Category Archives: Obama

Senate Confirmations: Jess Baily, Robert Cekuta, Margaret Uyehara, Richard Mills Jr., Frank Rose and More

– Domani Spero

 

The following nominees for the State Department were confirmed on December 16, 2014:

  • PN1840 *      Macedonia
    Jess Lippincott Baily, of Ohio, 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 Macedonia.
  • PN1842 *      Azerbaijan
    Robert Francis Cekuta, of New York, 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 Azerbaijan.
  • PN1847 *      Montenegro
    Margaret Ann Uyehara, of Ohio, 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 Montenegro.
  • PN1852 *      Armenia
    Richard M. Mills, Jr., of Texas, 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 Republic of Armenia.
  • PN1099 *      State  Department (Verification and Compliance).
    Frank A. Rose, of Massachusetts, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Verification and Compliance).

The U.S. Senate also confirmed the nominations of Paige Eve Alexander, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Administrator of USAID, and Jonathan Nicholas Stivers, of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Administrator of USAID. It also confirmed Karen Kornbluh, of New York, to be a Member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) for a term expiring August 13, 2016.

On December 15, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following nominees:

PN1377-3      FOREIGN SERVICE| Nomination for Sharon Lee Cromer, which nomination was received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.

PN1567        FOREIGN SERVICE| Nominations beginning Michael A. Lally, and ending John E. Simmons, which 4 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 10, 2014.

PN1568        FOREIGN SERVICE| Nominations beginning Andrew J. Billard, and ending Brenda Vanhorn, which 11 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 10, 2014.

PN1569        FOREIGN SERVICE| Nominations beginning Melinda Masonis, and ending Jeffrey R. Zihlman, which 456 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record| on April 10, 2014.

PN2137        FOREIGN SERVICE| Nomination for James D. Lindley, which nomination was received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on November 13, 2014.

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Tony Blinken Confirmed as State Department #2

– Domani Spero

 

The U.S. Senate confirmed Tony Blinken as deputy secretary of state on December 16 just before Congress adjourned. In early December, Newsweek reported that Senator John McCain was blocking the nomination, citing sharp disagreement with the nominee’s past statements on Iraq.

Via HuffPo: Blinken, whose nomination was nearly derailed by Republican opponents, skates into the office on a 55-38 vote as Democrats pushed dozens of President Barack Obama’s nominations through the upper chamber before losing their majority in the next Congress. The approval was thanks to Sen. Ted Cruz‘s (R-Texas) staunch opposition to the government spending bill, which kept senators in Washington for an extra few days before adjourning.

 

 

 

On November 7, President Obama released a statement on his nomination of Mr. Blinken:

I’m proud to nominate Antony Blinken to be our next Deputy Secretary of State. I’ve known and worked closely with Tony for the past decade, starting when I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he was its Staff Director. For the past six years, I’ve relied on Tony in the White House, where I’ve come to have extraordinary respect for his knowledge, judgment, and inclusive approach to developing and implementing our foreign policy. As everyone who knows and works with Tony can attest, he is a person of enormous integrity, with a tireless work ethic and deep love of country. He is exactly the type of person who we want to represent the United States of America overseas. If confirmed by the Senate, I know he will continue to do a great job on behalf of my Administration, Secretary Kerry and the American people.

The WH also released the following brief bio:

Antony Blinken is Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor, a position he has held since 2013.  From 2009 to 2013, Mr. Blinken was Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor in the Office of the Vice President.  Previously, he was Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2002 to 2008.  From 2001 to 2002, he was a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  In the Clinton Administration, he served on the National Security Council staff as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs and as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Strategic Planning and Speechwriting.  He also served as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs at the Department of State.  Mr. Blinken received a B.A. from Harvard College and a J.D. from Columbia Law School.

Mr. Blinken’s spouseEvan M. Ryan is currently Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).

