Tweet of the Day: Note to State Department: Don’t be so prickly

Posted: 12:51 am EDT

 

Don’t Worry, Be Happy — John Kirby Officially Takes Over as @StateDeptSpox

Posted: 11:02 am  EDT
Updated: 5:23 pm EDT

 

 

Today, Secretary Kerry tweeted this:

I am pleased to welcome John Kirby as our new State Department Spokesperson. I first got to know John’s work several years ago, when I was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he was spokesperson for Admiral Mike Mullen and then Chief of Information for the Navy. John was known as the Navy’s indispensable utility player – it didn’t matter whether he was serving as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy, a public affairs officer for the Blue Angels, or aboard multiple Navy vessels – name the challenge – at every stage of his career, including in his most recent assignment as the Pentagon’s top spokesman, John has stood out for his impeccable judgment, collegiality, and character. And he understands the media – absolutely. John has always – intuitively, instinctively – gravitated toward diplomacy, and I know that he is looking forward to that focus as he retires from the Navy and moves into civilian life. All of this makes him the perfect person to help tell America’s story to the world.

I also want to recognize the extraordinary work of Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf, who stepped in seamlessly as Acting Spokesperson over the past few months. Marie has made a contribution to every important thing I’ve done as Secretary and plays a particularly important role in leading the communications strategy for our Iran negotiations.

I am privileged to work with a remarkable team and grateful to each of them for their contributions.

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Tweet of the Day: Admiral John Kirby as Next Foggy Bottom Spokesman

Posted: 3:01 pm EDT
Updated: 4:08 pm EDT

 

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NYT’s David Brooks Asks, “Are we in nursery school?” Acting State Dept Spox Marie Harf Reax. Tsk-tsk!

Posted: 11:41 am PDT

 

So last week, SecState #56 and SecState #60, both Republican-appointed Secretaries of State wrote an op-ed about The Iran Deal and Its Consequences.

The Acting Spokesperson Marie Harf was asked about this during the April 8 Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION:  Henry Kissinger and George Shultz published a piece in the Wall Street Journal today that raised a lot of questions about the deal.  These are diplomatic statesman types.  Do you guys have any reaction to that?  Do you think they were fair?
MS HARF:  Well, the Secretary has spoken to a number of his predecessors that were former secretaries of state since we got this agreement – or since the parameters – excuse me – we got the parameters finalized.  And we’re having conversations with other senior officials.  We are happy to have that conversation about what this agreement is, what it isn’t, the work we still have to do, and how we are very confident that this achieves our objectives.  And that conversation will certainly continue.
[…]
QUESTION:  Okay.  So one of the things they say is that “absent a linkage between nuclear and political restraint, America’s traditional allies will conclude that the U.S. has traded temporary nuclear cooperation for acquiescence to Iranian hegemony” in the region.  Not true?
MS HARF:  I would obviously disagree with that.  I think that an Iran backed up by a nuclear weapon would be more able to project power in the region, and so that’s why we don’t want them to get a nuclear weapon.  That’s what this deal does.
QUESTION:  Back when —
MS HARF:  And I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives.  I heard a lot of sort of big words and big thoughts in that piece, and those are certainly – there’s a place for that, but I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives about what they would do differently.  I know the Secretary values the discussions he has with his predecessors regardless of sort of where they fall on the specifics.
QUESTION:  Well, I guess one of the criticisms is that there aren’t enough big words and big thought – or people argue that there are not enough big words and big thoughts in what the Administration is pursuing, its overall policy, particularly in the Middle East right now, which has been roiled with unrest and uncertainty.  And I think that’s what the point is they’re making.  That you reject, it, I understand that.  One of the —
MS HARF:  Well, in a region already roiled by so much uncertainty and unrest —

On that same day, conservative talk show radio host Hugh Hewitt had NYT’s David Brooks as guest and was asked about the Kissinger-Schultz op-ed, and the State Department’s official response to it. Click here for the transcript: Below is an audio of the exchange.

