Posted: 01:02 EST
Updated: 14:47 PST
Last week, the State Department announced two new special envoy appointments. The first one announced on February 18 was the appointment of Rashad Hussain as United States Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. Since 2010, Special Envoy Hussain has served as U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). In 2009, Mr. Hussain worked with the National Security Council in developing and pursuing the New Beginning that President Obama outlined in his address in Cairo, Egypt. Before joining the White House, Mr. Hussain was a member of the legal staff for the Presidential Transition Team.
Special Envoy Hussain will lead a staff drawn from a number of U.S. departments and agencies to expand international engagement and partnerships to counter violent extremism and to develop strategic counterterrorism communications around the world. As part of this role, Special Envoy Hussain will also serve as Coordinator of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, which was established at the direction of the President and former Secretary of State Clinton in 2010 and codified by President Obama’s Executive Order 13584 to coordinate, orient, and inform government-wide strategic communications focused on violent extremists and terrorist organizations.
Mr. Hussain received his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal. Upon graduation, he served as a Law Clerk to Damon J. Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Mr. Hussain also earned his Master’s degrees in Public Administration (Kennedy School of Government) and Arabic and Islamic Studies from Harvard University. He attended college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His academic writings have focused on national security, constitutional law, and civil liberties.
It looks like Special Envoy Hussain would will replace Ambassador Alberto M. Fernandez who assumed the position of Coordinator of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) in 2012. The center was established in September 2010 to coordinate, orient, and inform government-wide public communications activities directed at audiences abroad and targeted against violent extremists and terrorist organizations, especially al-Qaida, its affiliates, and its adherents. We understand that Ambassador Fernandez is heading to retirement.
Now Bernie’s experience in this region is significant. It’s extensive. In addition to being a former assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, his well-recognized hard work in helping to resolve the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua is really a lasting achievement in American diplomacy, and it earned him the State Department’s Distinguished Service Medal and the admiration of all those who followed those talks and who have worked in the region since.
These negotiations are not easy, and we know that. Negotiations like this never are. They’re reasons that this has gone on for years and years. If it was easy, it would have been done already. The Colombian Government and the FARC have been fighting for longer than most Colombians have been alive. And after so many years of violence, emotions always run strong, and that’s understandable.
But with courage, with determination, with a just and lasting commitment to peace, we think that the courage shown by President Santos and the people of Colombia in pursuing these talks could actually find a resolution. With the help of Special Envoy Aronson, the United States is going to continue to stand by Colombians’ side in this journey, and we hope that 2015 could possibly take a step forward in helping to bring Colombia the security, the prosperity and, most importantly, the peace that it deserves.
These latest appointments join almost 30 other special envoys/special representatives currently
encumbering filling in various portfolios in Foggy Bottom ranging from Af/Pak and climate change to commercial/business affairs, and religion and foreign policy. Special envoy/special representative appointments do not require Senate confirmations.
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-02/20/15 Remarks Announcing the New Special Envoy for the Colombian Peace Process Bernie Aronson; Secretary of State John Kerry; Treaty Room; Washington, DC
-02/18/15 Appointment of Rashad Hussain as United States Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications; Office of the Spokesperson; Washington, DC
Yesterday, we heard that the Pentagon Spokesman, Read Admiral John Kirby is stepping down to make way for a new civilian spokesman under the new Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter.
News: Admiral Kirby, longtime press secretary, out at Pentagon as Secy Carter brings in new team and civilian spox http://t.co/tqKKTvYPio
— Robert Caruso (@robertcaruso) February 18, 2015
483 fake tweets and 438 hard-won followers now down the drain. Carter what have you done!
— Fake Admiral Kirby (@zorching) February 18, 2015
We’re going to miss Admiral Kirby from that podium, and we’re going to miss the fake one, too. This one via @Doctrine Man sums it up:
John Kirby brought three things to the podium that are a rare combination in this business: credibility, character, and competence. Together, they equated to a presence that was second to none. He earned the respect and admiration of the Pentagon Press Corps, built relationships that spanned to the soggy side of the Potomac, and calmly managed each and every crisis that ballooned within the walls of The Building (and there were quite a few). In a tenure that lasted just 14 months (I know, it seemed like more), he became a calm voice of reason in Washington unlike any other, eclipsing both the White House and State Department press secretaries at a time when there was more than enough bad news to go around.