Here is additional biographic details when he was appointed a key member of the Obama National Security Team after the 2008 presidential elections:

Antony “Tony” Blinken was appointed Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 2002.  From 1994 to 2001, Mr. Blinken served on the National Security Council staff at The White House.  He was Senior Director for European Affairs (1999-2001) and Senior Director for Strategic Planning and NSC Senior Director for Speechwriting (1994-1998).  He also served as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (1993 – 1994), and was a lawyer in New York and Paris.  Mr. Blinken was a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2001 to 2002) and a Senior Foreign Policy adviser to the Obama-Biden presidential campaign.  He has been a reporter for The New Republic magazine and has written about foreign policy for numerous publications, including The New York Times and Foreign Affairs Magazine.  He is the author Ally Verses Ally: America, Europe and the Siberian Pipeline Crisis (1987).  Mr. Blinken is a graduate of Harvard College and Columbia Law School.

Of the four key members of the Obama National Security Team announced in 2008, only Tom Donilon has not assumed a key position in the State Department. James B. Steinberg was Deputy Secretary of State from 2009-2011, and Jack Lew was Deputy Secretary of State from 2009-2010.  Mr. Donilon previously worked as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs from 1993 to 1996, and served as the Clinton administration’s Secretary of State’s chief of staff.

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Related posts:

Obama Officially Nominates WH Adviser Tony Blinken as State Dept #2

State Dept’s Wendy Sherman Now Dual-Hatted as “P” and New Acting Deputy Secretary

Officially In: Steinberg and Lew, the New “D”

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U.S. Interests Section Havana Needs a New Embassy Seal ASAP, Senators Fume About Security

– Domani Spero

 

I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January of 1961.  Going forward, the United States will reestablish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba.

President Barack H. Obama, December 17, 2014

 

It did not take long. Really.

According to BuzzFeed, two Republican senators have already threatened to block congressional funding for a future U.S. Embassy in Cuba and an ambassadorial nomination after the Obama administration announced sweeping changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“I anticipate we’re going to have a very interesting couple of years discussing how you’re going to get an ambassador nominated and how you’ll get an embassy funded,” Rubio, an ardent opponent of lifting the Cuban embargo, said.

 

 

Sorry about this, you may have to cover your eyes!

 

Here’s a crib sheet for our elected reps:

The U.S. Interests Section (USINT) is in the former United States Embassy building that was built by Harrison Abramovitz architects and opened in 1953. The 6-story building was reopened in 1977, renovations were completed in 1997.

The functions of USINT are similar to those of any U.S. government presence abroad: Consular Services, a Political and Economic Section, a Public Diplomacy Program, and Refugee Processing unique to Cuba.

The objectives of USINT in Cuba are for rule of law, individual human rights and open economic and communication systems.

Bilateral relations are based upon the Migration Accords designed to promote safe, legal and orderly migration, the Interests Section Agreement, and efforts to reduce global threats from crime and narcotics.

 

Our de facto embassy has a staff of 51 Americans. Its total funding excluding salaries for FY2013 was $13,119,451, appropriated by Congress, of course. Our U.S. Congress.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, is the Chief of Mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.  Prior to taking up this position in August 2014, Ambassador DeLaurentis served for three years as the Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.  Prior to that posting, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

There’s more via State/OIG’s 2014 inspection report of USINT Havana:

USINT is located in a U.S. Government-owned building constructed in 1951 as a chancery and substantially renovated in the early 1990s. The land was first leased from the Cuban Government in 1949 for a 90-year term with a 90-year extension. In exchange, the U.S. Government leased three residences (in Havana, Matanzas, and Santiago) to the Cuban Government, also for 90 years.

The Department constructed and first occupied the U.S. Government-owned COM residence in 1942. The original eagle from the monument to the victims of the battleship Maine, which was toppled following the Bay of Pigs invasion, adorns the grounds. Representational, family, and guest spaces are well appointed. The residence is well maintained and furnished [….]

Short-term-leased properties in Havana include an annex, which houses Department of Homeland Security and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, And Migration, a warehouse, the DCM residence, a two-house Marine detachment compound, and residential housing for all other USINT American staff. These properties are all covered under an umbrella lease agreement with PALCO.

A special note, dedicated to our elected representatives who made lots of noise about security and protecting our diplomats overseas in the aftermath of Benghazi — the State Department Inspector General recommended that the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations “implement a comprehensive plan to address security, structural, fire safety, and space planning deficiencies” at the U.S. Interests Section Havana…” 

We’d like to know that these congressional concerns extend to our diplomats who have been serving in Havana for years under our de facto embassy.

