretary of State. Ambassador Bushnell prior to the bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi made a similar request to Secretary Albright. In the aftermath of the bombing  Secretary Albright told the ambassador she never saw the letter.

 

IV.  Iraq and Afghanistan sucked out resources

Okay, we all know this already. But here the Secretary of State, for the first time publicly acknowledged that an emphasis on security in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade diverted resources from other outposts around the world.

 

V. Accountability Review Boards. 

Since 1988 there have been 19 Accountability Review Boards investigating attacks on American diplomats and diplomatic facilities worldwide.   Of those 19 ARBs only the ARB for the East Africa Bombings and the ARB for Benghazi are available for public view.  Can some media or accountability group please FOIA the remaining 17 ARBs? Better yet, if Congress can get its act together, it should update the regs to allow for the automatic publication of the ARBs after a certain length of time deemed appropriate.

We should note that the Accountability Review Boards are not “independent” bodies as they are often described in news reports. They are composed of individuals recommended by the Permanent Coordinating Committee (PCC) inside the State Department. A committee so transparent that you can’t find it listed in any of the DoS telephone directory.  In almost all of them, the chairman is a retired ambassador, with former, retired or current members from the federal bureaucracy.

The PCC composition itself is interesting.  Are we to understand that the PCC did not/not recommend to Secretary Clinton convening ARBs for the embassy breaches in Tunis, Sana’a, Cairo and Khartoum despite significant destruction of properties? Four ARBs in addition to Benghazi would have been too much, huh? Do please take a look at the PCC membership, and perhaps there’s the reason why.

 

VI. High Threat Posts. 

Secretary Clinton told the panel that she named the first Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for High Threat Posts, “so Missions in dangerous places get the attention they need.”  She’s talking about the newly designated 17 (20?) diplomatic posts considered high threat, which obviously need its own assistant secretary and an entirely new support staff.

That’s good and that’s bad. Perhaps we need to remind the somebodies that when the US Embassy Kenya was bombed, it was not a high threat post.  Nobody seems to know how or what factors were used in determining which post get into this list.  Even folks who we presumed should know are scratching their heads; they are in the dark.  As we have pointed out previously, some posts on this high threat list are not even considered danger posts.  And some posts considered dangerous enough that the Government pays employees a danger differential to be there are not on this list. Go figure.

Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen.

One other reminder. In the aftermath of the East Africa Bombing in 1998, and upon recommendation of the ARB for that incident, the State Department kicked off its Crisis Management Exercise program for its worldwide posts. The Crisis Management Training Office (CMT) went from a one-person shop ran for years by, if we remember correctly, a retired Special Forces colonel and Vietnam vet, to a big shop with lots of trainers and travel money ran by an FSO who was not a crisis management professional.  Yeah, you should read some of the scenarios they table-top sometimes where there’s a plane crash, and an earthquake and hell, a tsunami and a hostage taking, too, all on the same day, why not?

See if you can find an assessment on how much impact the CMEs have on mission preparedness. Particularly, if the local employees who play a large part in any catastrophic event overseas are not included in the exercise.  Did any of the CMEs ever written in the last 10 years imagined any of the events that played out in the last two years?

In the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack, Congress often is lax with its purse strings. It does not want to be perceived as functioning on the wrong side of the story. It’s bad for reelection.  We have no doubt that Congress will increased funds for building new embassy compounds or hardening old ones, as well as increase US Marine Guards and Diplomatic Security personnel.  We don’t know if the MOU between DOD and State has been updated to allow the active use of force. Because what does it matter if you have more Marines if they are only allowed to engage in a passive response? Did anyone ask that during the hearing?

Perhaps the important take away in all this is that once you create and fund something in the bureaucracy, it lives almost to perpetuity; it is easier to stand up an office than remove an old one.  Has the Crisis Management Office served its purpose in the last decade? Maybe, maybe not. We have no way of knowing but it continue to exist.  Was the new directorate for High Threat posts within Diplomatic Security well thought of? Maybe, maybe not. But the office now exist and will operate with new authority, staff, funding and  the accompanying high profile within and outside the building.  Until the next big one happens, in which case, a new program or office will be quickly created in direct response to the incident.

