Category Archives: Obama

U.S. Embassy Lesotho Now on Ordered Departure for Non-Employed Family Members

– Domani Spero

 

On August 30, following a reported coup in Lesotho, the U.S. Embassy in Maseru issued a message to U.S. citizens urging them to “take proper precautions when traveling, such as avoiding areas of potential intimidation, routes of marches, and ongoing demonstrations.” It also advised U.S. citizens who choose to move around the capital city to return to their residences by 5:30 pm and remain there overnight.

CIA map

CIA map

Today, the Embassy Maseru informed the U.S. citizen community in Lesotho that the Department of State has ordered the departure of non-employed family members of U.S. Mission personnel due to concerns over a possible deterioration of the security situation in Lesotho. An “ordered departure” means that family members who are not employed at the U.S. mission, do not have an option to stay in country and must depart.  The Security Message includes the following information:

The Embassy is prepared to assist U.S. citizens who wish to depart from Lesotho and recommends those interested in Embassy assistance to contact us at +266 5888 4035.

The U.S. Embassy in Lesotho will be open September 2-3 for emergency American Citizens Services only. Citizens should be aware that depending on the security situation, the Embassy may be forced to suspend operations without advance notice. The international airport in Maseru is currently operating normally, however, flights may be suspended if the current security situation worsens. Land borders are also open at this time, but may close without warning. U.S. citizens who remain in Lesotho despite this Travel Warning are urged to stay in their homes until the security situation returns to normal, to closely monitor media reports, and to follow all official instructions. U.S. citizens who must leave their homes for any reason are urged to exercise extreme caution, be particularly alert to their surroundings, and to avoid crowds, demonstrations, or any other form of public gathering.

U.S. citizens in Lesotho should carry their travel documents (i.e., passport, birth certificate, picture ID’s, etc.) with them at all times. Additionally, U.S. citizens in the area are reminded to stay in contact with friends and family in the United States to keep them apprised of their current welfare and whereabouts.

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Troops have reportedly mounted raids on police headquarters and police stations in the capital, Maseru, on Saturday and there is confusion over who is in control of the country. To understand political parties and democratization in Lesotho, read this (pdf) publication by the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa.

 

 

Embassy Masesu is a small post with about a couple dozen American employees and about 80 local staff according to a 2010 OIG report. According to a State Department listing, as of August 27, 2014, U.S. Embassy Lesotho is currently headed by DCM/CHG Charge John McNamara. President Obama announced Matthew Harrington as his nominee for Ambassador to Lesotho on August 1, 2013.  Mr. Harrington, a career diplomat, has now been stuck in confirmation purgatory for 395 days.

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Filed under Africa, Ambassadors, Americans Abroad, Diplomatic Life, Evacuations, Foreign Service, Nominations, Obama, Realities of the FS, Spouses/Partners, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

Opposition to George J. Tsunis Nomination as Norway Ambassador Now a Social Media Campaign

– Domani Spero

 

On September 10, 2013, President Obama announced a slew of executive nominations including that of George J. Tsunis as his nominee for Ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway.  In January 2014, Mr. Tsunis made an appearance at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (see  Senator John McCain’s “No More Questions” at the Senate Confirmation Hearing Gets a GIF and US Embassy Oslo: Clueless on Norway, Murder Boards Next?).

In February, a group of Norwegian-Americans made their opposition to the nomination known (see Norwegian-Americans Petition For Withdrawal of Tsunis Nomination as Ambassador to Norway).  The same day we wrote about their opposition, the SFRC panel cleared the Tsunis nomination (seeSFRC Clears Barber, Bell, Tsunis, Harper, Talwar, Rose, Gottemoeller, Chacon, Carroll).

In April, murder boards became real (see State Department Seeks Contractor For Simulated Congressional Hearing Sessions). On August 7, the Washington Times reported that Orlando, Florida-based AMTIS, Inc. was awarded a $545,000 contract by the State Department for simulated congressional hearings and communicating with Congress classes.

Last week, opponents of the Tsunis nomination rolled out a new social media campaign to sink his nomination.  We did not see it until we got poked on Twitter today.   Tom Lundquist who started the original petition asking President Obama to withdraw the nomination posted the following on change.org:

Today looks to have been the first full day of starting out with a never-before-tried social media campaign in this effort to have George Tsunis withdrawn or defeated. An integrated Twitter, Facebook, and Web campaign have been launched!

http://citizensvstsunisdems4compdips.weebly.com/

https://twitter.com/CitizensvTsunis

https://www.facebook.com/citizens.vs.tsunis.dems.competent.diplomats/info

 

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Twitter profile of Citizens v. Tsunis

 

On its website, the group listed several reasons why they opposed the Tsunis nomination including the following:

Perception of American Incompetence and Arrogance Abroad:

America’s foreign image hasn’t been the best over the last decade or so. Let’s not make it worse. George Tsunis’ wildly inaccurate statements of fact, diplomatic outrages, and lack of qualifications offended a number of Norwegian officials and Members of Parliament, including the mayor of Norway’s capitol city who made it clear that President Obama should send a far more knowledgeable and qualified person. To send Tsunis to Norway would be a fist in the face of a key ally – and an arrogant message to the world. Norway is a vital member of NATO, a key supplier of energy to the EU, an important player in peace efforts in the Middle East, and a strong U.S. ally everywhere. With rising tensions in Eastern Europe and the Middle East the U.S. has to take its diplomacy seriously and treat key allies with respect.