 

Related posts:

U.S.Embassies Face Host Country Harassment:  From Petty Actions to Poisoning of Family Pets

 

 

 

 

 

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George J. Tsunis’ nomination as U.S. Ambassador to Norway ends

– Domani Spero

 

This past August, we blogged about the social media campaign opposing the nomination of George Tsunis to be ambassador to Norway (see Opposition to George J. Tsunis Nomination as Norway Ambassador Now a Social Media Campaign). At that time we wrote:

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.

It took a while but today, it finally happened.

“It is over,” Tsunis said in a telephone interview with Newsday’s Tom Brune. He did not withdraw his nomination, the Senate clock simply ran out, but he did say he would decline to be nominated again for the 114th Congress. President Obama now has an opportunity to pick a new nominee as ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway.The White House Office of Personnel needs to find a new nominee, and hopefully that will happen fairly quickly and with more thought put into it.

More below:

A Senate aide confirmed Tsunis was out. Senate Democrats had attempted to wrap many unconfirmed nominees into a package for approval, Tsunis said, but the final measure left out his nomination.
[…]
Tsunis said he was grateful to be considered and went through a “tremendous life-learning experience.”
[…]
Tsunis said he would decline to be nominated again in the next Congress.

“I don’t think anybody would think it’s a good idea,” he said. “Norway has been without an ambassador for two years and the overarching thing should be: Let’s get them a first-rate ambassador.”

Read in full here.

Among the three most controversial nominees this cycle, two had already been confirmed. The one difference with the Tsunis nomination is that unlike the Mamet and Bell nominations, there were people who active lobbied Congress not to confirm this nomination. It turned out that the Norwegian-Americans in Minnesota and the Dakotas were pretty hard headed once they got their mind on one thing. And they nagged their elected representatives. Once the entire congressional delegations of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota went on the record to oppose this nomination,this was on life support.

The most recent ambassador to Norway, Barry White departed post in the fall of 2013. We should note for the record that we haven’t had a career ambassador appointed as US Ambassador to Oslo since President Lyndon Johnson appointed Margaret Joy Tibbetts, a career FSO sent there in 1964 and served until 1969.

There’s a lesson here somewhere, pay attention.

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James Gibney: Obama Sells Out U.S. Diplomats (Bloomberg View)

– Domani Spero

 

Former FSO, James Gibney writes editorials on international affairs for Bloomberg View. He was previously features editor at the Atlantic, deputy editor at the New York Times op-ed page and executive editor at Foreign Policy magazine. He was a speechwriter for Secretary of State Warren Christopher, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and President Bill Clinton. His latest below on State Department appointments:

The confirmation last week of two spectacularly unqualified political nominees to head U.S. embassies in two budding autocracies (Hungary and Argentina) prompted some predictable tut-tutting.

Sadly, President Barack Obama’s approach to State Department appointments has deeper problems than garden-variety patronage. Political hirelings have been insinuated much lower into the department’s bureaucracy. And after trumpeting tough ethics rules, the administration has carved out loopholes for hiring former lobbyists and “special government employees” who can earn outside income while in their official posts. Never mind the impact this breach of boundaries has on Foreign Service officers’ dreams of future policy greatness. It’s a recipe for flawed, and potentially corrupt, policy making.

Of course, even the uber-diplomatic George H. W. Bush had his undiplomatic appointments. My favorite: Peter Secchia, a Michigan building magnate who, before arriving to take up his post in Rome, said, “I saw the new Italian Navy. Its boats have glass bottoms so they can see the old Italian Navy.”

Read in full here.

For a companion read, check out State Dept Assistant Secretary Positions: How Far Back is “Recent Memory?”

