Category Archives: Obama

Dear White House, About That John Kerry as Sandra Bullock in Space — Just. Stop. It.

– Domani Spero

 

Following the “chickenshit”flap, Mark Lander’s WH piece on October 29 via the NYT also includes the following:

Mr. Kerry is vocal and forceful in internal debates, officials said, but he frequently gets out of sync with the White House in his public statements. White House officials joke that he is like the astronaut played by Sandra Bullock in the movie “Gravity,” somersaulting through space, untethered to the White House.

Aides to Mr. Kerry reject that portrait, saying he dials into White House meetings from the road and is heavily involved in the policy process.

So then the Business Insider made this:

 

We can’t help but wonder what’s going on over at the White House.

 

Yup, you’re careening wildly all over the place, and undermining very publicly this administration’s Secretary of State, and you think there will be no consequences because it’s just a joke?  Didn’t you stop to consider that foreign ministries around the world may start questioning just how “untethered” the Secretary  is to the White House and that it could impact how they deal with him or his agency?

For Baracksakes, adult supervisors need to please step on the brakes here!

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Oops, what did the WH say?

 

Right.

 

Today, Secreatry Kerry was at the Sixth Annual Washington Ideas Forum.

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Filed under Diplomatic Life, Foreign Affairs, Huh? News, John F. Kerry, Leaks|Controversies, Obama, Rants, Secretary of State, Social Media, Spectacular, State Department

CRS: Ebola Outbreak – Quarantine v. Isolation, Travel Restrictions, Select Legal Issues

– Domani Spero

 

On October 25, WaPo reported that the governors of New York Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ordered on Friday the imposition of a mandatory 21-day quarantine for medical workers returning from the countries hit hardest by the ebola epidemic. Illinois later in the day imposed similar restrictions. Today, NYT reported that the Obama administration has expressed deep concerns to the governors and is consulting with them to modify their orders to quarantine medical volunteers returning from West Africa.

Ebola CRS report via Secrecy News (pdf):

On August 8th, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The recent arrival in the United States of several health care workers who contracted the disease, combined with the first diagnosis of a case in the U.S. at a hospital in Dallas, has sparked discussion about the appropriate government response. Aside from the various policy considerations at issue, the outbreak has generated several legal questions about the federal government’s authority to restrict specific passengers’ travel and/or contain the outbreak of an infectious disease. These questions include, inter alia, whether the federal government may: (1) restrict which countries U.S. nationals may travel to in the event of a public health crisis; (2) bar the entry into the United States of people who may have been infected by a disease; and (3) impose isolation or quarantine measures in order to control infectious diseases.

Passport restrictions on which countries U.S. citizens may visit can be imposed by the Secretary of State. Pursuant to the Passport Act, the Secretary of State may “grant and issue passports” according to rules designated by the President, and may impose restrictions on the use of passports to travel to countries “where there is imminent danger to the public health or the physical safety of United States travellers” (sic). The Supreme Court has recognized that the authority to “grant and issue” passports includes the power to impose “area restrictions” – limits on travel to specific countries (restrictions must comply with the Due Process Clause of the Constitution). Although passport restrictions are not criminally enforceable, they may prevent travelers from boarding a flight to a restricted area.

Restrictions may also be imposed on who may enter the United States, though the range of applicable restrictions may differ depending upon whether a person seeking entry into the country is a U.S. national. The government enjoys authority under federal immigration law to bar the entry of a foreign national on specific health-related grounds, including when a particular foreign national is determined to have a “communicable disease of public health significance.” More broadly, section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the President, pursuant to proclamation, to direct the denial of entry to any alien or class of aliens whose entry into the country “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

These restrictions do not apply to U.S. citizens, who may enjoy a constitutional right to reenter the country. Nonetheless, certain travel restrictions may impede the ability of any person – regardless of citizenship – from traveling to the United States in a manner that potentially exposes others to a communicable disease. For example, airlines flying to the U.S. are permitted under Department of Transportation regulations to refuse transportation to passengers with infectious diseases who have been determined to pose a “direct threat” to the health and safety of others. In making this determination, airlines may rely on directives from the CDC and other government agencies. Pilots of flights to the United States are also required to report certain illnesses they encounter during flight before arrival into the U.S.