The website also listed the names of four Senators who already made their opposition to the Tsunis nomination known, calling them, Senate Heroes. As well, under the section “Money Bound,” the group listed the names of 9 Senators who were recipients of donations from Mr. Tsunis, urging supporters to email/call the senators and their aides. Check out the Senators Living Dangerously, the Silent Senators, and Our Party’s (Apparent) Worst Enemies. The website also includes the well-circulated clips from Anderson Cooper and the Daily Show.

The group suggests a series of questions constituents should ask their congressional representatives noting that “Until a Senator comes out publicly against the absolute most inane, unqualified nomination the Senate has perhaps yet ever seen, tacit support of Tsunis – and the damage it is doing to our Party and democracy – must be challenged.”

It also adds a carrot for the rabbits in the Senate, “By the Senator making a public commitment to vote against the Tsunis nomination, the Senator’s page here will be removed from this website and the Senator will be promptly added to The Principled Heroes list for all constituents to see.”

Over on Twitter, a new hashtag battle could be brewing — @CitizensvTsunis‘  and what appears to be a parody account by Not George J. Tsunis using the @ambGeorgeTsunis handle with the  hashtag. This could get nasty.

Given the many challenges facing our country these days, we don’t think the White House appreciates this new kind of headache. I mean, who would?  But we also suspect that it would not withdraw the nomination on its own. Once it nominated Mr. Tsunis, the WH is bound to stand by its nominee. The only way we think the WH would withdraw this nomination is if Mr. Tsunis , himself, withdraws his name from consideration.  That might be the most prudent action for Mr. Tsunis to do here. That would give President Obama a fresh start.

Of course, if the Democrats lose the Senate in November, well … maybe none of the nominees will be going anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Ambassadorships, Congress, Nominations, Obama, Political Appointees, SFRC, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

Ambassador Freeman on American statecraft — It’s hard to think of anything that has gone right.

– Domani Spero

 

Ambassador Chas Freeman was the U. S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (1989 to 1992 ) during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under Chester Crocker during the historic U.S. mediation of Namibian independence from South Africa and Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola.  More notably, he was the principal American interpreter during the late President Nixon’s meeting with Mao Zedong in China in 1972. He did tours in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe. In the 1990s, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.  He is the author of several books including a favorite of ours, the The Diplomat’s Dictionary published by the U.S. Institute of Peace Press. We  previously blogged about Ambassador Freeman here and here.

On August 19, he gave a speech at The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles California on How Diplomacy Fails.  What’s racking up a remarkably poor track record?  “Hastily-arranged presidential phone calls, hopscotch huddles with foreigners by the secretary of state, scoldings of foreign leaders by U.S. spokespersons, suspensions of bilateral dialogue, sanctions,” etc, etc  —  for starters.  Glad to hear Ambassador Freeman bring these up.  We hope more would speak up.

 

 

We are republishing the text of the speech below; a must read as it explains a lot of what ails American diplomacy.

How Diplomacy Fails

We are here to discuss what we can learn from the failure of diplomacy to prevent, halt, and wrap up World War I.  We just heard a masterful review of what happened from Geoffrey Wawro.  He has already said most of the things I wanted to say.  So he’s left me  with no alternative but to actually address the topic I was asked to speak about, which is the failings of today’s American diplomacy in light of the deficiencies of diplomacy in 1914.

There are in fact some very disquieting similarities between the challenges statecraft faced back then and those it faces today.

The eve of World War I was also a time of rapid globalization, shifting power balances, rising nationalisms, socioeconomic stress, and transformative military technologies.  The railroad networks, barbed wire, dynamite, repeating rifles, machine guns, long-range artillery, aircraft and submarines that altered the nature of war then are paralleled by today’s cyber and space-based surveillance systems, drones, precision-guided munitions, sub-launched and land-based anti ship missiles,  missile defense and penetration aids, anti satellite missiles, cyber assaults, hypersonic gliders, and nuclear weapons.  Changes in the European political economy set the stage for World War I.  Changes in technology made it different from previous wars.

Armed conflict between major powers today would reveal that warfare has again mutated and developed new horrors for its participants.  But some factors driving conflict now would parallel those of a century ago.  In 1914, as in 2014, a professional military establishment, estranged from society but glorified by it, drew up war plans using new technologies on the fatal premise that the only effective defense is a preemptive offense.  Then, as now, these plans evolved without effective political oversight or diplomatic input.  Then, as now, military-to-military interactions within alliances sometimes took place without adequate supervision by civilian authority, leading to unmanageable policy disconnects that were revealed only when war actually broke out.

