Category Archives: Obama

VPOTUS Swears-In Jane Hartley as Ambassador to France and Monaco

– Domani Spero

 

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President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ms. Hartley on June 6, 2014. The WH released the following brief bio at that time.

Jane D. Hartley is the Chief Executive Officer of Observatory Group, LLC, a position she has held since 2007.  From 1994 to 2007, Ms. Hartley worked for the G7 Group, serving as its Chief Executive Officer from 1995 until her departure. From 1987 to 1989, Ms. Hartley served as Vice President and Station Manager at WWOR-TV in Secaucus, New Jersey. From 1985 to 1987, Ms. Hartley was Vice President of Marketing of MCA Broadcasting (Universal). She was Vice President of Corporate Communications at Westinghouse Broadcasting from 1983 to 1985, and Vice President of New Markets Development at Group W Cable from 1981 to 1983. From 1978 to 1981, Ms. Hartley served as Associate Assistant to the President in the Office of Public Liaison at the White House, and was Director of Congressional Relations at the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1977 to 1978. Ms. Hartley was the Executive Director of the Democratic Mayors’ Conference for the Democratic National Committee from 1974 to 1977. She has served as a Member of the Board of Directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service since 2012. She is a Member of the Board of Directors of Heidrick and Struggles and a member of the Board of Directors and Overseers of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Ms. Hartley is also on the Executive Committee of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She is a former Vice Chairman and member of the Executive Committee of the Economic Club of New York, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Ms. Hartley received a B.A. from Boston College (Newton College).

Ms. Hartley had her Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on July15, 2014. On September 16, 2014, the U.S. Senate confirmed her as U.S. Ambassador to France and Monaco. This is one of those nominations that went through the process rather quickly; something that’s becoming a rarity in Washington these days.

The published Certificate of Competency says (via-Hartley, Jane D. – French Republic – July 2014):

Jane Hartley, currently the Chief Executive Officer of Observatory Group, LLC in New York City and a Member of the Board of Directors of Heidrick and Struggles in Chicago, has been the CEO of macroeconomic and political advisory firms for the past two decades. She is known for her critical analyses of the G7 countries and her depth of knowledge of French political and economic policies. A vibrant, experienced leader, Ms. Hartley will bring key skills to the task of furthering bilateral relations with the Government of France, a critical U.S. ally in the European Union and around the globe.[...] Ms. Hartley earned a B.A. at Boston College (Newton College). She speaks conversational French.

Ms. Hartley will replace businessman, Charles Rivkin who was chief of mission at US Embassy Paris from 2009–2013 (he is currently the Assistant Secretary at State’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (EB)). Since the 1960s, all ambassadorial appointments to Paris had been political appointees except for one.

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US Ambassador Gets on Reddit, Not/Not Nearly as Funny as Anonymous FSO

– Domani Spero

 

In February this year, we had an anonymous Foreign Service Officer who did an AMA on Reddit (see IamA United States Diplomat: Anonymous FSO Gets on Reddit and He’s a Riot!).  Last June, USCG Toronto also did an AMA on consular issues (see U.S. Consulate General Toronto Joins ‘Ask Me Anything’ on Reddit). Yesterday, the U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein Suzi LeVine joined Reddit for what we think is the first “Ask Me Anything” session conducted by a chief of mission.  Unlike the anonymous FSO’s AMA, this one is official and done on your dime; no need to report her to the FBI or Diplomatic Security.