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Senate Confirmations: P. Michael McKinley (Afghanistan), Richard Verma (India)

– Domani Spero

 

On December 9, the U.S. Senate slowly winding its business in town, confirmed the ambassadorial nominees for Afghanistan and India. There’s still a long list of nominees awaiting confirmation, but  the candle is growing short here; we don’t think many more will make it through this Congress. But here are the nominees who made it through the confirmation obstacle course on December 9:

 

Deputy Ambassador Michael McKinley traveled to Bagram Airfield today to help administer the Oath of Citizenship to 11 Service Members in the United States Armed Forces. (Via US Embassy Kabul/FB)

Deputy Ambassador Michael McKinley traveled to Bagram Airfield today to help administer the Oath of Citizenship to 11 Service Members in the United States Armed Forces. (Via US Embassy Kabul/FB)

Ambassador McKinley is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as Deputy Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan. A two-time Ambassador and four-time Deputy Chief of Mission, he is known for his gifted leadership and management abilities. A consensus builder with demonstrated interpersonal skills, broad expertise in high-level foreign policy negotiations and detailed knowledge of the region, he will bring essential skills to the task of furthering bilateral relations with the Government of Afghanistan, a nation of unsurpassed foreign policy importance to the United States Government in a critical region of the world.

Previously, Mr. McKinley served in the Department of State as Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colombia (2010-2013), Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Lima, Peru (2007-2010), Deputy Chief of Mission, United States Mission to the European Union, Brussels, Belgium (2004-2007), Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, Washington, D.C. (2001-2004), Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Brussels, Belgium (2000-2001), Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Kampala, Uganda (1997-2000), Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Maputo, Mozambique (1994-1997), Political Officer, U.S. Embassy London, United Kingdom (1990-1994), Special Assistant, Office of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Washington, D.C. (1989-1990), Political Officer, Office of Southern African Affairs, Washington, D.C. (1987-1989), Political Officer, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Washington, D.C. (1985-1987) and Consular and General Services Officer, U.S. Embassy La Paz, Bolivia (1983-1985).

Mr. McKinley earned a MPhil and DPhil from Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom (1975-1982), and a B.A. from Southampton University, South Hampton, United Kingdom (1971-1975). He is the recipient of numerous awards from the Department of State, including a Presidential Meritorious Service Award (2011), 12 Senior Foreign Service Performance Awards, six Superior Honor Awards and two Meritorious Honor Awards. He speaks Spanish, Portuguese and French. via state.gov-McKinley, Michael P. – Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – September 2014

 

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Richard Rahul Verma serves as Senior Counselor to the global law firm of Steptoe & Johnson LLP, as well as to the Albright Stonebridge Group in Washington, DC.  His practice focuses on international law and regulatory issues, with a specialization in Asia and emerging markets.  Mr. Verma also serves as a Senior National Security Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he directs their “India 2020” initiative.  Known as a talented leader and manager, he is recognized for his many years of experience working on high-level policy in the federal government, in the private sector and with non-governmental organizations, especially on matters relating to the affairs of South Asia and India, including political-military relations.  His knowledge and ability to set the agenda will enable him to strengthen bilateral relations with India, a pivotal nation of critical global importance to the U.S.

Previously, in Washington, D.C., he served as Assistant Secretary of State (Legislative Affairs), Department of State (2009-2011), Partner, Steptoe and Johnson LLP (2007-2009), Senior National Security Advisor, Office of the Senate Majority Leader (2006-2007), Senior National Security Advisor, Office of the Senate Minority Leader (2004-2006), Senior Counsel, Office of the Senate Democratic Whip (2003-2004), Foreign Policy Advisor, Office of Senator Reid (2002-2003) and Associate, Steptoe and Johnson (1998-2002).  Mr. Verma served on active duty as a First Lieutenant and Captain in the U.S. Air Force at Holloman, Air Force Base, New Mexico and Fort Meade, Maryland (1994-1998).  He was also Field Representative, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Bucharest, Romania (1993-1994) and Staff Assistant, Congressman John P. Murtha (1991-1992).

 Mr. Verma earned a B.S. at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1990, a J.D., cum laude, at American University in 1993 and a LL.M, with distinction, at Georgetown University Law Center in 1998.  He is the recipient of a Distinguished Service Medal from the Department of State, the International Affairs Fellowship from the Council on Foreign Relations and a Meritorious Service Medal, a Commendation Medal and a National Defense Service Medal from the U.S. Air Force.  via state.gov-Verma, Richard R. – Republic of India – September 2014

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Kerry Officially Appoints Amos Hochstein as Energy Envoy. Oh, Hey, What’s That?