As the 20th century began, successive crises in the Balkans had the effect of replacing the 19thcentury’s careful balancing of interests with competition between military blocs.  This conflated military posturing with diplomacy, much as events in  the East and South China Seas, the Middle East, and Ukraine seem to be doing today.  Then, as now, decisions by the smaller allies of the great powers risked setting off local wars that might rapidly expand and escalate.  Then, as now, most people thought that, whatever smaller countries might do, war between the great powers was irrational and therefore would not occur.  And then, as now, the chiefs of state and government of the great powers practiced attention deficit diplomacy.  They were so engaged at the tactical level that they had little time to give full consideration to the strategic implications of their decisions.

Ironically, in light of what actually happened, few would dispute that the factors inhibiting war in Europe in 1914 were greater than those impeding it today.  European leaders were not only personally acquainted but, in many instances, related to each other.  They and their diplomatic aides knew each other well.  There was a common European culture and a tradition of successful conference diplomacy and crisis management for them to draw upon.  European imperialists could and had often solved problems by trading colonies or other peripheral interests to reduce tensions between themselves.  None of these factors exist today to reduce the likelihood of wars between the United States and China or Iran, or NATO and Russia, or China and Japan or India – to name only the pairings warmongers seem to enjoy talking about the most.

On the other hand, alliances today facilitate cooperation.  In practice, they no longer, as they did in 1914, oblige mutual aid or embody preconcerted common purposes.  This welcome but dishonorable fact reduces the moral hazard implicit in American defense commitments to weaker allies and diminishes the prospect that they might act rashly because the U.S. has their back.  It also reduces the danger of automatic widening and escalation of local wars.

No one wants war of any kind.  But, as events in Europe in the summer of 1914 remind us, discounting the possibility of war and not wanting it are not enough to prevent it from happening.  And, as the president suggested in his commencement address at West Point this May, we need to find alternatives to the use of force to advance our interests in the 21stcentury.  That means strengthening our capacity for diplomacy.

It is said that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  But it is equally true that those who learn the wrong lessons from history must expect reeducation by painful experience.  So it’s not surprising that, since the end of the Cold War, American diplomacy has suffered repeated rebuke from unexpected developments.  Some of these have taken place in the Balkans, where World War I was kindled – and where we have arranged a ceasefire, installed a garrison, and called it peace.

But most challenges to our problem-solving ability are coming from other places and are producing still worse results.  Consider the north Korean and Iranian nuclear issues, Israel-Palestine, 9/11 and our ever-intensifying conflict with militant Islam, regime change in Iraq, the Russo-Georgian war, the Arab uprisings (including that in Syria), “humanitarian intervention” in Libya, the “pivot to Asia” amidst tussles in the South and East China Seas, the collapse of Sykes-Picot and the rise of Jihadistan in the Levant, and the Ukraine crisis, among other tests of American statecraft.  It’s hard to think of anything that’s has gone right.

It’s worth asking what we have got wrong.  Clearly, military strength alone is not enough to guarantee international order or compel deference to U.S. desires.  So Americans are looking for a more restrained and less militaristic way of dealing with the world beyond our borders.

The president nicely captured the national mood when he said that “our military has no peer,” but  added that: “U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”

That insight implies that we should be skilled at measures short of war, that is: diplomacy.  For many reasons, we are not.  To set aside  militarism and redevelop the capacity to shape events abroad to our advantage without a feckless resort to force, we need to unlearn a lot of bad habits and to reexamine some of the presuppositions guiding our approach to foreign affairs.   Military overreach cannot be offset by diplomatic incapacity.

Part of what is required is correcting dysfunctional assumptions about how to deal with ornery foreigners.  Denouncing them and breaking off dialogue with them is petulant.  It doesn’t solve  problems.  Refusing to meet with another government until it accepts and meets our moral standards is a sure recipe for impasse.  “Come out with your hands up or we won’t talk to you” is not a persuasive way to begin negotiations.  Declaratory “diplomacy” and sanctions entrench confrontation.  They neither mitigate it or address its causes.  We are seeing that effect now with Russia in Ukraine.

Short of the use of force, without tactfully persuasive conversation very few people and no nations can be convinced to change course.  It is difficult to get an adversary to yield when he believes his political survival as well as his dignity depend on not surrendering.  So as long as we know what we are going to say and what effect it is likely to have, it is better to talk than not to talk.  Those with whom we disagree need to hear directly and respectfully from us why we think they are wrong and harming their own interests and why they are costing themselves opportunities they should want to pursue and risking injuries they should wish to avoid.

It takes time to establish the mutual confidence necessary for such dialogue.  It is counterproductive to stand on our side of the oceans and give other nations the finger, while threatening to bomb them.  It does not make sense to react to problems in other nations by severing communication with them.  As Winston Churchill observed, “the reason for having diplomatic relations is not to confer a compliment but to secure a convenience.”  Yet, for example, we routinely withdraw military attachés following military coups.  Since our attachés are the only American officials who know and have credibility with the new military rulers, this is the equivalent of gagging, deafening, and blinding ourselves – a kind of unilateral diplomatic disarmament.  Our diplomatic technique badly needs an upgrade.