You might also remember her as the first U.S. ambassador to be sworn-in on a Kindle this past June. Below is her intro on Reddit:

Hi Reddit! I’m Suzi LeVine, the American Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. I am also a former technology exec and a mom to two amazing kids. It’s an honor to serve the American people as an Ambassador and I can personally attest to the critical role Ambassadors play in U.S. foreign policy making. Right now there are 60 Ambassadorial nominees who are still awaiting confirmation by Congress – that’s 60 countries where the U.S. isn’t representing its foreign policy interests as well as it could. Fun fact: My first trip to Switzerland was when I kicked off a solo 6 week backpacking trip from Zurich. I was 18 and, after buying my first Swiss Army knife, promptly learned how sharp they are when I cut straight through an apple into my hand. Let’s just say that I learned how excellent the Swiss healthcare system is. Verification: https://www.flickr.com/photos/statephotos/15302277727/

UPDATE: Merci viel mal. What terrific questions! Let’s do this again sometime! And, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @AmbSuzi.

photo via state.gov

photo via state.gov

 

Here are some of the questions Ambassador LeVine answered:

Reddit user: Do you think your background which lacks diplomatic experience prior to your appointment as ambassador is a handicap or do you see it as a positive thing to bring another perspective? Or something totally different?  Where do you see issues in the relations between the USA and Switzerland? Where do the countries work well together?
AmbSuzi:  Diplomatic experience does not just derive from work in the Foreign Service. Let me tell you about team oasys from Jordan or team onebuzz from New Zealand. These were two teams and two groups of students with whom I had the honor of working in my capacity at Microsoft to shine a spotlight on innovators using technology to change the world. That’s diplomacy.

Reddit user: It’s always been a dream of mine to work for an embassy–or in the foreign service. I’m fluent in French, 24 years old, and I love America. How do I go about making this dream a reality? EDIT: I forgot to say I am an American…and of course I love it.
AmbSuzi: First off, go for it! http://careers.state.gov (In fact, I think the deadline for summer internships is next week, and that’s a great way to get a taste of this career. Stop wasting time on Reddit and go apply. :-)

Reddit user: Do you have to deal with a lot of people revoking their US citizenship nowadays? Because it isn’t exactly easy being a dual citizen these days ever since FATCA came around.
AmbSuzi:  I have deep empathy for those who are wrestling with this decision and situation right now. My team and I are actively working to alleviate some of the concerns.

Reddit user: What do you think of the common criticism that too many ambassadors are appointed because they were fundraisers for the President & the Democratic/Republican party? You can look up individual donations here and it appears that you’ve donated quite a bit to the President & the Democratic Party? Do you think that more ambassadors should be career diplomats or is there value in having individuals close to the President serve as ambassadors?
AmbSuzi:  Fair question. I believe that there is tremendous value in a blend. The answer is not “or.” It is “and.” Different skill sets are appropriate in different situations and places around the globe. For example, my professional and volunteer experience as someone who has created partnerships, organized communities, led teams, initiated start-ups, etc., is a terrific match for Switzerland where I work with the likes of Nestle, Novartis, and ABB. Alternatively, someone like my friend, Michael Hoza, the new U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon, brings decades of foreign service experience and is equipped to take on the likes of Boko Haram.

Reddit user: What is the most challenging moment of your Career thus far, and how did you overcome it
AmbSuzi:  I tend to approach challenges as opportunities. What can I learn? How can I grow? With whom can I learn from their mistakes? The hardest element of this ambassadorial job so far was frankly, waiting to get confirmed. In my overall very nonlinear career, the hardest moment was going back to work in 2009 after four and a half years home with my kids and hearing people say that I was no longer qualified.

Reddit user: Ambassador, you were the first in such a position to be sworn in with your hand on an e-reader instead of a book. That made the news on some tech sites, but the news reports lacked some kind of background. Whose idea was it, and what was the thought behind it?
AmbSuzi:  Great question! (By the way, what is the plural of octopus?) As for the e-reader, I wrote about this in my blog post here: http://go.usa.gov/wnBz. After reading, let me know if you have any additional questions.

Reddit user:  How regularly do you speak with State Department officials back in Washington DC? Who is your immediate superior? Wendy Sherman? How much of the day to day operations of an embassy come from officials in DC?
AmbSuzi:  We have regular communications, and it’s important to share what’s happening in Switzerland with D.C. My technical, immediate superior is the President. That said, we do a lot of coordination within the European and Eurasian Bureau, which is run by the awesome Toria Nuland.