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Filed under Congress, Foreign Affairs, Hearings, Hillary, Leaks|Controversies, McCain, Politics, Secretary of State, Security, SFRC, State Department

Happy Now? Susan Rice Removes Name From Consideration as SecState

NBS News exclusive reports that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice is dropping out of the running to be the next secretary of state after months of criticism over her Benghazi comments.

“If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly – to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities,” Rice wrote in a letter to President Obama, saying she’s saddened by the partisan politics surrounding her prospects.

“That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country…Therefore, I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time,” she wrote in the letter obtained by NBC News.

Read the full letter here via Politico.

Below is the Statement by the President on Ambassador Rice:

Today, I spoke to Ambassador Susan Rice, and accepted her decision to remove her name from consideration for Secretary of State. For two decades, Susan has proven to be an extraordinarily capable, patriotic, and passionate public servant. As my Ambassador to the United Nations, she plays an indispensable role in advancing America’s interests. Already, she has secured international support for sanctions against Iran and North Korea, worked to protect the people of Libya, helped achieve an independent South Sudan, stood up for Israel’s security and legitimacy, and served as an advocate for UN reform and the human rights of all people. I am grateful that Susan will continue to serve as our Ambassador at the United Nations and a key member of my cabinet and national security team, carrying her work forward on all of these and other issues. I have every confidence that Susan has limitless capability to serve our country now and in the years to come, and know that I will continue to rely on her as an advisor and friend. While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character, and an admirable commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first. The American people can be proud to have a public servant of her caliber and character representing our country.

Somewhere Senator McGrouchy is dancing in the moonlight.

Rumors abound that former Senator Chuck Hagel is heading to the Pentagon. In which case, it seems likely that the Senate’s favorite, John Kerry is a step closer to Foggy Bottom.

domani spero sig

 

 

 

 

 

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Securing U.S. Diplomatic Facilities/Personnel: Funding, Sequestration, Affordability and Risks

Secrecy News has just posted a November 26, 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service on diplomatic security and notes that “In almost every year since 2007, Congress appropriated less money for diplomatic security than had been requested.  In FY2012, the State Department sought $2.9 billion for security, and Congress enacted $2.6 billion.”

The CRS report itself described the funding as following a “boom and bust” cycle:

“Observers have suggested that funding for embassy security follows a “boom and bust” cycle, in which major attacks are followed by a sudden influx of resources that may be difficult to expend in a well-planned manner. An influx of security-related resources in the 1980s was followed by a lull in the 1990s when diplomatic security funding was greatly reduced prior to the 1998 attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. The subsequent State Department Accountability Review Board suggested that the preceding years of reduced spending for embassy security was a contributing factor to the vulnerability of the targeted embassies.”

If Congress stays true to form, the boom is already starting.  The Hill reports:

The Senate passed an amendment to the defense bill by voice vote Wednesday that would place more Marines at U.S. consulates and embassies around the world… Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced the amendment. He said the amendment was important to preventing more deaths overseas, referring to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012….

McCain said his amendment, 3051, would also ask the Department of Defense to reassess the rules of engagement for Marines stationed at embassies and consulates so they could engage in combat when attacked.

The amendment authorize a 1,000 person increase in the size of the Marine Corps to provide additional protections for U.S. embassies and consulates. More here. While I do think we should revisit our use of force policy at our overseas post, the Democracy Arsenal takes up the other side of this amendment — why there is a push to increase Marine presence instead of increasing Diplomatic Security agents:

“Just to be clear, this is not so say that the Marines do not play an important role in diplomatic security. Clearly they do both in terms of information protection and protection of dignitaries and personnel. However, it is strange that Sen. McCain would advocate so forcefully for increasing the Marines presence with no mention of the forces primarily tasked with the mission, especially since his colleagues have repeatedly decreased funding.”

More from the CRS report:

The United States maintains about 285 diplomatic facilities worldwide.1 Attacks on such facilities, and on U.S. diplomatic personnel, are not isolated instances. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel were killed in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, after armed individuals attacked and burned buildings on the main mission compound and subsequently attacked a second annex site where U.S. personnel had been evacuated.