But the more fundamental problem for U.S. diplomacy is the moral absolutism inherent in American exceptionalism.  Our unique historical experience shapes our approach to our disadvantage, ruling out much of the bargaining and compromise that are central to diplomacy.  In our Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, we demonized the enemy and sought his unconditional surrender, followed by his repentance, reconstruction, and ideological remolding. The American way of international contention formed by these experiences is uniquely uncompromising.   Our rigidity is reinforced by the mythic cliché of Hitler at Munich. That has come to stand for the overdrawn conclusion that the conciliation of adversaries is invariably not just foolish but immoral and self-defeating.

The Cold War reduced most American diplomacy to proclaiming our values, holding our ground, containing the enemy, and preventing inroads into our sphere of influence – the zone we called “the free world.”  Despite occasional talk of “rollback,” with few exceptions, our approach was static and defensive – the diplomatic equivalent of trench warfare.  In this formative period of American diplomacy, our typical object was not to resolve international quarrels but to prevent their resolution by military means.  So we learned to respond to problems by pointing a gun at those who made them but avoiding talking to them or even being seen in their company.

Without our realizing it, Americans reconceived diplomacy as a means of communicating disapproval, dramatizing differences, amplifying deterrence, inhibiting change, and precluding gains by adversaries.  For the most part, we did not see diplomacy as a tool for narrowing or bridging differences, still less solving them by producing win-win outcomes.  We seem to be having trouble remembering that diplomacy’s usual purpose is  to do these very things.

The experience of other nations causes most to see diplomacy and war as part of a continuum of means by which to persuade other states and peoples to end controversies and accept adjustments in their foreign relations, borders, military postures, and the like.  Given Americans’ history of isolationism alternating with total war, we tend to see diplomacy and armed conflict as opposites.  We describe war as a failure of diplomacy, not as a sometimes necessary escalation of pressure to achieve its aims.

Americans suppose that diplomacy ends when war begins and does not resume until the enemy lies prostrate before us.  We imagine that wars end when the victor proclaims his military mission accomplished rather than when the vanquished is brought to accept defeat.  Lacking a tradition of war termination through diplomacy, we have great difficulty successfully ending wars, as Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya all attest.  We have yet to internalize the need to reconcile enemies to the political consequences of military outcomes and to translate these outcomes into peace agreements – binding acceptances of a new status quo as preferable to its overthrow.

The failure of diplomacy in World War I left most Americans with a very jaundiced view of it.  Will Rogers summed this up when he said “the United States never lost a war or won a conference” and added “take the diplomacy out of war and the thing would fall flat in a week.”  As a nation, despite our seven decades of superpower status, Americans still don’t take diplomacy seriously.  Most of us see it as an expression of weakness – so much namby-pamby nonsense before we send in the Marines.  And, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, we still seem convinced that diplomacy is an amateur sport.

We show this in how we staff our country’s statecraft and diplomacy.  Our military and our spies are professionals.  But, for the most part, our foreign policy is crafted, led, and executed by ambitious amateurs – ideologues, the paladins of special interests, securocrats playing games of musical sinecures, political spin doctors, and the occasional academic.  Our ambassadors in important capitals are selected as a reward for their campaign contributions, not for their experience in diplomacy or competence at advancing U.S. national interests abroad.  All too often these days, our politicians fiddle while the world turns, leaving the diplomatic ramparts unmanned as crises unfold.  As an example, we had no ambassador to Moscow for the five months in which Russophobes and Russians pulled down an already rickety Ukraine, detached the Crimea from it, and reignited East-West confrontation in Europe.  On August 1, the U.S. Senate cast its last votes of the season, leaving 59 countries with no American ambassador.

America’s dilettantish approach to national security is unique among modern states.  We get away with it – when we do – mainly because our diplomacy is supported by very bright and able career officers.  But our foreign service works in an environment contemptuous of professionalism that more often than not leaves its officers’ potential unrecognized, unmentored, and underdeveloped.  (If the highest ranks of the diplomatic profession in the United States are reserved for men and women who have made a lot of money in other professions and avocations, why should our most talented young people – even those who want to serve our country – waste time apprenticing as diplomats?  Why not do something less dangerous and more lucrative, then buy your way in at the top?)  Under the circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that the United States has come to be known for its military prowess, not its foreign affairs literacy, the wisdom and imagination of its statecraft, or the strategic sophistication and subtlety of its diplomacy.  This is proving dangerous.  In an increasingly competitive world, diplomatic mediocrity is no longer good enough.

Americans must now consider whether we can afford to continue to entrust our diplomacy to amateurs.  Hastily-arranged presidential phone calls, hopscotch huddles with foreigners by the secretary of state, scoldings of foreign leaders by U.S. spokespersons, suspensions of bilateral dialogue, sanctions (whether unilateral or plurilateral), and attempted ostracism of foreign governments are racking up a remarkably poor track record in the increasingly complex circumstances of the post-Cold War world.  So is the dangerous conflation of military posturing with diplomacy.  If we Americans do not learn to excel at measures short of war, we will be left with no choice but to continue to resort to war to solve problems that experience tells us can’t be solved by it.

