Joseph Cassidy served 25 years in the Foreign Service. He joined the Service in 1989 and previously served in Georgetown, Nairobi, Windhoek, OSCE, USUN and Baghdad. He also served at IO, DRL, the WH, and as Special Assistant to P, INR and the Executive Secretariat. His most immediate assignment prior to retirement this past spring is Director of Policy and Regional and Functional Organizations at the Bureau of International Organizations. He pens 10 fixes for America’s ailing State Department in Foreign Policy’s Argument column.
Here are the best lines, in no particular order, from his FP piece; in technicolor font, of course, because, why not?
1. “[I]t’s not clear what authority remains for State, other than delivering the diplomatic mail.”
2. “The regional bureau assistant secretaries occupy sixth floor offices beneath the secretary, and the functional bureau assistant secretaries fight like cats in a bag for the next best real estate.”
Image from xlestatx72.tumblr.com via buzzfeed
3. “There are certain exceptions to the rule that upper floors are closer to God (including some temporarily semi-powerful special envoys slumming it on the lower floors), but employees below the sixth floor can’t help but feel like passengers berthed in steerage on the Titanic.”
4. “This centralization of diplomatic interactions by senior officials who are not subject matter experts is a particular temptation at State because high-level diplomacy is, well, fun.”
5. “It is no wonder that senior officials are reticent, even if unconsciously, to devolve responsibility down, or that too many “kiss-up, kick-down” style mid-level managers covet that high-level life and manage as if their subordinates exist only to make them look good.”
6. “Limiting their numbers, and cutting the large number of semi-independent special envoys, can help restore a more sustainable hierarchy, instead of what we have now, which is like fielding a soccer team with nine strikers clustered around the opponent’s goal, and a goalie and single defender lonely in the backfield.”
7. “If the intent is to simultaneously demonstrate haughty disdain and weaselly incompetence, the midday press briefing ritual — badgering reporters cornering a backpedaling, defensive State spokesperson — is the perfect vehicle.”
YouTube is littered with fine examples
8. “[D]ecisions by the sorting hat don’t always match an officer’s interests and experience. And, like trying to move from Hufflepuff to Ravenclaw, changing one’s cone can be as unpleasant as the semiofficial department term for it: “conal rectification.”
9. “The department does have senior leaders with broad talents. But we also have too many who write beautifully but couldn’t organize a grade school lunch line. Others can speak authoritatively, but lack reporting experience beyond writing an annual holiday card, or can balance a budget but possess diplomatic skills more likely to produce enemies than allies for the United States.”
10. “Gryffindor’s quidditch team didn’t operate on the principle of “One Team, Multiple Systems” and neither should State.”
11. “Like the pack dogs in the movie Up constantly distracted by squirrels, too many senior officials spend too much time preoccupied with the urgent rather than the important.”
12. “State’s organizational culture is antiquate and inefficient, concentrating decisionmaking in the hands of a few extremely overburdened top officials.”
After 33 years in the Foreign Service, career diplomat, Bill Burns who served as Deputy Secretary of State since July, 2011 (only the second serving diplomat in history to become Deputy Secretary) is retiring from the Service. His retirement had been postponed twice previously but will finally happen this month.
His 10 parting thoughts for America’s diplomats piece was published by Foreign Policy. Excerpt below:
The ability of American diplomats to help interpret and navigate a bewildering world still matters. After more than a decade dominated by two costly conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the worst financial crisis of our lifetime, the United States needs a core of professional diplomats with the skills and experience to pursue American interests abroad — by measures short of war.
The real question is not whether the State Department is still relevant but how we can sustain, strengthen, and adapt the tradecraft for a new century unfolding before us. As I look back across nearly 33 years as a career diplomat — and ahead to the demands on American leadership — I offer 10 modest observations for my colleagues, and for all those who share a stake in effective American diplomacy.
Know where you come from.
It’s not always about us.
Master the fundamentals.
Stay ahead of the curve.
Promote economic renewal.
Connect leverage to strategy.
Don’t just admire the problem — offer a solution.
Speak truth to power.
Read it in full at FP (registration required)here via state.gov.
Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns visits St. Michael’s Cathedral, where he meets with Maidan medics, civil society representatives, and religious leaders in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 25, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
Excerpt from D/Secretary Burns’ letter to Secretary Kerry:
Over more than three decades, I have done my best to serve ten Secretaries of State. I have had the opportunities and experiences far beyond anything I would have imagined when I entered the Foreign Service. I owe a great deal to my friends and colleagues in the Department – to the mentors and role models who showed me over the years how to be a good diplomat; to the peers and subordinates who always made me look far better than I ever deserved; and to the men and women who serve our country with honor and distinction in hard places around the world as I write this letter. I also owe a debt of gratitude greater than I can ever express to Lisa and our two wonderful daughters, who shared fully in our Foreign Service life and made it whole. I look forward to the next chapter in my professional life, but nothing will ever make me prouder than to be a career American diplomat.”