Here are the some other interesting questions from Reddit users that the ambassador did not respond to:

  • Do you think that presidents should continue to appoint plush state dept posts to their highest donors? I do realize this goes both ways, and both parties are involved in this practice.
  • Do you have a Swiss bank account, and are they all they’re cracked up to be?
  • Do you get paid double?
  • Among the other ambassadors in Switzerland, who are the best to party with?
  • Can I move in with you? I’m tired of this shit country!
  • How many push ups can you do?
  • Anyway to hook me up with a trip?
  • How did you get the gig? Did you have to go to a special college, was it more about who you knew than what you knew?
  • How much did you have to “donate” to get the Ambassador position????
  • What advice would you give somebody interested in becoming an Ambassador (or at least working abroad for the State Department)?
  • Does it get boring being the ambassador to a neutral country while we are on the brink of WW3?

We were sorely disappointed there were no questions about Jason Bourne, TP, prostitutes, crashed UFOs, Argo, or Benghazi.  Maybe next time?

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Secretary Kerry Swears-In John Bass as Ambassador to Turkey

– Domani Spero

 

 

President Obama announced his intent to nominate John Bass as the next ambassador to Turkey on  June 3, 2014.  At that time, the WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador John R. Bass, a career member of the Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, is the Executive Secretary of the Department of State, a position he has held since 2012.  Previously, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Georgia from 2009 to 2012, the Leader of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Baghdad, Iraq from 2008 to 2009, and the Director of the Operations Center at the Department of State from 2005 to 2008.  He served as a Special Advisor to the Vice President from 2004 to 2005, and from 2002 to 2004 he was a Labor Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, Italy. Ambassador Bass served as Chief of Staff and Special Assistant in the Office of the Deputy Secretary at the Department of State from 1998 to 2001.  Before that, he was a NATO Desk Officer and Desk Officer for Belgium and the Netherlands in the Bureau of European Affairs.  He served in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research and his overseas assignments include serving at the U.S. Missions in Brussels, Belgium; Antwerp, Belgium; and Ndjamena, Chad. Ambassador Bass received an A.B. from Syracuse University.

— Bass, John – Republic of Turkey – 06-2014

 

Ambassador Bass had his confirmation hearing on July 15, 2015.  He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on September 17, 2014.  Our previously confirmed ambassador to Ankara, Frank J. Ricciardone, Jr. departed post on July 7, 2014, retired from the Foreign Service, and had since been appointed as vice president and director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

Ambassador Bass takes over leadership at Embassy Ankara from retired ambassador Ross Wilson who arrived in Turkey on September 6, 2014 to take up duties as Chargé d’Affaires, ad interim.  He’ll have his hands full.

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Tired of Another War? Operation Repeat Iraqi Freedom Officially On In Iraq. And Syria.

– Domani Spero

 

Only yesterday:

 

Before you know it, this fellow on Twitter live-tweeted the strikes :

 

The Pentagon soon confirmed the air strikes:

 

Here is the official statement

 

Here’s a YouTube video of the ISIL strike:

 

The new coalition of the willing includes five Arab countries: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar:

 

The five Arab countries and their planes:

 

President Obama’s statement on the Syria bombing:

 

Here is the congressional notification:

 

Here is a longer letter (there were two?) citing authority to carry out Public Law 107-40 and Public Law 107-243).  We’re now at war in Syria, and for the third time, in Iraq:

 

Still “no boots on the ground!?”

 

How much will all this cost?

 

Did Congress say/do anything?

 

How about those war predictions?

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As of this writing, the State Department has not announced any new Travel Warning for Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain or Qatar.  The last Worldwide Caution notice was published on April 10, 2014.

One post out of the five Arab countries in the coalition, the US Embassy in Jordan, has issued a Security Message noting the coalition strikes against ISIL targets and the likely increased of police presence at public and diplomatic buildings throughout the country.