Five other U.S. ambassadors have died by violent acts in the line of duty, although none since 1979.2 In addition to this total, 38 U.S. diplomats who were not ambassadors have been killed in the past 30 years.3 There were 39 attacks against U.S. embassies and consulates and official U.S. personnel overseas between 1998 and 2008, excluding regular attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.4
[...]
The inability to provide perfect security, especially against the evident threat of mob violence, has focused particular scrutiny on the deployment of diplomatic personnel in high-threat environments. The Department of State currently maintains a presence in locations faced with security conditions that previously would likely have led State to evacuate personnel and close the post.

Under reciprocal treaty obligations, host nations are obligated to provide security for the diplomatic facilities of  sending states. However, instances in which host nations have been unable or not fully committed to fulfilling this responsibility have sometimes left U.S. facilities vulnerable, especially in extraordinary circumstances. U.S. facilities therefore employ a layered approach to security, including not only the measures taken by a host country, but also additional, U.S.-coordinated measures, to include armed Diplomatic Security agents, hardened facilities, U.S.-trained and/or contracted local security guards, and sometimes U.S. Marine Security Guard detachments (whose principal role is securing sensitive information).

The rapid growth in the number of U.S. civilians deployed in high-risk environments of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan spurred significant investment in recent years in the Department of State’s capacity to provide security in dangerous areas through its Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), while simultaneously placing unprecedented burdens on DS’s capability to carry out this mission successfully there and in other challenging locations. With greater focus on these frontline states, funds for other U.S. facilities could be strained.
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As Congress examines whether enough funding has been provided or more is needed for properly securing American personnel, embassies, and information around the world, it will do so in a climate of shrinking budgets; any proposed funding increases are likely to be met with calls for offsetting cuts elsewhere.

Also of near-term concern is the possible effect that the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA, P.L. 112-25) sequestration could have on diplomatic security funding. If across-the-board spending reductions occur as scheduled on January 2, 2013, currently estimated at about 8.2% of funding, security funding could be reduced as well. Those who consider embassy security funding to be insufficient would find the problem exacerbated by sequestration. The combined effects of a sequestration in 2013 and a half year Continuing Resolution that ends in March 2013 could generate concerns about diplomatic security funding in the months and years ahead.

Some foreign policy experts are concerned that, with limited available dollars for foreign affairs overall, war-related costs in frontline states may be drawing funds away from needs in the rest of the 285-plus U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world. With the recent Arab Spring uprisings, for example, U.S. personnel located in those countries may be more vulnerable than those located in the frontline states where the embassies were built and heavily fortified recently. Some observers wonder if the rapidly evolving changes in Arab Spring countries may have contributed to difficulties in achieving and maintaining adequate diplomatic security there. Possibly adding to the difficulty is the unpredictability in the timing of funding bills being passed by Congress.

Fiscal years may not be in sync with new increasing needs or with contracts. Furthermore, when Congress is unable to pass funding bills until well into the new fiscal year, or passes continuing resolutions in place of spending bills for the remainder of the fiscal year, the agency is left to guess what annual funding they can expect and has fewer months to spend the funds once received.

Another, perhaps longer-term related aspect of the funding debate is whether the United States can afford to maintain facilities and adequate security everywhere, especially in nascent democracies that are often unstable and unpredictable. If embassy security is the responsibility of the local government, but that government does not have the capability required to keep American personnel safe, the U.S. government must weigh the security risks of keeping a U.S. presence in such environments.

Continue reading, Securing U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel Abroad: Background and Policy Issues.

domani spero sig

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Filed under Congress, Diplomatic Security, Follow the Money, Foreign Service, FS Funding, Govt Reports/Documents, McCain, Security, State Department

The Susan Rice Roller Coaster Ride – “Softened” Senators Now “Significantly Troubled” and “Disturbed”

So we heard that Senator McCain has “softened” a tad about the possible Susan Rice nomination.  He told Fox News Sunday that he was willing to hear her out. Asked whether there’s anything Rice can do to change his mind, McCain responded:

“Sure, I give everyone the benefit of explaining their position and the actions that they took. I’ll be glad to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with her. Why did she say that Al-Qaeda has been decimated in her statement here on this program? Al-Qaeda hasn’t been decimated, they’re on the rise…So, there’s a lot of questions we have for Ambassador Rice, and I’m sure we’ll have the opportunity to discuss this with her.”