To prosper in the multipolar world before us, Americans will need to be at the top of its  diplomatic game.  We are a very long way from that at present.  And time’s a wasting.

 

Frankly, we’re exhausted watching Secretary Kerry fly here and there. We know he meant well, but what does it say when he is required to do the work that his ambassadors or special envoys should be doing?  As to the spokespersons, we have to confess that there are days, and there are many of them, when we are overwhelmed with great envy that the Pentagon has a Rear Admiral Kirby behind the podium. Well, boo! for me.

The original material is located at http://chasfreeman.net/how-diplomacy-fails/.  Republished here with Ambassador Freeman’s permission.

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U.S. Relocates More Baghdad/Erbil Staff to Basrah and Amman (Jordan), Updates Aug. 8 Travel Warning

– Domani Spero

 

On June 15, 2014, the State Department went on partial “temporary relocation” of USG personnel in Embassy Baghdad to Basrah, Erbil and Amman, Jordan (see US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan)).

Today, the State Department issued an update to its August 8 Travel Warning for Iraq noting the departure of  a “limited” number of staff from our posts in Baghdad and Erbil to the Consulate General in Basrah and Amman, Jordan.

CIA map

Map via CIA.gov (click on image to see larger view)

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Iraq.  Travel within Iraq remains dangerous given the security situation. The Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate General in Erbil remain open and operating, but the Department of State has relocated a limited number of staff members from the Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate General in Erbil to the Consulate General in Basrah and the Iraq Support Unit in Amman. The Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate General in Erbil remain open and operating. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning dated August 8, 2014, to note the departure of some staff from the Consulate General in Erbil. The ability of the Embassy to respond to situations in which U.S. citizens face difficulty, including arrests, is extremely limited.

U.S. citizens in Iraq remain at high risk for kidnapping and terrorist violence.  Methods of attack have included roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs), including explosively formed penetrators (EFPs); magnetic IEDs placed on vehicles; human and vehicle-borne IEDs; mines placed on or concealed near roads; mortars and rockets; and shootings using various direct fire weapons.  These and other attacks frequently occur in public gathering places, such as cafes, markets and other public venues.

Numerous insurgent groups, including ISIL, previously known as al-Qa’ida in Iraq, remain active and terrorist activity and violence persist in many areas of the country.  ISIL and its allies control Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and have captured significant territory across central Iraq and continue to engage with Iraqi security forces in that region.  In early August, the threat to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) increased considerably with the advance of ISIL towards Kurdish areas.

Due to the potential of political protests and demonstrations to become violent, U.S. citizens in Iraq are strongly urged to avoid protests and large gatherings.

Read in full here.

Three days ago, President Obama ordered U.S. aircraft to drop humanitarian supplies to tens of thousands of Yezidi refugees fleeing the terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in northern Iraq. The president also ordered U.S. combat aircraft to be ready to launch airstrikes to protect Americans in Erbil, Iraq.

On August 8, the Pentagon announced that at approximately 6:45 a.m. EDT, the U.S. military conducted a targeted airstrike against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists.

Two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Erbil. ISIL was using this artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Erbil where U.S. personnel are located. The decision to strike was made by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief. As the president made clear, the United States military will continue to take direct action against ISIL when they threaten our personnel and facilities. 

Pentagon releases indicate that to date, U.S. military aircraft have delivered more than 52,000 meals and more than 10,600 gallons of fresh drinking water to the displaced Yezidis seeking refuge from ISIL on the mountain.

USCG Erbil which remains open is headed by Joseph Pennington, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who assumed his duties as Consul General in Erbil in July 2013.  Prior to his arrival in Erbil, Mr. Pennington served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Prague, Czech Republic (2010-13) and held the same position in Yerevan, Armenia (2007-10).

USCG Basrah is headed by Matthias Mitman, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who assumed post as Consul General in Basrah in September 2013.  He previously served as the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras from 2011-2013 and as the Minister Counselor for Economic Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 2009-2011. He was the Director for Iraq at the National Security Council from 2006-2008 with responsibility for U.S. economic policy in Iraq and international engagement.  Before joining the NSC staff, Mr. Matthias was assigned to U.S. Embassy Baghdad as Senior Economic Advisor.

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Filed under Americans Abroad, Consular Work, Defense Department, Evacuations, Foreign Service, Iraq, Obama, Realities of the FS, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, Terrorism, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Baghdad, War

Tweet of the Day: “So, I got married this morning.”

– Domani Spero

 

Dan Baer is the U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  HRC notes that Ambassador Baer is the seventh openly LGBT person appointed by President Obama and the first to a multilateral institution.