The only other post in the area to issue a Security Message citing “regional events” is the US Embassy in Lebanon.  Embassy Beirut advises U.S. citizens that coalition airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets in Syria have begun and notes an increased in kidnappings in  northern and eastern Lebanon. Both embassies say that there is no specific threat against U.S. citizens in their respected countries but caution citizens to exercise security awareness and maintain a heightened level of vigilance.

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Filed under Americans Abroad, Congress, Consular Work, Defense Department, Foreign Affairs, Media, Obama, Realities of the FS, Security, Social Media, State Department, Terrorism, U.S. Missions, War

Dear Senators, Do You Really Want President Obama to Appoint 65 Special Presidential Envoys?

Domani Spero

 

So, Congress has been back in session for a week but not for long.  We’re now counting the days when our representatives will run off to full campaign mode for the November election.

Meanwhile, we have not seen any significant movement in the confirmation of the State Department nominees, particularly the ambassadorial appointments stuck in the Senate since forever.  Apparently,  the world’s greatest deliberative body is now unable to deliberate with sense and harmony. Who best should pay the price than the ambassadorial nominees, because why not? It’s not like anyone of the nominees can appeal to a higher order.

Last September 11, the Senate did confirm John Hoover as our ambassador to the Republic of Sierra  Leone. That’s the country with a serious outbreak in Ebola.  He only waited 428 days.  And he was not even the longest wait on the calendar.  Mr. Daughton, a career diplomat nominated for our embassy in Namibia has been waiting the longest at 443 days as of this writing.  Mr. Harrington, another career diplomat nominated for Lesotho has been waiting 411 days and recently saw his post go on ordered departure (for family members) due to a coup; he presumably watched it all unfold from over 8,000 miles at his temporary desk in the District of Columbia!

Here are some of the other nominees stuck longest, to-date, in confirmation purgatory:

image via afsa.org with diplopundit notation

image via afsa.org with diplopundit annotation

The State Department “T” family also has two nominees awaiting confirmation for over 400 days. Here’s their boss, the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security tweeting on the day Congress returned to work, and again, a few days later:

 

There are currently 153 nomination pending on the Senate’s Executive Calendar.  According to FP, some 65 State Department nominations are pending in the Senate, 39 of which have made it out of SFRC and onto the Senate floor. Of the 65, 26 are stuck in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  The names are listed here.

If the Senate refuses to confirm these nominees, we think President Obama should just appoint them as his Special Presidential Envoys to their respective countries and send them off packing the next day. Never mind Congress.

Yup, that sounds craaazzy!

But … but… no more crazy than the Senate holding on to these nominations for over a year or months on end and leaving our diplomatic missions without the selected representatives of the President. So maybe a tad more crazy is what Congress seriously needs.

Look, there are special envoys and there are special envoys. True that they are the “personal representatives of the President.” For most of them, this is a technical credential accorded their status.  The State Department currently has about 40 special envoys, reps and senior advisors.  For others, like Edward House, also known as Colonel House,  and President Wilson’s chief advisor on European politics and diplomacy during World War I (1914-18), they really do represent the President personally.  You may remember that Colonel House did not even go through a Senate confirmation process; he just went about his work per instruction from the President. So it’s not like this had never been done before.

Certainly, a mass appointment of Special Presidential Envoys would be a bad precedent.  We are also pretty sure our U.S. Senate would be terribly unhappy and offended if President Obama simply announce the appointments of five dozen Special Presidential Envoys in place of his ambassadors. And without the advice and consent of the Senate. Of course, they would!

(Gosh! If this happens,we would missed a whole lot of informative and entertaining performances on C-Span).

That said, if our senators cannot do kumbaya work for the sake of the United States, if they continue trading blame on why the nominees are stuck in the Senate, and if they kept on putting party before country, why then should we mind if they are offended and get ulcers?

Go ahead, President Obama … make our day!