– Domani Spero

 

It’s official. Last week, Secretary Kerry appointed Amos Hochstein as Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs. Here is his state.gov bio:

Amos J Hochstein serves as the Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs leading the Bureau of Energy Resources (ENR) at the U.S. Department of State. He oversees U.S. foreign policy engagement in the critical intersection of energy and national security. In this role, he advises the Secretary on global energy security and diplomacy, as well as promotes U.S. interests to ensure energy resources are used to increase economic opportunity, stability and prosperity around the world. Special Envoy Hochstein also advises the Secretary on U.S. strategy to advance global integration of renewable and clean energy sources. Prior to this role, Mr. Hochstein served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Diplomacy and in that capacity oversaw the Office of Middle East and Asia and the Office of Europe, the Western Hemisphere and Africa where he lead the bureau’s energy diplomacy efforts.

Prior to joining the State Department, Mr. Hochstein spent more than 15 years advising U.S. elected officials, candidates for public office and thought leaders on domestic and global energy policy initiatives. He began his career in Washington, DC, on Capitol Hill where he served in a variety of senior level positions, ultimately serving as the Senior Policy Advisor to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Mr. Hochstein first served as the principal Democratic staff person on the Economic Policy, Trade and Environment Subcommittee where he oversaw work authorizing Ex-Im Bank, OPIC and USTDA, as well as drafting legislation on export controls and trade-related multilateral organizations and regimes.

Mr. Hochstein served as Policy Director to Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT). Prior to his work with Sen. Dodd, he worked as a Senior Policy Advisor to Senator (then Governor) Mark Warner (D-VA).

Harnessing his experience in the policy, campaign and public sector, Mr. Hochstein moved to the private sector as Executive Vice President of International Operations at Cassidy & Associates. Throughout his career, he has been a counselor for both domestic and international oil and gas companies, as well as companies focusing on renewable energy. In this capacity, he assisted corporations in assessing potential new markets and the development of alternative sources of power and best strategies to bring them to market.

 

You may now follow (or not) Mr. Hochstein on Twitter at  but he says “tweets are my own.” Now, where’s the fun in that?

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Mr. Hochstein succeeds Ambassador Carlos Pascual who was appointed Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs after a stint as ambassador to Mexico. The Bureau of Energy Affairs was subsequently  created in November 2011.   We have posted here about Ambassador Pascual when he became the first public casualty of WikiLeaks in March 2011.  Two days after that, his resignation was announced On May 2011, Ambassador Pascual was appointed as Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs. He was nominated the first Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Energy Affairs in February 2012.  The Senate did not act on the nomination and this past summer, he resigned from his State Department post to join Columbia University’s  Center on Global Energy Policy.

According to the state.gov, the Bureau of Energy Resources (ENR) is “working to ensure that all our diplomatic relationships advance our interests in having access to secure, reliable, and ever-cleaner sources of energy.” It’s three core objectives includes energy diplomacy, energy transformation, and energy transparency and access.

Mr. Amos has been appointed to a special envoy position which requires no confirmation. He heads State’s ENR office supported by  Amb. Mary Warlick as his Principal Deputy Assistant SecretaryRobin Dunnigan as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Diplomacy and Robert F. Ichord, Jr., Ph.D. as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Transformation.

Oh, hey, what’s that?

 

Wait — there’s more? Via Newsweek back in 2010, with special mention for the new special envoy, Mr. Hochstein who then oversaw the Equatorial Guinea account:

The rise in foreign lobbying may have also compromised the policymaking of current and future U.S. government officials. With little oversight, lobbyists can represent the most repressive regimes and then turn around and work in government. According to John Newhouse, author of a forthcoming book on the influence of foreign lobbies on American policies, one of John McCain’s senior foreign-policy advisers during his 2008 campaign, Randy Scheunemann, simultaneously worked for McCain and as a paid adviser to the government of Georgia, which had been accused of human-rights violations. Despite McCain’s reputation as a leading champion of human rights, Scheunemann largely escaped questions about whether his lobbying might have affected his foreign-policy advice to the powerful senator. Similarly, while at Cassidy & Associates, lobbyist Amos Hochstein oversaw the Equatorial Guinea account, which required him to argue the merits of one of the most repressive regimes on earth. Still, after leaving Cassidy, Hochstein landed a prominent job on the (ill-fated) 2008 presidential campaign of Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, a politician also known for his longstanding human-rights advocacy. Now Hochstein says he helped “move the ball forward on human rights” in the country.