Best wishes to the happy couple!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Ambassadors, Hillary, John F. Kerry, Obama, Social Media, State Department, U.S. Missions

Officially In: Jess L. Baily — From Turkey to Macedonia

– Domani Spero

 

On July 8, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Jess L. Baily as Ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia. The WH released the following brief bio:

Jess L. Baily, a career member of the Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, is the Deputy Chief of Mission in Ankara, Turkey, a position he has held since 2011.  From 2010 to 2011, Mr. Baily served at the Department of State as Director of the Office of Southeast European Affairs.  From 2008 to 2010, Mr. Baily served as Director of the Office of United Nations Political Affairs and previously served as Leader of the Regional Reconstruction Team in Erbil, Iraq from 2007 to 2008.  Mr. Baily served as the Director of the Washington Foreign Press Center from 2005 to 2007 and as Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in The Hague, Netherlands from 2002 to 2005.  From 1998 to 2002, he served as a Cultural Affairs Officer and subsequently as an Information Officer/Spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara.  Before the United States Information Agency (USIA) merged with the Department of State, Mr. Baily served as USIA’s Representative to the American Foreign Service Association in Washington, D.C. from 1996 to 1997.  He was a Senior Advisor in the Office of the USIA Deputy Director from 1995 to 1996 and USIA Desk Officer for Francophone West Africa from 1994 to 1995.  From 1992 to 1994, Mr. Baily served as the Binational Center Director at the U.S Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand.  He also served at U.S. Embassies in Dakar, Senegal and Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Before joining the Foreign Service in 1985, he worked at AMIDEAST in Washington, D.C.  Mr. Baily received a B.A. from Yale University and an M.A. from Columbia University.

U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Jess L. Baily joined the audience #ankaracazfestivali #raulmidon — at ODTÜ KKM - Kemal Kurdaş Salonu. via US Embassy Ankara/FB

U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Jess L. Baily (R) joined the audience #ankaracazfestivali #raulmidon — at ODTÜ KKM – Kemal Kurdaş Salonu.
via US Embassy Ankara/FB

The Certificate of Demonstrated Competence submitted to SFRC says in part:

Jess Lippincott Baily, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as Deputy Chief of Mission in Ankara, Turkey where he skillfully manages a complex mission in a NATO ally in the heart of a critical region. In February 2013, he expertly led the response to a suicide bombing of the Embassy. His years of experience in Europe, strong inter-agency and management skills, and public diplomacy expertise will enable him to further bilateral relations with the Government of Macedonia and engage effectively with both the Macedonian public and important institutions.

This is Mr. Baily’s first ambassadorial appointment. He would succeed  career diplomat Paul Wohlers who was sworn in as the sixth U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia by Secretary Clinton on August 11, 2011. All ambassadors appointed to Macedonia to-date have been career diplomats.

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SFRC Clears Ambassadorial Nominees for South Korea, Honduras, Qatar, Egypt, Iraq, Vietnam, Algeria

– Domani Spero

 

On June 24, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) cleared the nominations of the following nominees as ambassadors to South Korea, Honduras, Qatar, Egypt, Iraq, Vietnam, and Algeria. It also cleared the nomination for the next Director of the Office of Foreign Missions.  The nominees will now join the long list of Obama nominees awaiting their confirmation.

 

Argentina: Noah Bryson Mamet, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Argentine Republic.
Mamet, Noah – Republic of Argentina (pdf via State/FOIA)

South Korea: Mark William Lippert, of Ohio, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Korea

-Lippert, Mark – Republic of Korea – 05-2014

Honduras: James D. Nealon, of New Hampshire, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Honduras.
-Nealon, James D – Republic of Honduras – 05-2014

Qatar: Dana Shell Smith, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the State of Qatar.
-Smith, Dana S – State of Qatar – 05-2014

Egypt: Robert Stephen Beecroft, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Arab Republic of Egypt
-Beecroft, Robert S – Arab Republic of Egypt – 05-2014

Iraq: Stuart E. Jones, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Iraq.
-Jones, Stuart E – Republic of Iraq – 05-2014

Vietnam: Theodore G. Osius III, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
-Osius, George O, III – Socialist Republic of Vietnam – 05-2014

Algeria: Joan A. Polaschik, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria.
-Polaschik, Joan A – Democratic Republic of Algeria – 05-2014

Gentry O. Smith, of North Carolina, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, and to have the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service, vice Eric J. Boswell, resigned.
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts – May 1, 2014

 

We imagine that Ambassador Jones (to Iraq) and Ambassador Beecroft (Egypt) could get their full Senate vote ahead of a very large pack of nominees. But the Senate being what it is these days, it’s hard to even guess how fast the Senators could tie their shoes. In any case, Ambassador Beecroft is apparently back in Baghdad after  a short stop in D.C. for his  confirmation hearing.  We are hoping that the nominees will not have to wait 300 days for their confirmation. To-date, the nominee for U.S. ambassador to Lesotho, a career FSO has waited 315 days for Senate confirmation. The nominees slated as chiefs of mission to Niger, Cameroon, Timor-Leste and Palau, all career FSOs have waited 326 days for their full Senate vote.