 

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Filed under Ambassadors, Appointments, Assistant Secretary, Congress, Foreign Service, Hall of Shame, Nominations, Obama, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions, Under Secretary

Consular Affairs to Get a New Boss — Michele Bond Nominated as Assistant Secretary

– Domani Spero

 

On September 9, President Obama announced his intent to nominate  Michele Thoren Bond as the next Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs. Ms. Bond has been the Acting A/S for the CA bureau since the retirement of Janice Jacobs this past spring.

Photo via Embassy Maseru/FB

Photo via Embassy Maseru/FB

The WH released the following brief bio:

Michele Thoren Bond is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the Department of State (DOS), a position she has held since December 2012.  Since April 2014, she has also served as Acting Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs at DOS.  From 2010 to 2012, she served as the Ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho and from 2007 to 2010, she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services at DOS.  From 2006 to 2007, Ms. Bond was the Director of the Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs in the Bureau of Consular Affairs at DOS.  From 2003 to 2006, she served as a Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and she was Managing Director for Overseas Citizens Services at DOS from 2001 to 2003.  From 1999 to 2001, Ms. Bond was the Director of Consular Training at the Foreign Service Institute.  Since joining the Foreign Service in 1977, she has also served in Guatemala City, Guatemala; Belgrade, Serbia; Prague, Czech Republic; and Moscow, Russia.

Ms. Bond received a B.A. from Wellesley College, an M.A. from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, and an M.A. from the National War College.

She is married to Clifford G. Bond, a retired Foreign Service Officer and former Ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Ms. Bond speaks Spanish, French, Serbian, and Swedish.  Her official state.gov bio also includes the following:

Ambassador Bond received a Presidential Award for Meritorious Service in 2013, and the Mary A. Ryan Award for Outstanding Public Service in 2010. She and her team at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow received a national Public Service award in 1998 for their initiatives in support of adoptions in Russia and seven other formerly Soviet nations.

Click here for an interview she did when she was ambassador to Lesotho.

Ms. Bond will still need to go through the Senate confirmation process  but we expect that she will get confirmed just as soon as the most deliberative body gets its interpersonal disharmony worked out.

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U.S. Troops Deploy to C.A.R. For Resumption of Operations at U.S. Embassy Bangui

– Domani Spero

 

On September 11, 2014, President Obama sent the following congressional notification concerning the deployment of U.S. troops to the Central African Republic:

On September 10, 2014, approximately 20 U.S. Armed Forces personnel deployed to the Central African Republic to support the resumption of the activities of the U.S. Embassy in Bangui.

This force was deployed along with U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security personnel for the purpose of protecting U.S. Embassy personnel and property.  This force is expected to remain in the Central African Republic until it is replaced by an augmented U.S. Marine Security Guard Detachment and additional U.S. Department of State civilian security personnel as the security situation allows.

This action has been directed consistent with my responsibility to protect U.S. citizens both at home and abroad, and in furtherance of U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.

I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution (Public Law 93-148).  I appreciate the support of the Congress in these actions.

 

Map via cia.gov

Map via cia.gov

On December 27, 2012,  the State Department announced the temporary suspension of U.S. Embassy Bangui operations.  At the time, Embassy Bangui was staffed by 7 U.S. direct hires, 2 local-hire Americans, and 35 locally employed (LE) staff members. One temporary liaison officer from the U.S. Army’s Africa Command represented the only other agency at the mission.  At the embassy’s departure, the Government of the Republic of France, acting through its Embassy in Bangui, served as Protecting Power for U.S. interests in CAR.

via State Magazine

via State Magazine (click on image for larger view)

Here is a brief history of the U.S. presence in Bangui via state.gov:

The United States established diplomatic relations with the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) in 1960, following its independence from France. The C.A.R. is one of the world’s least developed nations, and has experienced several periods of political instability since independence. The Central African Republic is located in a volatile and poor region and has a long history of development, governance, and human rights problems. The U.S. Embassy in C.A.R. was briefly closed as a result of 1996-97 military mutinies. It reopened in 1998 with limited staff, but U.S. Agency for International Development and Peace Corps missions previously operating there did not return. The Embassy again temporarily suspended operations in November 2002 in response to security concerns raised by the October 2002 launch of a 2003 military coup. The Embassy reopened in 2005. Restrictions on U.S. aid that were imposed after the 2003 military coup were lifted in 2005. Due to insecurity and the eventual overthrow of the C.A.R. Government, the U.S. Embassy in Bangui has been closed since December 2012. The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to the C.A.R.