The CSM explains why GOP opposition to Susan Rice is no longer white-hot. The news about what’s softening even made the  international news.  And then the AP reported that “With congressional opposition softening, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice could find her name in contention as early as this week to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state.”

Yesterday, it was widely reported that the U.N. Ambassador would have a Tuesday meeting with the three key Republican senators, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). The meeting was reportedly at the request of Ambassador Rice’s office.

So today the folks had their meeting. And then the softened senators are quickly back to their old selves.  What more, they  are now “significantly troubled,” “more troubled, not less” and obviously “disturbed.”

“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got, and some that we didn’t get, concerning evidence that was overwhelming leading up to the attack on our consulate,” McCain told reporters after the meeting.

“I am more disturbed now than before,said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (video).

Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said she’s “more troubled, not less,” after talking with Rice and top U.S. intelligence officials about the attacks.

Over at USUN, Ambassador Rice released a statement about her meeting with the three senators saying, “I appreciated the opportunity to discuss these issues directly and constructively with them” and that she and Acting CIA Director Michael Morell stressed that there was no intention to mislead. Here is part of the statement:

“In the course of the meeting, we explained that the talking points provided by the intelligence community, and the initial assessment upon which they were based, were incorrect in a key respect: there was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi. While we certainly wish that we had had perfect information just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case, the intelligence assessment has evolved. We stressed that neither I nor anyone else in the Administration intended to mislead the American people at any stage in this process, and the Administration updated Congress and the American people as our assessments evolved.”

 

This is looking more and more like a rough ride. And if Susan Rice does get the nomination and  the Senate confirmation dashed with a brutal fight, there will be an extreme ride way ahead. Brutal fights tend to generate intense, unforgettable memories …so, there may be a rumble with every new nomination particularly related to the State Department.

We’re scrapping the bottom for good news on this one — but there is at least this:  with Senator McCain and his prospective ranking Republican spot in the Indian Affairs Committee next year, the new Congress should be far from boring.  It’ll be nice if they get something done, too, but that would be asking too much.

 

 

 

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Foggy Bottom Race: The Susan Rice Noise Gets Louder, Thanks to Senator McGrouchy

You’ve already heard Senator John McCain firing the opening salvo on the State Department’s (maybe) future Secretary Rice. Susan Rice has not even been announced as a nominee yet but hey,  this the pre-emption doctrine at work.

In any case, we are reminded of his take on this Rice and not that Rice. Senator McCain argued that  Susan Rice is “not qualified” to be the next secretary since she said the Benghazi attack began spontaneously and promised to block her nomination. In 2005, Mr. McCain argued that Condoleezza Rice was qualified to be the next secretary of state, despite her testimony about those WMDs in Iraq.

So then the newly reelected prez says come after me, dudes!

And Senator McCain took him up on that offer, so then the GOP wants a special select committee ala Watergate to investigate the attack in Benghazi.

Thereafter, just like in the movies, Nevada’s Harry Reid came out with a three-barrel page turner written with a scathing .44 Magnum pen.

Oops!  But what’s this we hear? Is it true that in January, the Arizona senator will lose his top-ranking committee seat due to term limits?  And that the only ranking Republican spot available to him next session will be on the Indian Affairs Committee?

What’s this world coming to?

The jaded part of me says born or made, politicians are bound to disappoint.

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Maureen Dowd over in the NYT waded into the matter and asked, Is Rice Cooked?  I dunno, is she?

Rice, who has a bull-in-a-china-shop reputation, is diplomatic enough for the top diplomatic job. [..] Rice should have realized that when a gang showed up with R.P.G.’s and mortars in a place known as a hotbed of Qaeda sympathizers and Islamic extremist training camps, it was not anger over a movie. She should have been savvy enough to wonder why the wily Hillary was avoiding the talk shows.”