HH: David Brooks, this is the critique of the critics, is that we don’t have a lot of alternatives. In fact, every critic I’ve heard has alternatives, and I’m sure Kissinger and Schultz do. But a lot of big words? Really?
DB: Are we in nursery school? We’re not, no polysyllabic words? That’s about the lamest rebuttal of a piece by two senior and very well-respected foreign policy people as I’ve heard. Somebody’s got to come up with better talking points, whatever you think. And of course, there are alternatives. It’s not to allow them to get richer, but to force them to get a little poorer so they can fund fewer terrorism armies.

The Daily Caller caught that story and posted this:  Are We In Nursery School?’: David Brooks Slams Marie Harf Over Kissinger, Shultz Op-Ed Criticism.

Ouch!

But that’s not the end of the story.

William M. Todd, apparently a friend of the Harf family reposted the Daily Caller story on his Facebook page with a note that says: “Team Obama bans polysyllabic words !!”

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 11.17.57 AM

Here is the State Department’s Acting Spokesperson on Mr. Todd’s FB page.

Marie Harf Bill – I’m not sure how you could think this article accurately portrays me or how I view complicated foreign policy issues, given how long you’ve personally known me and my family. Does your hatred of this administration matter so much to you that it justifies posting a hurtful comment and a mean-spirited story about the daughter of someone you’ve known for years and used to call a friend? There’s a way to disagree with our policies without making it personal. Growing up in Ohio, that’s how I was taught to disagree with people. I hope your behavior isn’t an indication that’s changed.

She also posted a lengthy follow-up response here from the Daily Press Briefing.

William M. Todd responded on FB with the following:

I certainly can understand why your Team would disagree with Henry Kissinger and George Schultz on policy matters. However, what is amazing to me was your condescending and, almost childish criticism of what I considered to be a well-reasoned and thoughtful op-ed on the current Middle East crisis.

So, this is where we are people.

That’s potentially the next official spokesperson of the United States of America to the world.

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The spox sat on a stump and did she not thunk this crappy script stunk?

Posted: oo:29 am EDT

 

Or see video Foreign Policy Follies with Jen Psaki here via YouTube.

Oh, here below is one from Democracy Now:

 

We agree that the Maduro accusations have been ludicrous for a while now (see Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro’s Theory of Everything — Blame The Yanquis!). But when you add, “as a matter of longstanding policy, the United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means …” we tripped all over the hallways and stairwells and have all sorts of bruises to show for it. In times like this, we revert back to an old habit of getting drunk on bad rhymes. Who writes these scripts? Do they practice with  a mirror? Folks, there’s a whole crowd of people on the Internets who can’t quit laughing over this. And they’re not just laughing at Ms. Psaki, or the State Department. They’re laughing at the United States of America.  Ay dios mio! You, okay with that?

 

Transcript via DPB on February 13, 2015:

QUESTION: President Maduro last night went on the air and said that they had arrested multiple people who were allegedly behind a coup that was backed by the United States. What is your response?

MS. PSAKI: These latest accusations, like all previous such accusations, are ludicrous. As a matter of longstanding policy, the United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means. Political transitions must be democratic, constitutional, peaceful, and legal. We have seen many times that the Venezuelan Government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela. These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan Government to deal with the grave situation it faces.

QUESTION: The U.S. —

QUESTION: Sorry, Jen —

QUESTION: Sorry. The U.S. has – whoa, whoa, whoa. The U.S. has a longstanding practice of not promoting – what did you say? How longstanding is that? I would – in particular in South and Latin America, that is not a longstanding practice.

MS. PSAKI: Well, my point here, Matt, without getting into history —

QUESTION: Not in this case.

MS. PSAKI: — is that we do not support, we have no involvement with, and these are ludicrous accusations.

QUESTION: In this specific case.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: But if you go back not that long ago during your lifetime, even – (laughter) – this is not that long since —

MS. PSAKI: The last 21 years. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well done. Touche. But I mean, does “longstanding” mean 10 years in this case? I mean, what is —

MS. PSAKI: Matt, my intention was to speak to the specific reports.

QUESTION: I understand, but you said it’s a longstanding U.S. practice, and I’m not so sure – it depends on what your definition of “longstanding” is.

MS. PSAKI: We will – okay.

QUESTION: Recently in Kyiv, whatever we say about Ukraine, whatever, the change of government and then the beginning of last year was unconstitutional, and you supported it. The constitution was —

MS. PSAKI: That is also ludicrous, I would say.