The clock appears to be broken in the Senate, but everywhere else, the world marches on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ambassadors Certificates of Demonstrated Competency Now Online: Better Formatted Than Ever Before! (Updated)

– Domani Spero

In March this year, WaPo reported on AFSA’s demands that the State Department turn over key documents on three embattled ambassadorial nominees — and all pending Obama administration nominees, both career Foreign Service and non-career folks — or face a prompt lawsuit for the materials. (See AFSA Threatens to Sue State Department Over Ambassadors Credentials, Again).

In early April, AFSA announced that it was given the documents but declined to make them public until the State Department did so. Below is an excerpt from the announcement:

We concluded that more transparency would benefit all: publication of the certificates of demonstrated competence – prior to a nominee’s hearing – together with an effort to write the certificates to specifically address the criteria in the AFSA Guidelines, would open up the process to the public and address directly the issues of qualifications for all nominees. We proposed this to the White House. They agreed that, going forward – as part of the Transparency in Government initiative and a forward looking legacy – the State Department will publish more detailed certificates on state.gov in real time. These revised documents will use the AFSA Guidelines to illustrate nominees’ experience in the four key areas:

  • Leadership, Character and Proven Interpersonal Skills
  • Understanding of High Level Policy and Operations
  • Management
  • Understanding of Host Country or Relevant International Experience

Media response to AFSA’s Chiefs of Mission initiative has been very favorable, and has helped raise our public profile.

Updated 5/9/14 1:14 pm PST: AFSA has now posted the certificates released by the State Department under FOIA.

On Thursday, we noticed that the ambassadorial nominees’ “Certificates of Competency” have now been posted online at state.gov:

“Under the Foreign Service Act of 1980, Certificates of Competency must be presented to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for each candidate nominated by the President to serve as a bilateral Ambassador overseas and for the candidates for Ambassador to the European Union (EU), the African Union (AU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).”

As of this writing, there are only two files online.

On May 1, President Obama announced the following nominees:

  • Gentry O. Smith – Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, with the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service, Department of State
  • George Albert Krol – Ambassador to the Republic of Kazakhstan, Department of State
  • Mark William Lippert – Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, Department of State
  • James D. Nealon – Ambassador to the Republic of Honduras, Department of State
  • Dana Shell Smith – Ambassador to the State of Qatar, Department of State

We don’t quite know what “real time” means anymore.

In any case, President Obama announced the nomination of Alice Wells, to be the next ambassador to the Kingdom of Jordan on April 10, 2014. The WH released the following brief bio:

Alice G. Wells, Nominee for Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Department of State

Alice G. Wells, a career member of the Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, is currently Senior Advisor in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the Department of State.  Ms. Wells served as an assessor at the Foreign Service Board of Examiners in 2013.  She was Special Assistant to the President for Russia and Central Asia in the White House from 2012 to 2013 and Executive Assistant to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton from 2011 to 2012.  She served as Executive Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs William J. Burns from 2009 to 2011, and previously served as Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia from 2006 to 2009.  Ms. Wells was Director of Maghreb Affairs and Acting Director of Egypt and North African Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs from 2003 to 2005.  She served as Senior Desk Officer for Egyptian Affairs from 2002 to 2003, Deputy Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India from 2001 to 2003, and Deputy Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan from 1998 to 2000.  Prior to that, Ms. Wells served as a Political Officer and a Political-Military Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as well as a Political and Economic Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.  Ms. Wells received a B.A. from Stanford University and a joint M.A. from the University of California at Los Angeles/Rand Corporation.

Below is Ms. Wells’ “Certificate of Demonstrated Competency” available here via state.gov.

 Screen Shot 2014-05-08

The certificate for the nominee for Djibouti is  here.

The “revised documents” were touted as “more detailed certificates” that will use the “AFSA Guidelines to illustrate nominees’ experience in the four key areas.”

By coincidence and some would say perfect timing, Yahoo News has just published the competency certificate of President Obama’s nominee for Norway, George Tsunis.

Via Yahoo News

Via Yahoo News

 

It looks like Yahoo News has also obtained the certificates for the nominees to Hungary (Bell) and Argentina (Mamet) and who knows how many more.

Folks, you know who won this round, right?  Okay, that’s it, enjoy the new format!

 

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President Obama Visits Tokyo, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Manila — Yabusame, Durian, EDCA, and Lots of Handshakes

– Domani Spero

President Obama is traveling to Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines from April 22 to April 29. Below are some photos from his stops:

Japan

The US Embassy Tokyo folks also got a meet and greet with President Obama. We are pleased to hear that no one was strangled with the lanyard of some Top Secret Clearance badge despite all that standing around waiting to see POTUS.  You all did not get up at 3 a.m., did you?

Republic of Korea

Malaysia

Philippines

Shortly before President Obama arrived in Manila, the United States and the Philippines signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The agreement is designed to promote among other things, capacity building towards Philippine Army modernization, maritime security, maritime domain awareness and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

For more of that, see links below:

President Barack Obama stretches to shake the hand of a young girl held aloft during a U.S. Embassy meet and greet at the Sofitel Hotel in Manila, Philippines, April 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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State Dept Responds to an FOIA Two Years After Request — Confusion and Hilarity Follows

– Domani Spero

One of our blog readers asked us about the Freedom of Information Act  (FOIA). Nope, we don’t know much about it except the (b)(6) exemptions which resulted on the redactions of OIG inspectors names from publicly available reports posted online.  In  October 2013, State/OIG finally started disclosing the names of inspectors in publicly available reports, so yay for that.