In WaPo, Robert Kagan, prominent neoconservative writer with the Brookings Institution and husband of State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland said that  “the idea that Rice should be disqualified because of statements she made on television in the days after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, strikes me as unfair. [...] I haven’t seen persuasive evidence to support the theory that Rice’s statements were part of a coverup to hide a terrorist attack.”

Also in WaPo, Dana Milbank wrote about  Susan Rice’s tarnished resume with inside the building stories from unnamed witnesses (ah yes, the knives are out!):

“Rice has managed to make an impressive array of enemies — on Capitol Hill, in Foggy Bottom and abroad. Particularly in comparison with the other person often mentioned for the job, Sen. John Kerry, she can be a most undiplomatic diplomat, and there likely aren’t enough Republican or Democratic votes in the Senate to confirm her.
[...]
Back when she was an assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration, she appalled colleagues by flipping her middle finger at Richard Holbrooke during a meeting with senior staff at the State Department, according to witnesses.
[...]
But the nation’s top diplomat needs to show more sensitivity and independence — traits Clinton has demonstrated in abundance. Obama can do better at State than Susan Rice.”

After weeks of being the Benghazi punching bag, and with 97 House Republicans (who have no role in confirming a cabinet secretary) co-signing a letter to  President Obama about being “deeply troubled” that Susan Rice is under consideration as possible successor of Hillary Clinton (claiming  she “caused irreparable damage to her credibility both at home and around the world”), and just one day before Thanksgiving, the subject of so much online ink finally spoke up to defend herself:

She said she respects Republican Sen. John McCain, who has been critical of her, but says “some of the statements he’s made about me have been unfounded, but I look forward to having the opportunity at the appropriate time to discuss all of this with him.”

One wonders why she is speaking out now? Is that “appropriate time” during an expected nomination hearing?

Also this past weekend, Reuters has an item that says Susan Rice battles critics over style, substance, perceptions with mostly unnamed diplomats complaining about blunt language and what appears to be a double standard when it comes to breaking eggs.

Diplomats on the 15-nation U.N. Security Council privately complain of Rice’s aggressive negotiating tactics, describing her with terms like “undiplomatic” and “sometimes rather rude.” They attributed some blunt language to Rice – “this is crap,” “let’s kill this” or “this is bull___.”

“She’s got a sort of a cowboy-ish attitude,” one Western diplomat said. “She has a tendency to treat other countries as mere (U.S.) subsidiaries.”
[...]
“She’s not easy,” said David Rothkopf, the top manager and editor-at-large of Foreign Policy magazine. “I’m not sure I’d want to take her on a picnic with my family, but if the president wants her to be secretary of state, she’ll work hard.”
Indeed, along with a “no-nonsense” style, Rice has the most important ingredient for a successful secretary of state – a close relationship with the U.S. president, Rothkopf said.
[...]
Rothkopf, who was an official in President Bill Clinton’s administration, cited James Baker and Henry Kissinger as exemplary secretaries of state.

They were “tough infighters who broke a few eggs and made some enemies. They are admired for their toughness, and (Rice) is attacked for her abrasiveness,” he said.

And New York Magazine’s John Heilemann in State of War offers at least five reasons why Obama will appoint Rice to succeed Clinton and also why she will be confirmed.  One of the reasons for this prediction with “a 79.4357 percent probability” is that “McCain is being a jackass—and Obama is sick of it.”

Amidst the noise generated by rumors of this possible nomination, perhaps Stephen Walt over in Foreign Policy articulated the best argument against the Rice nomination as the next secretary of state. He writes:

I fear that unlike Hillary Clinton, Rice is too much of an Obama insider and too dependent on the president’s patronage to be an ideal Secretary of State. As a result, her appointment will reinforce the growing lack of intellectual diversity within the administration.
[...]
Rice, by contrast, has no independent power base. She did serve as Assistant Secretary of State for Africa in the Clinton administration (to no great distinction), but signed up early with Obama and was a key foreign policy advisor during the 2008 campaign. She obviously has Obama’s confidence, but her current ascendancy depends solely on the president’s backing. Maintaining his personal support will be critical to her effectiveness, which makes her much less likely to tell him things he doesn’t want to hear or that cut against the thrust of existing policy. Although Rice has the reputation of being a forceful advocate with sharp elbows, her relationship to the president runs the risk of making her more of a courtier than a counselor.