Lobbying can turn down the pressure on authoritarian regimes. After years of intense lobbying, Equatorial Guinea’s Obiang managed to transform his image in Washington from a venal autocrat into a solid American ally and buddy of U.S. business. In 2006 he strode out of a meeting at Foggy Bottom with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who declared him “a good friend.”

Look, one of our readers also sent us a link to Sunlight Foundation’s Foreign Influence Explorer for Equatorial Guinea. If you have never seen it, click here for folks you may or may not know.

Oh, dear.  May we please retract our congratulations now?

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The Daily Show: Inglurious Ambassaders and an Earnest Spox

– Domani Spero

Ouchy!  The new ambassadors to Argentina and Hungary just made it to Comedy Central but perhaps the best feature was the WH spox, Josh Earnest who dodged with “Frankly, I was not part of this decision-making process.”

Jon Stewart rips: “That is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen the president’s press secretary do. His entire job — his only job — is built around trying not to go, ‘Hey, look, I just fucking work here.’ But that’s what he did.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-04

click on image to view the video

We hate to think what this would look like if/when that fellow for Norway gets the Senate nod. We’ll have The Daily Show trampling on the salad bowl.

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US Embassy Hungary: A well managed, productive mission awaits Ambassador Colleen Bell

– Domani Spero

 

So apparently, Senator John McCain led a CODEL to the Munich Security Conference a couple weeks back last February and made a four-hour side trip to Budapest. Bloomberg View’s Jeffrey Goldberg writes that, he suspect, though he could not prove it, that the good senator from Arizona decided to meet with two dozen Hungarian journalists in Budapest mainly so that the delegation would be asked questions about a woman named Colleen Bell.

Who is Colleen Bell? Bell is a soap opera producer — “The Bold and the Beautiful” is her masterwork — who was nominated by Barack Obama’s administration to serve as U.S. ambassador to Hungary. Bell, one of Obama’s larger fundraising “bundlers,” bought this nomination with more than $500,000 of mostly other people’s money.
[…]
In Budapest, they’re highly interested in her. When a reporter, early in the press conference, asked McCain about Bell, a devilish smile played across his face.

“We’re very fortunate,” he said, “to have with us today the chairman of the committee that holds the hearings that these nominees come before, and that is Senator Murphy, and he is very knowledgeable about these issues.”

Three things then happened. First, most everyone at the press conference laughed. Second, one of the people who didn’t laugh, the aforementioned Senator Chris Murphy, a freshman Democrat from Connecticut, approached the podium as if it were covered in rat poison. Third, McCain winked — not at all subtly — at the three American journalists sitting in the front row.

This is a pretty hilarious piece, although definitely not/not hilarious if you are Colleen Bell. Just imagine being in her shoes — you have yet to arrived at your host country and a couple dozen journalists who presumably will cover your tenure in Budapest, were already laughing at your expense.

Screen Shot 2014-12-03

Reax via Twitter:

NYT’s Mark Leibovich, author of This Town, Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital says:

FP’s David Rothkopf thought this is bad news but ….

World News Tonight ponders the how:

Fox News talks credentials:

WaPo’s Daniel W. Drezner reacts to WH spox spin about this nominee. Really a bad sign when the spox pulls out the “I wasn’t part of this decision process” excuse.  The dudester is … who the heck expects the spokesman, even of the White House to be involved in the deliberation of ambassadorships?

Oh, John McCain. The former straight talker, and former presidential contender, is apparently not happy about this nominee according to ABC News. Although, we’re not sure if the senator has been happy about anything since 2008.

“We’re about to vote on a totally unqualified individual to be ambassador to a nation which is very important to our national security interests,” he said.

“I am not against political appointees … but here we are, a nation that’s on the verge of seceded its sovereignty to a neo-fascist dictator getting in bed with Vladimir Putin and we’re gonna send the producer of ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ as our ambassador,” McCain said. (via)

 

Isn’t our capital city just the most marvelously enchanting reality show ever?

But there’s more.

Today, Reuters is reporting that Hungary’s Foreign Ministry summoned Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend, our acting ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest over comments made by Senator McCain on Tuesday, calling Prime Minister Viktor Orban a “neo-fascist dictator.”