Via diplomacy.state.gov:

On August 13, 1960, the Central African Republic gained its independence from France, and on the same day, the United States recognized it as a nation. Six months later, the embassy was established at the capital in Bangui. Since that time, the Central African Republic has had a rocky political history and a struggling social situation. The embassy has had to deal with a number of issues despite its limited influence in the country, including combating local and foreign militant groups, encouraging proper rule of law, and assisting in humanitarian aid.

 

According to Embassy Bangui’s website (which might be outdated), David Brown is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, and became Senior Advisor for the Central African Republic on August 1, 2013 succeeding Ambassador Lawrence Wohlers.   Mr. Brown was Diplomatic Advisor at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) in Washington, D.C. from August 2011 to July 2013. His prior Africa experience includes serving as the Senior Advisor to the J-5 (Strategy, Plans, and Programs) Director of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in Stuttgart (Germany); three times as Deputy Chief of Mission at U.S. Embassies in Cotonou (Benin), Nouakchott (Mauritania), and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso); and as Economic Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Lubumbashi (Democratic Republic of the Congo).

Photo via diplomacy.state.gov

Photo via diplomacy.state.gov

In 2012, the OIG inspection report says that “if the Department cannot adequately staff and protect the embassy, it needs to consider whether the risks to personnel in Bangui are justified or find another way to maintain diplomatic representation in the Central African Republic.”

It looks like the Department has now considered the risk, a regional embassy presence is out and the embassy will reopen with the 20 deployed troops until they are replaced by an “augmented U.S. Marine Security Guard Detachment.”  How many Marine guards exactly, and how many DS agents and private security contractors will be there to support the reopened post still remain to be seen.

We cannot tell how old is the Embassy Bangui building shown above. It looks like it lacks the set back required for newer buildings. We are assuming that this is  one of those legacy diplomatic properties constructed prior to 2001.  The State Department’s FY 2013 funding supported the acquisition of sites where New Embassy Compound projects are planned in future years, including one for Bangui (p.478). The request, however, did not include  a time frame when the new embassy construction for C.A.R. is expected.

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Here’s Merle Haggard with ‘I think I’ll just stay here and drink.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Africa, Defense Department, Diplomatic Security, Foreign Policy, Foreign Service, FSOs, John F. Kerry, Locally Employed Staff, Obama, Org Life, Realities of the FS, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

State Department vs. Bill O’Reilly — Volleys Fired But Nothing to Do With Foreign Policy!

Domani Spero

 

Apparently, there is a war going on between the State Department and Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and it has nothing to do with foreign policy or Benghazi! It all started with the following segment of the O’Reilly Factor. At the 2:04 mark, Bill O’Reilly says this:

“With all due respect, and you don’t have to comment on this,” O’Reilly told Rosen. “That woman looks way out of her depth over there. Just the way she delivers … it doesn’t look like she has the gravitas for that job.”

 

That did not sit well with Marie Harf, the deputy spokeswoman of the State Department, who fired a verbal projectile via Twitter:

 

On September 4, Ms. Harf also said this from the podium (mark 3:16 on this video clip):

“I think that when the anchor of a leading cable news show uses quite frankly sexist, personally offensive language that I actually don’t think they would ever use about a man, against the person that shares this podium with me, I think I have an obligation and I think it’s important to step up and say that’s not OK.”