The danger of an administration suffering from groupthink is certainly real. Hello Iraq! But with Susan Rice as an Obama insider, no foreign leader will doubt her closeness to this president.

Of course, if the secretary of state is too independent or too much of an outsider, he or she could end up marginalized by White House insiders.  Remember Cordell Hull during the Roosevelt years and of course, there is Colin Powell, during the first George W. Bush term.

In addition to Walt’s point, there are two things that we hope might be included in the calculation of nominating the next secretary of state.

One – somebody with enough stature and relationship with Congress who can help shore up support for the State Department budget, which is often an attractive candidate for pirate raid in this world of shrinking federal resources. In this dangerous world, the State Department cannot continue to do more with less. It should either be funded for the work that needs to be done or it should consolidate some of its overseas presence into regional hubs with appropriate support, staffing and funding.

Two – somebody with the right sauce who can help right the listing ship of the U.S. Foreign Service. The new norm of deploying diplomats into war zones which started during Condi Rice’s tenure has gone on for years now and into the Clinton tenure with no end in sight.  At the same time, assignments to non-war zone areas where there is continuing threats of physical harm or imminent danger to FS employees, including unaccompanied assignments (UT) which continue to expand.  As an aside, I’ve heard that there is one/one UT program specialist at the State Department to “support” 800 UT family members and partners. Is that as family friendly as it gets?

Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan continue to tax the shrinking resources of a small agency.  For example, in spring this year, the USG planned a presence of 11,500 personnel at 11 diplomatic sites in Iraq. According to the GAO, between fiscal years 2004 and 2008, Diplomatic Security (DS) operations in Iraq required approximately 36 percent of Diplomatic Security’s entire budget.  DS like the rest of the State Department had to draw staff and resources away from other programs.  Then there’s Afghanistan after 2014 where State will do Iraq all over again.

Of course, AIP posts have absolutely nothing to do with the persistent experience gaps in overseas Foreign Service positions, which have not diminished since 2008. And the persistent issues on assignments, performance evaluation and promotion just rage on.

Ambassador Rice has been at the helm of USUN since 2009 and her performance as chief of mission there has not lead us to believe that she is the right person who can inspire followers or provide the needed leadership to help the listing ship at State.  Here is part of the OIG report:

…  neither the mission’s leadership nor individual section chiefs have given sufficient attention to management of the mission’s people and processes.

Ø For many years USUN has focused few resources and little attention on training mission staff, leaving some in jobs for which they lack sufficient skills and others without an opportunity to upgrade or refresh their knowledge.

Ø USUN has not had a strategic approach to workforce planning and has refilled vacancies without considering mission priorities and reprogramming options.

That’s not the best starting point.  If you can’t manage people and processes, you are in a constant crisis mode. Which is not a good thing because — sooner or later people will burn out, stick their finger in a socket and mistakes will happen.

I actually would like to see Secretary Powell return to State. I do believe in second chances, and some of the work he started there needs revisiting.

President Obama, of course, has the prerogative to pick his cabinet secretary.  But I also think that despite Senator McGrouchy’s dare, President Obama can do better at State than Susan Rice. But not because of Benghazi. And not because of her sharp elbows.

 

 

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US Mission Afghanistan: CODEL McCain 07.03.2011

Visiting U.S. Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman during the CODEL in Kabul.  The delegation also celebrated the 235th Anniversary of American Independence Day with the U.S. Embassy in Kabul but those photos are no longer accessible at the US Embassy Kabul’s website: 

 
 
 

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It’s Me Kristie: Ambassador Kenney Returns with a Photo Blog

Ambassador Kristie Kenney then the US Ambassador to the Philippines was one of the early adopters of social media among chiefs of missions. In addition to the social media platforms used by the embassy in Manila, she had an official blog carried by america.gov, and her own Twitter account with some 18,000 followers. Read more here from prior posts.