Today, news broke that the State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki is returning to the White House as communications director:
Obama chooses State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki to be his communications director. pic.twitter.com/xCmnTBVXb0
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) February 19, 2015
— Roll Call (@rollcall) February 19, 2015
congrats to @statedeptspox for finding a way to escape Matt Lee questions
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) February 19, 2015
The State Department spokesperson, more than the White House spokesman is the public face of the United States to the world. The spokesperson is not only speaking on behalf of Foggy Bottom but on behalf of the United States. Here’s our short list for the next podium king/queen: We’d like to see one who can stay on message, and still be credible, one who inspires respect not derision; a sense of humor and some humility would be nice, too. We’d like to see an intelligent, natural performer with solid international affairs experience up that podium. And of course, somebody eloquent and quick witted to spar with Matt Lee.
– Domani Spero
Colleen Bell, the new US ambassador to Hungary (and of “Bold and Beautiful” notoriety) gets sworn in today at the State Dept.
— Ali Weinberg (@AliABCNews) December 16, 2014
We don’t know who administered the oath of office, it looks like that official was cut off from the photo below except for his arm. According to the official schedule, the swearing-in ceremony at the Department of State was attended by Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Charles Rivkin but it was otherwise closed to the press.
We look forward to welcoming Ambassador Bell and her family to Hungary in January! Photo: swearing-in ceremony http://t.co/FCk9PHqqOk
— US Embassy Budapest (@usembbudapest) December 26, 2014
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– 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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– 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.
John Kerry gets a deputy — thanks to Ted Cruz http://t.co/C1ZQXcJOxI
— Huffington Post (@HuffingtonPost) December 17, 2014
Congrats to my close friend, Tony Blinken, the new Dep. Secretary of State. Admired in every corner of the world. -vp pic.twitter.com/ygOFZMyf4K
— Vice President Biden (@VP) December 16, 2014
Welcome back to @StateDept, Tony Blinken! Will be terrific as new Deputy Secretary.
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) December 17, 2014
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.
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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– Domani Spero
Ambassador Noah B. Mamet was confirmed by the US Senate on December 2nd. He was sworn into office, in a private ceremony at the State Department with Western Hemisphere Affairs Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson administering the oath.
On December 10, Ambassador Mamet was sworn-in again by Vice President Joe Biden at an official ceremony held at the White House. Argentine Ambassador to the United States Cecilia Nahon attended the ceremony.
Senator John McCain was once asked by Tim Russert about running as George W. Bush’s VP. His response was, “No. No way. The vice president has two duties. One is to inquire daily as to the health of the president, and the other is to attend the funerals of third world dictators.” He forgot to mention VPOTUS’ duty in the ceremonial swearing-in of political ambassadors, which sounds like fun, too.
Ambassador-designate Mamet is yet to present his credentials in Buenos Aires but he is already on Twitter. Don’t get too excited there! It looks like he actually joined Twitter in January 2010 but has only the following three tweets as of this writing.
— Noah Mamet (@NoahMamet) December 10, 2014
— Noah Mamet (@NoahMamet) December 10, 2014
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– Domani Spero
This past October, the U.S. Embassy in Hungary released the following statement:
The U.S. Embassy is not aware of any NAV investigations into US businesses or institutions in Hungary and no U.S. actions have been taken as the result of any such investigations.
The U.S. takes corruption seriously. The U.S. Department of Justice has established an anti-kleptocracy unit to expand capacity to pursue cases in which ill-gotten wealth overseas is found to have a U.S. connection.
Certain Hungarian individuals have been found ineligible to enter the United States as the result of credible information that those individuals are either engaging in or benefiting from corruption. This was a decision by the Department of State under the authority of Presidential Proclamation Number 7750 and its Anti-Kleptocracy Provision of January 12, 2004. Criminal proceedings are up to the host nation to pursue. U.S. privacy laws prohibit us from disclosing the names of the individuals involved.