QUESTION: — not observed.

MS. PSAKI: That is not accurate, nor is it with the history of the facts that happened at the time.

QUESTION: Yes, the history of the facts. How was it constitutional?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think I need to go through the history here, but since you gave me the opportunity – as you know, the former leader of Ukraine left of his own accord —

QUESTION: He did not leave his country.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. I think we know the facts here, and we’ll certainly give you an article on the facts to take a look at.

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NewsFlash: “The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.” Hurry, DECLINE button over there!

Posted: 12:30 pm EDT

 

“I don’t have the FAM in front of me. I can certainly check and see if there were certain policies, if there were regulations. The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.”

That’s a direct quote from the official spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State, Jennifer Psaki, who managed to change internal agency policy in just eight words during the Daily Press Briefing on March 10, 2015. Here is a screenshot from the transcript that you may look at just as soon as you’ve picked up your jaw from the floor.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11

click on image for larger view

 

Dammit! Yahoo called the FAM “regulations.” It obviously has no idea there’s something wrong with its search engine!

Screen Shot 2015-03-09

 

Okay, let’s try searching for this at the State Department’s official website at state.gov.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11

click image for larger view

Well, it turns out, those folks running the official agency website also have no idea they have this  all wrong. Calling the FAM “regs” is not acceptable because that stands for “regulations.” This would make us all think that the FAM is regulations. And according to the official spokesperson, the FAM is really just recommendations.  And if so, this must mean that the Foreign Affairs Manual is just a suggestion or proposal for the best course of action for State Department employees. Are folks subjected to it free to decline some or all those recommendations?

The Office of Directives Management must now change the URL from http://www.state.gov/m/a/dir/regs/ to http://www.state.gov/m/a/dir/recommendations/  — otherwise this will all lead to confusion.

But this is actually great news.

That FSO who was imposed charges to the amount of $14,804.01 by the State Department for packing, shipping, storing and repacking household effects (HHE) that included 44 boxes of marble tiles weighing 5871 pounds – may now go back and ask for a refund.  The specialist who was disciplined “for improper personal conduct and failure to follow regulations” following an extramarital sexual relationship with a local national and not informing his wife about the affair, may now go back and tell the FSGB that he’ll decline the State Department’s recommendations.

FSGB No. 2009-041:  The Department argues that the regulation in effect in 1999, 6 FAM 161.4 (currently 14 FAM 611.5(2)) clearly prohibits shipment and storage of construction materials as HHE.  As a Foreign Service Officer, grievant is responsible for knowing all of the applicable regulations.

FSGB No. 2011-051 (pdf):  Department regulations state the applicable policies regarding employee conduct that may result in disciplinary action. Grievant was obliged to know these regulations and to conform his conduct accordingly. 3 FAM 4130, Standards for Appointment and Continued Employment, provides guidelines for when disciplinary action may be taken against an employee. 3 FAM 4138 provides that disciplinary action may be taken for:

criminal, dishonest or disgraceful conduct (see section 3 FAM 4139.14); . . . conduct which furnishes substantial reason to believe that the individual may be or is being subject to coercion, improper influence, or pressure which is reasonably likely to cause the individual to act contrary to the national security or foreign relations of the United States; . . . conduct which clearly shows poor judgment or lack of discretion which may reasonably affect an individual or the agency’s ability to carry out its responsibilities or mission.

This is going to put the entire Foreign Service Grievance Board out of work, right?

Anyone who’s ever been cited for FAM infractions and/or been disciplined as a result of the contents in the Foreign Affairs Manual may consider ringing their lawyers.  All employees, presumably, are now welcome to decline any or all recommendations under the FAM?

Arrggghhh! Quit laughing. This isn’t funny!

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Watch: Hillary Clinton talks use of email in 2011 TODAY interview

Posted: 08:22 PST

 
“I have a lot of security restraints on what I can and can’t do,” the then secretary of state tells Savannah Guthrie in an October 2011 interview.

[grabpress_video guid=”40ebb847dd1246006e010e832c81e8601078bb76″]

 SOURCE: Today Show
03/04/2015   00:33

 

The following excerpted from the Daily Press Briefing of March 3, 2015:

 

QUESTION: Why is she using a personal account?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Well, let’s – I just have a couple points, sort of top lines, and then follow up with many questions, okay?