She was nominated and confirmed quickly for her third ambassadorial post and was shipped to her new assignment as chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. While our attention was riveted elsewhere, she has started a personal photo blog, “It’s Me Kristie.”  The blog, which is in Tumblr is partly managed by the Social Media Team of US Embassy Bangkok. The mission also uses the following for its public outreach:

Website: bangkok.usembassy.gov
Facebook: facebook.com/usembassybkk
Twitter: @USEmbassyBKK
YouTube: USEmbassyBangkok Channel
  
The embassy’s YouTube channel is #3 in the EAP region in terms of subscribers, its Facebook page is #6 in followers in the EAP region, and the official embassy Twitter account is #5 worldwide among State Department Twitter accounts. The embassy appears to have ditched, at least for now its Flickr account, which is disappointing.  Of course, we have Ambassador Kenney’s photo blog except that we can’t put together an easier slideshow as we would have had they stayed in Flickr.

In any case, some photos below of Ambassador Kenney (rumored to be under consideration as the next Assistant Secretary for WHA) — straight from the “city of angels”…. (all photos/captions from the ambo’s blog; used with permission):

During an interview with ASEAN TV, we talked about US engagement with ASEAN, how a unified ASEAN market will be attractive to investors and how the US can work with ASEAN countries to build capacity to respond to natural disasters.
Embassy Bangkok is lucky to have a group of great volunteers to help with our community and charity events. Some are people who work at the Embassy, some are married to Embassy staff. Today we had coffee and muffins to thank this great crowd for being such super volunteers!
At lunchtime, many US Embassy Bangkok staff step outside to buy food from local sellers on the nearby streets. From fresh fruit to cooked dishes, there is lots of good Thai food for everyone. In this picture, we are getting food to bring back to the office to share. All those bags aren’t just for me to eat!

The perfect Memorial Day photo. While visiting Bangkok, Senator John McCain
(a decorated US veteran and a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee)
pauses for a photo with our Embassy Marines.
Ford Motor Company is building a new state-of-the-art vehicle manufacturing plant in Thailand. Ford execs gave me a tour of the new environmentally friendly plant. It will open next year and will support 11,000 direct and indirect jobs in Thailand.

Posing in Issan costumes after the charming hosts from
Phuying Teung Phuying taught me a traditional Thai dance


I spent hours at Mae La refugee camp while visiting Mae Sot. I met humanitarian workers who provide services from food distribution to rehab for the handicapped. The United States provides more than $40 million each year for the 150,000 (mostly Burmese) who live in refugee camps in Thailand.


 
 
 

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"Operation Fourth Star" — winning the hearts and minds of Senator McCain and Others?

Via the Rollings Stone by Michael Hastings
February 23, 2011 11:55 PM ET

Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators

The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in “psychological operations” to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.

The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as “information operations” at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.

“My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. “I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line.”

The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.
[...]
The general’s chief of staff also asked Holmes how Caldwell could secretly manipulate the U.S. lawmakers without their knowledge. “How do we get these guys to give us more people?” he demanded. “What do I have to plant inside their heads?”
[...]
It wasn’t the first time that Caldwell had tried to tear down the wall that has historically separated public affairs and psy-ops – the distinction the military is supposed to maintain between “informing” and “influencing.” After a stint as the top U.S. spokesperson in Iraq, the general pushed aggressively to expand the military’s use of information operations. During his time as a commander at Ft. Leavenworth, Caldwell argued for exploiting new technologies like blogging and Wikipedia – a move that would widen the military’s ability to influence the public, both foreign and domestic. According to sources close to the general, he also tried to rewrite the official doctrine on information operations, though that effort ultimately failed. (In recent months, the Pentagon has quietly dropped the nefarious-sounding moniker “psy-ops” in favor of the more neutral “MISO” – short for Military Information Support Operations.)
[...]
Under duress, Holmes and his team provided Caldwell with background assessments on the visiting senators, and helped prep the general for his high-profile encounters. But according to members of his unit, Holmes did his best to resist the orders. Holmes believed that using his team to target American civilians violated the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which was passed by Congress to prevent the State Department from using Soviet-style propaganda techniques on U.S. citizens. But when Holmes brought his concerns to Col. Gregory Breazile, the spokesperson for the Afghan training mission run by Caldwell, the discussion ended in a screaming match. “It’s not illegal if I say it isn’t!” Holmes recalls Breazile shouting.
[...]
On March 23rd, Holmes emailed the JAG lawyer who handled information operations, saying that the order made him “nervous.” The lawyer, Capt. John Scott, agreed with Holmes. “The short answer is that IO doesn’t do that,” Scott replied in an email. “[Public affairs] works on the hearts and minds of our own citizens and IO works on the hearts and minds of the citizens of other nations. While the twain do occasionally intersect, such intersections, like violent contact during a soccer game, should be unintentional.”