But because we’re a curious cat, we wanted to know why he was asking us about the FOIA. It turned out, our reader submitted a FOIA request to the State Department in 2012.  He wanted to know about “Meetings between Jeff Gorsky and the AILA.”  Mr. Gorsky is the Chief of the Legal Advisory Opinion Section of the Visa Office of the Bureau of Consular Affairs and AILA is the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the national association of more than 13,000 attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. Our reader, Mr. Requester, shared the confirmation of his FOIA request from 2012:

Screen Shot 2014-04-20

After repeated inquiries and prodding, and after almost two years of waiting, a response finally arrived in Mr. Requester’s mail box this year. Note that the subject of the FOIA request is “Jeff Gorsky and the AILA” and the official State Department response to the FOIA request came from Mr. Gorsky himself. Take a look:

Screen Shot 2014-04-21

What the hey?

Is it normal or routine that the subject of the FOIA request is also the signatory of the letter that basically says we found 42 documents but they all contain information that is “personal in nature?”

I don’t know, is it?  Help me out here.  These are presumably from work emails, how can they all be “personal in nature?”

Screen Shot 2014-04-20

Note: FOIA Exemption (b)(6) – permits the government to withhold all information about individuals in “personnel and medical files and similar files” when the disclosure of such information “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Is it bizarre or is it just totally expected that the responding office (b)(6)’ed just about every name that appears on the documents released?  In handwritten notations that look messy and all?  What’s the use of filing an FOIA if all you get are these scrawny (b)(6)s?  The email above concerns a meeting request on “L1 Visas in Singapore.” So, the names of all  pertinent parties to that meeting are also “personal in nature?”

Processing … processing ….screeeccch bang kaplunga!  Ugh! I don’t get it; I must be, like… like….like, a malfunctioned magnet*.

Folks, the White House publishes online its Visitor Access Records, and heavens help them, there are lots of names listed there; some even include middle names!

On March 16, 2009, just as the new president came to office, the State Department’s Bureau of Administration released an FOIA Guidance from the Secretary of State to the department employees.  In says in part:

On his first full day in office, President Barack Obama signed two memoranda on openness in government – one ushering in a new era of transparency in government, the other ordering a presumption of disclosure in the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The State Department will be at the forefront of making this commitment a reality.
[…]
As a Department, we should respond to requests in a timely manner, resolve doubts in favor of openness, and not withhold information based on speculative or abstract fears.
[…]
We need every Department employee to manage the challenge of informing the public and protecting information in a way that fulfills the President’s strong commitment to transparency.

Well, what about that, huh?

In any case, the Department of Justice FOIA Guide on Exemption 6 notes that “Personal privacy interests are protected by two provisions of the FOIA, Exemptions 6 and 7(C). … Exemption 6 permits the government to withhold all information about individuals in “personnel and medical files and similar files” when the disclosure of such information “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” (1)

The Guide also says that “In some instances, the disclosure of information might involve no invasion of privacy because, fundamentally, the information is of such a nature that no expectation of privacy exists. (49) For example, civilian federal employees generally have no expectation of privacy regarding their names, titles, grades, salaries, and duty stations as employees (50) or regarding the parts of their successful employment applications that show their qualifications for their positions.” (51)

Also this: “if the information at issue is particularly well known or is widely available within the public domain, there generally is no expectation of privacy. “

You should know that we have no expertise on FOIAs. But the State Department on this FOIA case managed to use the (b)(6) exemption to redact the names of the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Consular and that “Desk Officer for Singapore Visa matters.”

Here’s a person of the street question: Why would anyone think that disclosing Janice J. Jacobs‘ name as Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Consulate Consular Affairs (she is on Wikipedia, by the way) would constitute an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy?” 

C’mon, folks, you gotta admit, this is totally hilarious!

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-20

Let’s compare this to the  emails released under FOIA on the Keystone XL meetings. Also redacted but as you can see on the emails here, the State Department did not use the (b)(6) exemption and instead used (b)(5) which protects “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.” But look how this is marked:

Screen Shot 2014-04-22

Click on image to read the released emails.

The FOIA super ninja we consulted (thanks J!) suggested that an immediate appeal be filed.  Mr. Requester told us he already sent in an appeal.  We just hope the response to his appeal would not take two years, and would not include scrawny (b)(6)s for decorations.

Seriously. Do you realize  that if the State Department continue to slap (b)(6)s on FOIA’ed docs so thoughtlessly like this, that the agency will be at the forefront of making President Obama’s commitment to “transparency in government” and “presumption of disclosure” a laughing matter? Pardon me, it is already a laughing matter?  Well, a  competition then on who will be at the forefront.  

Folks, you need to fix this or we may be forced to start a rock band called Twisted Hilarity.    

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