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: First, the notion that the Department didn’t have the content of these emails until she turned them over isn’t accurate. A vast majority of them were to or from State.gov addresses or to addressees. So they were obviously retained and captured in that moment. So that notion is just not accurate and I wanted to put that out there first.

A couple other points: There was no prohibition on using a non-State.gov account for official business as long as it’s preserved. So obviously, that’s an important piece of this. When in the process of updating our records management – this is something that’s sort of ongoing given technology and the changes – we reached out to all of the former secretaries of state to ask them to provide any records they had. Secretary Clinton sent back 55,000 pages of documents to the State Department very shortly after we sent the letter to her. She was the only former Secretary of State who sent documents back in to this request. These 55,000 pages covered her time, the breadth of her time at the State Department.

Secretary Kerry is the first Secretary of State to rely primarily on his State.gov account. So what Secretary Clinton did was by no means unusual. In fact, it had been the practice before Secretary Kerry. So certainly, I know there’s a lot of interest in this. I would also point out that the notion that she had this email account is certainly not news; it’s been reported on for more than two years at this point. So I was a little surprised – although maybe I shouldn’t have been – by some of the breathless reporting coming out last night, but I guess that’s the nature of where we are today.

QUESTION: Okay. So just to address one of the things you said. You said there was no prohibition on using —

MS. HARF: Correct.

 

Continue reading

February 25, Wilson Center: The Changing Face and Changing Roles of the Foreign Service

Posted: 08:45 PST

 

The Bureau of Public Affairs, the U.S. Diplomacy Center and the Wilson Center will host a panel discussion on The Changing Face and Changing Roles of the Foreign Service:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015
10:30-11:45 am
6th Floor Flom Auditorium

Wilson Center
Ronald Reagan Building and
International Trade Center
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania, Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20004
Phone: 202.691.4000
wwics@wilsoncenter.org

Via the Wilson Center:

For more than two decades, the US Department of State, USAID and other foreign affairs agencies have worked to ensure that the Foreign Service looks more like America.  Success in that effort could contribute immeasurably to the United States’ global leadership on a range of issues including gender equality, democracy and minority rights. A panel of experts will question if the Foreign Service has been successful in these efforts and explore how it must continue to evolve in a rapidly changing world.

Introduction

Shante Moore, Foreign Service Officer

Remarks

Ambassador Arnold Chacon, Director General of the Foreign Service

Discussants

  • Susan Reichle, USAID Counselor
  • Robert Silverman, President, American Foreign Service Association

Moderator

Diana Villiers Negroponte, Wilson Center Public Policy Scholar

 

 

Related posts:

Related item:

State’s Female-Proof Glass Ceiling: Breaking into the Good Old Boys Diplomatic Club is Still Hard to Do (whirledview.typepad.com)

State Dept Spox’s Hot Mic Moment: “That Egypt line is ridiculous.” No Kidding

— Domani Spero

 

Via The District Sentinel/Sam Knight

 

Here is an excerpt from the transcript of the 12/1/14 DPB:

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the court’s decision dropping the charges against former President Mubarak?

MS. PSAKI: Well, generally, we continue to believe that upholding impartial standards of accountability will advance the political consensus on which Egypt’s long-term stability and economic growth depends. But beyond that, I would refer you to the Egyptian Government for any further comment.

QUESTION: So you don’t criticize at all?

QUESTION: What does that mean?

MS. PSAKI: It means that in general, we believe that courts should be —

QUESTION: It sounds to me like it means nothing.

MS. PSAKI: In general, we believe that impartial standards and the justice system should work as planned —

QUESTION: Yeah —

MS. PSAKI: — but I don’t have any specific comment —

QUESTION: But did —

QUESTION: But are you suggesting it wasn’t impartial?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more specifics on —

QUESTION: But I – wow. I don’t understand that at all. What does that mean? You believe that – of course you do. But was that – were those standards upheld in this case?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything – any specific comment on the case. I’d point you to the Egyptian Government.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) justice was served? Do you think justice was served in this case?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything specific on the case.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) not try —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: — to argue with you or ask about the comment. Are you trying to understand what is – does – this decision means?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more for you.