Oh dear.  Active links added above. Read the whole thing here:

I don’t think the senators would appreciate knowing that these folks “played” them. If true, another general may soon get his fourth star and filing his retirement papers at the same time.


WaPo reports that “The U.S. command in Kabul issued a statement Thursday saying Gen. David H. Petraeus “is preparing to order an investigation to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the issue.”

Holmes has now been described as somebody with an ax to grind. Responding to that accusation on FoxNews, here’s what Holmes said:

“Do I have an ax to grind? Yeah. But the ax is this. If they can do this to a lieutenant colonel, what are they doing to the sergeants out there? I have a lot of education and training. … I knew where to go and what the rules were and weren’t.”
After first broaching his concerns with higher-ups, Holmes became the subject of an investigation, which cited him for, among other things, going off base in civilian clothes and drinking alcohol. 

Sounds like retaliation, no?

FoxNews also reports that U.S. lawmakers have played down these alleged operations, suggesting “they were not influenced to do anything they didn’t already want to do.”

But really, if you’ve been “played” and swallowed the spin — what is it, hook, line, and sinker — would you jump up and down waving your arms to get attention? Probably not. But in private, you betcha some folks won’t be happy with this.

  


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Arizona’s Senators demand apology; Paramount Leader ROTFL

People's Republic of China President, Hu Jinta...Image via Wikipedia

On May 14, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Michael H. Posner held a briefing on the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue. It was one of those briefings, you know — then somebody lobbed an innocent enough question to A/S Posner.

QUESTION: Did the recently passed Arizona immigration law come up? And, if so, did they bring it up or did you bring it up?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: “We brought it up early and often. It was mentioned in the first session, and as a troubling trend in our society and an indication that we have to deal with issues of discrimination or potential discrimination, and that these are issues very much being debated in our own society.”

Apparently, that was not a very nice response to make from the podium. According to Josh Rogin of The Cable, “Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl released a statement Tuesday calling on Posner to issue a formal apology. They called his remarks “particularly offensive” and said he “seemed to imply [the Arizona law] is morally equivalent to China’s persistent pattern of abuse and repression of its people.”

Josh reports in an exclusive interview with Posner that the comments “were taken out of context and the discussion of the law was meant to show the differences between how a free society handles human rights issues and the restrictive practices enforced in China,” according to the DRL secretary.  “The broader context in which this was raised was to discuss the political openness of this society and the value of an open debate,” Posner said. “We never did get into the merits of the Arizona law. It was not in any way a comparison between that law and any specific law or practice in China.”

Blake Hounshell asked in FP, “Can we have a grownup discussion about human rights?

I don’t know, can we?

What?

Oh, yes!  Pleeeease — an apology, please. For saying these are issues currently being debated across this country. Because obviously that’s not true.  Even I, have never heard of folks talk about such and such things, even in political rallies and such. Have you?  Also an apology for saying that this is a troubling trend. Because we do not consider it a trend unless you get to a tipping point.  And I get to say when is the tipping point. Right. Finally, an apology for saying that we have to deal with issues of discrimination or potential, potential discrimination. Because saying that obviously means we have  some kind of discrimination here. And we know that simply is not true.

So yeah, go ahead and make that Mr. Posner apologize … force him to apologize for saying such things. And if he doesn’t apologize … what, ten lashes? We do that here, now?

Just so you know — I think, somewhere the Paramount Leader and Top Foreign Holder of US Treasuries at $889.0 billion is laughing his head off. Seriously. You can’t see him rolling on the floor, laughing at us, dudes?


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Filed under China, Congress, McCain, Politics, State Department