In addition, the Department of Homeland Security and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintain a public health “Do Not Board” (DNB) list, which contains the names of people who are likely to be contagious with a communicable disease, may not adhere to public health recommendations, and are likely to board an aircraft. Airlines are not permitted to issue a boarding pass to people on the DNB list for flights departing from or arriving into the United States. People placed on the DNB list are also “assigned a public health lookout record,” which will alert Customs and Border Protection officers in the event the person attempts to enter the country through a port of entry. The CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine (DGMQ) can conduct exit screening at foreign airports to identify travelers with communicable diseases and alert the relevant local authorities.

Finally, both federal and state governments have authority to impose isolation and quarantine measures to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. While the terms are often used interchangeably, quarantine and isolation are actually two distinct concepts. Quarantine typically refers to separating or restricting the movement of individuals who have been exposed to a contagious disease but are not yet sick. Isolation refers to separating infected individuals from those who are not sick. Historically, the primary authority for quarantine and isolation exists at the state level as an exercise of the state’s police power in accordance with its particular laws and policies.

However, the CDC is also authorized to take measures “to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the States or possessions, or from one State or possession into any other State or possession.” In order to do so, the implementing regulations “authorize the detention, isolation, quarantine, or conditional release of individuals.” This authority is limited to diseases identified by an Executive Order of the President, a list which currently includes Ebola. Whether an isolation or quarantine order originates with the federal or state government, such orders will presumably be subject to habeas corpus challenges, and must also comport with the Due Process Clause of the Constitution.

View the original CRS Legal Sidebar here (pdf) includes active links.

And that legal challenge may soon be upon us. On October 26, Kaci Hickox, a nurse placed under mandatory quarantine in New Jersey, went on CNN on Sunday and criticized the “knee-jerk reaction by politicians” to Ebola.  According to CNN, Hickox, an epidemiologist who was working to help treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, has tested negative twice for Ebola and does not have symptoms.  Norman Siegel, Hickox’s attorney, and a former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union told CNN that he will be filing papers in court for Hickox to have a hearing no later than five days from the start of her confinement. Siegel told CNN that Hickox’s quarantine is based on fear.

Here is the link to the Executive Order 13295 of April 4, 2003 cited above by the CRS brief via:

[T]he following communicable diseases are hereby specified pursuant to section 361(b) of the Public Health Service Act:

(a) Cholera; Diphtheria; infectious Tuberculosis; Plague; Smallpox; Yellow Fever; and Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers (Lassa, Marburg, Ebola, Crimean-Congo, South American, and others not yet isolated or named).

July 31, 2014 Update

“(b) Severe acute respiratory syndromes, which are diseases that are associated with fever and signs and symptoms of pneumonia or other respiratory illness, are capable of being transmitted from person to person, and that either are causing, or have the potential to cause, a pandemic, or, upon infection, are highly likely to cause mortality or serious morbidity if not properly controlled. This subsection does not apply to influenza.”

A side note, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power is currently traveling to the countries in West Africa hardest hit with the ebola outbreak:

 

 

Now, since Ambassador Power is not a medical worker, she probably will not be subjected to the NJ/NY mandatory quarantine when she gets back. However, on October 22, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that public health authorities will begin active post-arrival monitoring of travelers whose travel originates in Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea.  Active post-arrival monitoring, according to the CDC  means that travelers without febrile illness or symptoms consistent with Ebola will be followed up daily by state and local health departments for 21 days from the date of their departure from West Africa. Except that Ambassador Power’s return trip will not be originating from West Africa but from Belgium, the last stop on this West Africa-Europe trip before returning to the U.S.