This, we suspect, will not/not be a boring tour. The next time Senator McCain rants about Hungary, the MFA will be calling in the new ambassador. It would certainly help smooth relations if she is likable instead of grouchy.

In any case, Ambassador-designate Colleen Bell, the producer of ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ will officially be our top American representative in Hungary once that country accepts her credentials. You may not like that, but the Senate confirmed her nomination and she’s one of ours now.  She will not only be the chief of mission at our embassy in Hungary, she will also be responsible for foreign service and other agency personnel and their family members at post. Embassy Budapest employs 95 Americans and 232 locally employed (LE) staff members, servicing five agencies. The total mission funding for FY 2013 was $17.5 million, which includes Department of State (Department) funding of $11.5 million and excludes U.S. direct-hire salaries. The total bilateral assistance for FY 2013 was $1.8 million.

We hope that the ambassador-designate spent the last year while waiting for confirmation to learn more about her host country. She’ll need it.  She will be America’s face in a country where the elected government doesn’t have a lot of fondness for America.  She did graduate with honors from Sweet Briar College with a bachelor’s degree in political economy, a dual major in political science and economics, so she’s not stupid, despite a near disastrous confirmation hearing. The good news is — she’ll assume charge of a mission that has been “A well managed and productive, and led by a talented chargé d’affaires(CDA),” who arrived in August 2013. (The Hungarian right is apparently hoping that CDA Goodfriend would be recalled or replaced).  According to the OIG inspectors, Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend effectively leads a collegial and active country team and is preparing carefully for the arrival of a new ambassador.

So — let’s wish the new ambassador well in her new assignment and hope that she be a good steward of Mission Budapest.

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Confirmations: House Packing Officially On For Noah Mamet (Argentina), and Colleen Bell (Hungary)

– Domani Spero

 

All that hand wringing whether or not controversial Obama bundlers would get to post or not this year ends today. On December 2, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominees for ambassadors to Argentina and Hungary.

Ambassador-Designate Noah Mamet would replace Vilma Martinez who served in Buenos Aires from 2009-2013.  He will soon take up residence at Palacio Bosch, the official residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina designed by French architect René Sergent. The residence is considered Sergent’s finest work because of its stylistic unity and contextual relation to its environs, and according to State/OBO, was seminal to Argentine architectural taste.

Palacio Bosch via U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires

Palacio Bosch via U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires

The owner sold the residence to the United States Government in 1929 following recurrent propositions by U.S. Ambassador Robert Woods Bliss (Ambassador to Argentina from 1927-1933). Bliss, owner of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., who joined the Foreign Service in 1903 also purchased some of the furnishings, which he later donated to the residence. Major renovation of the building was undertaken in 1994. The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ first totally historic restoration began, using many Argentine artisans and craftsmen who were direct descendants of the original experts. 40,000 ft² palace, lots of rooms but we don’t know the state of the bathrooms.

Embassy Buenos Aires acting ambassador has been Kevin K. Sullivan who began work as Chargé d’Affaires (a.i.) at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires since June 2013.  A career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service, he was posted previously in Argentina from 1997-2000.  The Embassy Buenos Aires is up to speed and has already announced the confirmation of the new ambassador on its website, almost as soon as it happened.

Ambassador-Designate Colleen Bell would replace Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, who served as Ambassador to Budapest from 2010-2013. Not sure where is the ambassador’s residence there but she will soon hold office at the building at Szabadságtér 12 in Budapest’s Fifth District which has been home to the United States Legation and Embassy since 1935. It was designed by the architects Aladár Kármán and Gyula Ullman, who were hired by a commercial company called the Hungarian Hall of Commerce, Ltd., who had purchased the site on May 16, 1899.  According to the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, during World War II, the Chancery Building operated under the Swiss Flag. There are stories that Jewish refugees were hidden in the lower levels of the building during the War. From November 4, 1956 to September 28, 1971, the Chancery also served as the home of Cardinal József Mindszenty, who took refuge there during the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. The Cardinal lived in what is now the Ambassador’s office.

Embassy Budapest’s second in command is M. André Goodfriend who has served as Deputy Chief of Mission since August 2013.  He previously served as the Consul General at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria, from August 2009 until the embassy suspended operations in February 2012.

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