 

We are not a devotee of Mr. O’Reilly, but when the deputy spox picks a fight with the the most watched cable news program in the United States, we’ve got to ask — what was she thinking?  The deputy spokeswoman of the oldest executive agency ever, cannot have a disclaimer saying “tweets are my own.” What she says from the podium and what she tweets are as official as it gets. So this verbal tussle with Mr. O’Reilly is not between her and the cable anchor. None of the headlines says Marie Harf vs. Bill O’Reilly.  It is officially between the State Department and the cable anchor.  Some people may even infer that this is a fight that the Secretary of State signed on. Whether that is true or not, we don’t know. What we know is if it’s from the podium, it represents the official view of the agency and the U.S. government.

And because the other person in the ring is a cable anchor, this is what you get. Watch starting at mark 1:13

 

Mr. O’Reilly called the WH spox, Mr. Earnest “befuddled,” saying “he doesn’t have a lot of credibility.” Mr. O’Reilly, of course, did not say “that man looks uncertain to me.”  We hope Mr. Earnest doesn’t take it upon himself to fire his own objectiles from the White House podium.

Meanwhile, WaPo’s Erik Wemple makes an important point:

“As a housekeeping measure, let’s toss the “personally offensive” claim right in the trash heap. In slighting Psaki, O’Reilly stuck strictly to her performance as a professional, something that is well within his ambit as a cable news anchor. If a SPOKESWOMAN cannot be evaluated on the basis of how she presents herself to the public, then nothing is fair game.”

 

Mr. O’Reilly did used the term “that woman” as opposed to saying , Ms. Psaki “looks way out of her depth over there.That Woman” is the title of the book on Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, one of the most vilified women in the 20th century. It is the title of a comedy drama movies in 1966 and in 2012.  “That woman” reminds us of “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,“in the 1998 chapter of presidential history.  We can understand why that phrase may be objectionable, but the professional person at the podium does not have the luxury of becoming personally upset in public.

One commenter over in WaPo makes a lot of sense:

[N]o State Department spokesperson should wade into a verbal conflict with an American opinion show host (O’Reilly is NOT a “Fox News anchor”) …not on Twitter, and certainly not from the SD press room podium. [...] Had Ms. Harf not tweeted and her initial comments about his opinions had been in response to a press briefing question (unlikely), she could have just said, “We at State do not concern ourselves with the comments of an opinion show host. We have more important matters to attend to.” End of story; Harf looks like a pro. At this point, she looks like a teenage girl in a Facebook cat fight, and that reflects poorly on the State Department, the Obama Administration and our nation.

Ouch!

The official spokeswoman, Jen Psaki and her deputy Marie Harf came to the State Department from the Obama campaign.  Previously, Ms. Psaki was the deputy press secretary for John Kerry‘s 2004 presidential campaign and press secretary for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.  Ms. Harf also worked on the 2012 Obama campaign.

People on the inside know that access means a great deal. It is not a given that assistant secretaries of public affairs and/or spokespersons see the secretaries they serve as often as they want.  The most notable exception may be Margaret Tutwiler who was Secretary Baker’s spokesperson and was famously quoted as saying, “If you’re a Ph.D. and have 17 degrees, the press doesn’t care,” she says. “They like to know that you have a fair idea of the person on whose behalf you are speaking. And I do know this President and this Secretary of State very well.”

Ms. Tutwiler later contributed to ADST’s Oral History project and here is part of what she said (pdf):

“I have said before, and I firmly believe it, that podium was not my podium, I was not elected to anything, I am staff and serve at the President’s pleasure as a political appointee and the Secretary of State. …. I believed that part of the spokesman’s job is how you come through that TV screen. If you don’t look convincing and are just mouthing words, then you are not doing your job.”