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Filed under Africa, Americans Abroad, Consular Work, MED, Obama, Secretary of State, State Department, U.S. Missions, US Presidents

USAID OIG: “The office is a watchdog not doing its job” — IG Nominee Withdraws Name

– Domani Spero

 

According to WaPo, Michael G. Carroll, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s acting inspector general, withdrew his name from consideration to be President Obama’s permanent inspector general today after it has been pending for 16 months. This development came amidst WaPo’s report that negative findings in USAID OIG’s reports were being stricken from audits between 2011 and 2013.

In recent interviews, eight current auditors and employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution complained about negative findings being stricken from audits between 2011 and 2013. In some cases, the findings were put into confidential “management letters” and financial documents, which are sent to high-ranking USAID officials but are generally kept from public view.

The auditors said the office has increasingly become a defender of the agency under acting inspector general Michael G. Carroll. Some auditors said Carroll did not want to create controversy as he awaited Senate confirmation to become the permanent inspector general.

On Wednesday, Carroll withdrew his nomination, which had been pending for 16 months. Carroll declined to discuss his decision. A career government employee, he has been with the office since 2000 and took over as acting inspector general in 2011.
[...]

Carroll’s withdrawal comes at a time of growing criticism from whistleblowers who have been in contact with Senate investigators and Post reporters.

“The office is a watchdog not doing its job,” said Darren Roman, an audit supervisor at the inspector general’s office who retired in 2012 after a 23-year career. “It’s just easier for upper management to go along to get along. The message is: ‘Don’t make waves, don’t report any problems.’ ”
[...]

The Post tracked changes in the language that auditors used to describe USAID and its mission offices. The analysis found that more than 400 negative references were removed from the audits between the draft and final versions.

In one audit, the number of negative references fell from 113 to 61; in another, from 170 to 13.

As a rule, inspectors general try to ensure that their reports are accurate and reflect the perspectives of the agencies and private contractors they examine. It is not unusual for audits to change between the draft and final reports, but whistleblowers say the changes have gone too far.
[...]
At the USAID inspector general’s office, several auditors and employees told The Post that their authority has been undermined, and some have hired attorneys to file whistleblower and employment discrimination claims. Auditors stationed in different offices around the world have come forward with similar complaints.

Read the allegations of disturbing shenanigans reported by the Washington Post in Whistleblowers say USAID’s IG removed critical details from public reports. 

At the time of Mr. Carroll’s nomination in June 2013, he was the Deputy Inspector General at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a position he held since May 2012.  From October 2011 to May 2012, he was Acting Inspector General at USAID.  From 2006 to 2011, he was Deputy Inspector General, and from 2000 to 2004, he was the Assistant Inspector General for Management at USAID.

While Mr. Carroll has now withdrawn him name from consideration as permanent USAID IG, according to WaPo, he apparently told his staff that he plans to remain in the office as a deputy inspector general.

Huh?

As of this writing, the WH has yet to publish its withdrawal of the Carroll nomination.

Can we please have a congressional hearing on these allegations and make sure the witnesses include people who actually knew what was going on? And please, let’s not have an excuse that some folks were not interviewed because they had left government service and are no longer employees or contractors of USAID.

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Filed under Appointments, Congress, Follow the Money, Foreign Assistance, Leadership and Management, Nominations, Obama, State Department, USAID

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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Filed under Ambassadors, Ambassadorships, Americans Abroad, Confirmed, Congress, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service, Nominations, Obama, Political Appointees, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

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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Filed under Ambassadors, Obama, Questions, Social Media, Staffing the FS, State Department, Technology and Work, U.S. Missions

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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Filed under Ambassadors, Foreign Service, FSOs, John F. Kerry, Obama, Secretary of State, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

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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Filed under Assistant Secretary, Consular Work, FSOs, Nominations, Obama, Officially In

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