Do we have anything more on Egypt?

QUESTION: Do Egyptians explain to you what’s going on?

MS. PSAKI: We obviously remain in close touch with the Egyptians, but I don’t have anything more to peel back for you.

QUESTION: Jen —

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Egypt? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean, Transparency International is basically disappointed with that. And some international organizations have also expressed concern over, like, dropping all the charges against Mubarak, who’s accused of having murdered – having ordered the murder of protestors —

MS. PSAKI: I’m familiar with the case, yes.

QUESTION: — and also corruption, other things. And so you’re not willing to show your concern over that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we speak frequently, including in annual reports, about any concerns we have about – whether its rule of law or freedom of speech, freedom of media, and we do that on a regular basis. I just don’t have anything more specifically for you on this case.

QUESTION: Can you see if – can we ask for – push your people a little bit harder? Because I mean, you call for accountability and transparency all the time from any number of governments. And so if no one is held to account, if no one is being held accountable for what happened, it would seem to me that you would have a problem with that and —

MS. PSAKI: If there’s more we have to say, Matt, we will make sure you all know.

QUESTION: But I mean, what you have said, that the – what you said says nothing. I mean, it just – it’s like saying, “Well, we support the right of people to breathe.” Well, that’s great, but if they can’t breathe —

MS. PSAKI: If we have a further comment on the case, I will make sure all of you have it.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: I mean, aren’t you a little bit annoyed that the person who was elected by the Egyptian people, Morsy, is languishing in prison while the person who is accused of murdering hundreds of people is actually out on —

MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your effort, Said. I don’t have anything further on this case.

QUESTION: No, the reason we ask isn’t because —

MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m sorry. We’re going to have to move on.

 

Tsk! Tsk! Can’t imagine Ambassador Boucher accepting that kind of crap from any bureau. Next time, make the talking points drafter write in Plain English so we, the natives would understand what our government is talking about. And by the way, President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010Adobe Acrobat Reader icon on October 13, 2010. That law requires that federal agencies use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.” This response is neither clear, nor usable.

So — if the talking points do not improve with plain language, go ahead and please kick the door.  And if that doesn’t work either, get Madame Secretary to sign  a reassignment order (apparently the Secretary of State does that kind of thing) and send the drafter and/or approving officer off to Angola.

Noooo, not/not to Portugal. And check the mike next time.

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 Updated below on 12/15/14 @ 2:09 am via Ali Weinberg of ABC News:

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U.S. Embassy Yemen Now on Evacuation … No, on Temporary Reduction of Staff Status

— Domani Spero

 

On September 25, the State Department finally ordered the evacuation temporary reduction of USG personnel from the US Embassy in Yemen.  Below is an excerpt from the updated Travel Warning:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.  The Department urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Yemen and those U.S. citizens currently living in Yemen to depart. This supersedes the Travel Warning for Yemen issued on July 21, 2014.

On September 24, 2014, the Department of State ordered a reduction of U.S. government personnel from Yemen out of an abundance of caution due to the continued civil unrest and the potential for military escalation. The Embassy’s ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency and provide routine consular services may be limited. Embassy officers are restricted in their movements and cannot travel outside of Sana’a. In addition, movements within Sana’a are severely constrained and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation.

The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high. The Embassy is subject to frequent unannounced closures.  In May 2014, the Embassy was closed for almost five weeks because of heightened security threats.

Demonstrations continue to take place in various parts of the country and may quickly escalate and turn violent. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid areas of demonstrations, and to exercise extreme caution if within the vicinity of a demonstration.

Read in full here.

In related news, the Official Spokesperson of the State Department released a statement emphasizing that “The Embassy did not suspend operations and will continue to operate, albeit with reduced staff” and that “Consular services have not been affected by this temporary reduction in personnel.”

Serious question — when the USG declares that post is on “temporary reduction” or on “temporary relocation” of personnel, which seems to be the trend these days, are affected personnel considered “evacuees” for allowance and travel purposes?  Or are all the affected personnel put on TDY status to their designated safe havens?  We’re having a hard time locating the citation for “temporary reduction”or “temporary relocation” in the Foreign Affairs Manual.

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