No one is above the law. The United States shares Hungary’s view of “zero tolerance” of corruption. Addressing corruption requires a healthy system of checks, balances and transparency. The U.S. Government action related to Hungarian individuals is not a Hungary-specific measure, but part of an intensified U.S. focus on combating corruption, a fundamental obstacle to good governance, transparency and democratic values.
The Budapest Beacon reported that ten Hungarian officials and associates have been banned for travel to the United States including individuals close to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Yup, the same one Senator McCain called a “neo-fascist dictator. And the reason Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend, our acting ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest was summoned to Hungary’s Foreign Ministry.
Last month, Hungary Today citing reports from Portfolio.hu has reported, said that the head of National Tax and Customs Administration of Hungary (NAV), Ildikó Vida had revealed that she and some of her colleagues are among those state officials that were banned by Washington from travelling to the United States.
Had a rather unexpected visit from the tax authorities today… — M. Andre Goodfriend (@GoodfriendMA) November 10, 2014
Orbán tells NAV head ‘sue Goodfriend or you’re fired!’ – The Budapest Beacon http://t.co/iilu9ovJdw
— Diplopundit (@Diplopundit) December 14, 2014
Orbán also criticized Goodfriend for accusing a government official of corruption “while hiding behind diplomatic immunity”. Orbán called on Goodfriend to “be a man and take responsibility for his accusations” by agreeing to allow himself to be sued in a Hungarian court for defamation.
“In Hungary, if someone is proven to have been involved in corruption, we don’t replace that person but lock them up,” said the prime minister, neglecting to mention the fact that a similar fate awaits people convicted of defaming public officials.
Later in the day the head of the Fidesz caucus, Antal Rogán, an authority on corruption, told the Hungarian News Service that Goodfriend could prove to a Hungarian court of law if Vida was guilty of corruption, “but that this would first involve the US agreeing to lift his diplomatic immunity”.
Right and she did not want to be fired. As can be expected, the tax office (NAV) chief Ildikó Vida filed a defamation lawsuit against US embassy chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend. According to Hungary Today, the complaint was filed with the prosecutor’s investigations office on the ground of “public defamation causing serious damage,” a NAV lawyer said.
Rather odd series of events between Hungary and the U.S. in last couple of weeks. http://t.co/GFjjpChke0
— Anup Kaphle (@AnupKaphle) December 11, 2014
The Financial Review notes that growing anti-government protests in the country may become another battleground between Europe and Russia. Several protests in the last few months over corruption, internet tax plan, private pensions, etcetera. The Review suggests that these protests against an increasingly pro-Russian leadership, raised questions about whether the former communist nation could become the next Ukraine.
Amidst this, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to Hungary, and The Colbert Report noticed.
Mr. Colbert notes that “The Bold And The Beautiful is perfect training to be an ambassador. Hungary is a region rife with drama and constant threat of violence — exactly the situation the Forrester family routinely handles from their palatial estate while simultaneously running their fashion empire.”
As if that’s not enough, there are also some suggestions floating around the net on how Viktor Orbán can best use the Colleen Bell fiasco to screw the US and its liberal allies in Hungary. It includes wining and dining, and those are the nicer parts.
Meanwhile, @GoodfriendMA is going about his business, checking out the Christmas markets in Budapest and awaiting the arrival of his new boss.
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– 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.
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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- 15 Former AFSA Presidents Urge Senators to Oppose Confirmation of Ambassadorial Nominees to Norway, Hungary, and Argentina
- SFRC Clears Barber, Bell, Tsunis, Harper, Talwar, Rose, Gottemoeller, Chacon, Carroll (diplopundit.net)
- Norwegian-Americans Petition For Withdrawal of Tsunis Nomination as Ambassador to Norway (diplopundit.net)
- US Embassy Norway: Emergency Message on Foreign Fighters Returned From Syria Threat (diplopundit.net)
- US Embassy Oslo: Clueless on Norway, Murder Boards Next?(diplopundit.net)
– 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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