 

We understand that there are folks in the building who yearn for “spokesmen and [spokes]women that used to be — the class acts that they were” — presumably, an assistant secretary-rank spokesperson speaking on behalf of the United States. Some of Ms. Psaki’s predecessors include Ambassador Victoria Nuland, Philip J. Crowley, FSO Sean McCormack , Ambassador Richard Boucher , James Rubin, and Margaret D. Tutwiler. We do recognize that a spokesperson is only as good as his/her access to the Secretary.  What good is an ambassador or AS-rank spokesman or spokeswoman if the Secretary does not trust him or her?   Secretary Kerry picked these individuals as his spokespersons, that’s his prerogative.  But they also represent the voice of the State Department and the U.S. Government, and sometimes, we fell like the spoxes never got off the campaign trail.

For instance, last year, Ms. Psaki was caught in a lie and had to release another statement acknowledging that her boss “was briefly on his boat.”  (see It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s Not Superman On a Nantucket Boat Or How to Make a Non-News Into Big News). Asked where Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power was at one point, she was unable to answer a very simple question.  The point is, even on topics, where we, the public expect a straight-forward answer, the podium is unable to do so. Did Egypt had a coup?  Transparency, anyone?  Just a very brief one on the QDDR at the top of your head?  Folks, over in YouTube, the Jen Psaki Greatest Hits is now on Episode 24. It is not/not fun to watch.

We’d like to think that they’re doing the best they can at these jobs.  Whether we approve of their performance or not, we imagine this can’t be easy work; some days it’s a tour of the world’s ever growing hotspots and spitholes of miseries.  The reporters will push to get their stories, that’s their job; and hey, that’s expected, no need to accuse them of “buying into Russian propaganda.” Of course, the spokespersons will not always have the answers that the press want.  But that’s an old story.  Perhaps, the most important point worth noting here is no matter how shitty the days may be, the official spokesperson or deputy spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State cannot, and should not be the story of the day.

Why?

If nobody is listening to them because people are talking about them, then the spoxes are not doing their real jobs, which is spoxplaining the administration’s policies.

Well … okay then, back to watching the lighthouse. Here’s Johnny Nash’s Sun-Shiny day:

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Filed under Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Huh? News, John F. Kerry, Media, Obama, Public Service, Social Media, Staffing the FS, State Department

Snapshot: Defense Spending in NATO Member States

– Domani Spero

 

On September 2, President Obama arrived in Tallinn, Estonia. From September 4-5, he will be in Wales for the NATO Summit. There will be 60 world leaders, 70 foreign ministers, 70 defence ministers and 28 NATO member countries invited to the UK summit.

According to the CRS, the formal summit agenda is expected to focus on three main issues:

• Enhancing allied readiness and strengthening collective defense and military capabilities, including through increased troop rotations and military exercises in Central and Eastern Europe;

• Marking the conclusion of NATO’s decade-long mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014 and launching a planned follow-on training mission; and

• Enhancing NATO’s support of partner countries outside the alliance, including through a new “Defense Capacity Building Initiative.”

Apparently, also a key discussion that must be had during the summit is the defense spending of member states.  Below via the CRS:

A key question underlying summit deliberations on collective defense will be whether the allies are willing to devote the resources necessary to meet their stated commitments. As such, a primary objective of NATO leaders and U.S. and UK officials, among others, is to secure allied pledges to reverse the ongoing downward trend in allied defense spending.

In 2013, total defense spending by NATO European allies as a percentage of GDP was about 1.6%; just four NATO allies (Estonia, Greece, the UK, and the United States) met the alliance’s goal of spending 2% of GDP on defense (see Appendix for more allied defense spending figures).  Since 2001, the U.S. share of total allied defense spending has grown from 63% to 72%.13 Many analysts and U.S. officials have long asserted that defense spending in many European countries is not only too low; it is also inefficient, with disproportionately high personnel costs coming at the expense of much-needed research, development, and procurement. In 2013, only four allies (France, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States) met a NATO guideline to devote 20% of defense expenditures to the purchase of major equipment, considered a key indicator of the pace of military modernization.

via CRS

via CRS (click on image for larger view)

Follow the NATO Summit Wales 2014 via GOV.UK here.

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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