More about the diplomat’s diplomat that made Secretary Kerry felt the need “to build a system that builds the next Bill Burns”:
Deputy Secretary Burns holds the highest rank in the Foreign Service—Career Ambassador—and became Deputy Secretary of State in July 2011. He is only the second serving career diplomat in history to become Deputy Secretary, and the longest serving. Ambassador Burns served from 2008 until 2011 as Under Secretary for Political Affairs. He was U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 2005 until 2008, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from 2001 until 2005, and Ambassador to Jordan from 1998 until 2001. Ambassador Burns has also served in a number of other posts since entering the Foreign Service in 1982, including: Executive Secretary of the State Department and Special Assistant to Secretaries Christopher and Albright; Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow; Acting Director and Principal Deputy Director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff; and Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council staff. He speaks Russian, Arabic, and French, and is the recipient of two Presidential Distinguished Service Awards and a number of Department of State awards, including the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award, two Distinguished Honor Awards, the 2006 Charles E. Cobb, Jr. Ambassadorial Award for Initiative and Success in Trade Development, the 2005 Robert C. Frasure Memorial Award for conflict resolution and peacemaking, and the James Clement Dunn Award. In 1994, he was named to TIME Magazine’s list of the “50 Most Promising American Leaders Under Age 40”, and to TIME’s list of “100 Young Global Leaders.”
A blog pal wrote, asking if we knew that we caused a stir in the Truman building. Like “State did not have their talking points or justifications in order.”
Talking points need clearance, too. Oh dear.
The piece was picked up by Charles Cooper of C|Net on December 5, and he actually got an official email response from State’s deputy spokesman Mark Toner of the Bureau of Public Affairs.
Provisions in the Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual are constantly under review. We are in the process of updating the regulations governing publication — both traditional and digital — to recognize the dynamic and decentralized nature of the 21st century information environment. The updates are still in progress and not final. They will be public, like all of our regulations, when they are final.
Not a bad response. But it probably means, it gets updated every time something hits the fan.
3 FAM 4170for Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching was last updated in 2009. All except one of the sub-rules date back to 2005.
The rules for Using Social Media in the State Department are listed in 5 FAM 790 and released in June 2010. One of State’s self-identified media gurus once told us that this reg is not perfect; but so far we have not seen any effort to improved it.
Once the rules are in the books, it’ll take sometime before the regs gets another update.
A few days after the WaPo and C|Net articles, Will McCants, an analyst at CNA and a former senior adviser for countering violent extremism at the State Department as well as the author of a DoD-commissioned study of how to communicate with foreign audiences using social media, wrote Lost in Cyberspace in Foreign Policy. Excerpt below:
Although the review began before the U.S. Embassy in Cairo tweeted controversial denunciations of the anti-Mohamed YouTube clip that sparked riots in September, friends at State tell me that Embassy Cairo’s tweets — which were not approved by Washington — gave added urgency to the effort to draft new guidelines for online behavior. State’s contemplated restrictions on its employees’ use of Twitter do not arise from a misunderstanding of a medium; some of Twitter’s most prominent members, including Jared Cohen and Alec Ross, work or have worked at State. Rather, State worries that the freewheeling, uncontrollable environment of Twitter could lead the public interpret the tweets of its employees as representing the official U.S. position on sensitive issues.
“The more State allows its employees to tweet during periods of calm, the more likely it will be that the institution can weed out problem tweeters and elevate those who have done a good job cultivating a community of interest.”
There is also something to be said for creating a little distance between the official U.S. position declared by a State spokesperson and tweets from embassy spokespeople and employees. State can take a long time formulating messages in response to crises because it has to vet them in many offices and, often, with the national security staff in the White House. By allowing embassy tweeters to message on their own, State will get early indications of what works and what doesn’t for the various audiences it is trying to reach.
Attracted lots of eyeballs. Fun twittersation follows the FP article.
Even @NickKristof waded in and then others, too.
@NickKristof If the State Dept is really thinking about 2-day vetting of tweets, that’s the dumbest idea ever.
@AlecJRoss “@Diplopundit @emilcDC @thenewdiplomats @tomistweeting My team involved in drafting/approving. Not even close to what has been blogged.”
Whoops! Cushy tushy hurts! But teh-heh!
Here is a curious thing. The Public Affairs guy responded to C|Net earlier on, and then Mr. Ross took to the spin floor later on. Note that Alec J. Ross may be the senior advisor at the Office of the Secretary of State, but the clearing office for all matters in the Big House is located within the Bureau of Public Affairs, an office in the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. How involved is his team in “drafting/approving” the regs we may never know. But there are multiple offices involved in the drafting and clearance of the regs not just one.
Perhaps somebody should get in touch?
So then, Alec J. Ross whose actual title if you don’t know it yet is senior advisor for innovation at the Office of the Secretary of State, responded to Will McCants’s piece with:
Updating our social-media guidelines will help make the State Dept MORE open and social media-centric, not less open. It will also make us faster.
EXISTING guidelines allow a 30-day review period for all forms of public communication, including those intended for online publications and social media, though in practice review and response is much quicker. That means that the policy we have in place NOW allows us a 30-day review period. If the DRAFT guidelines go into effect as they are (and they’re still draft), that would shrink from 30 days to two days for a small subset of content. It doesn’t mean that we would take the two days or that it would increase the number of social media posts that are reviewed. We just want to provide an outside window by which employees are promised a response. “
Somebody walked that statement to the PA clearance office, huh? And since Mr. Ross is practically a Twitter national, he also tweeted the author and got an immediate response.
@will_mccants oops, should have submitted my article 4 review RT @AlecJRoss: @will_mccants In future please get in touch before publishing on this topic.
Okay, then, Mr. Ross’s response sounds good. Looking forward to a fantastic “MORE open and social media-centric” final rule. But hey, don’t forget, 5 FAM 790on Using Social Media needs a good scrubbing, too. We’ll have a separate post on how well the 30 day clearance rule rocks outside the studio.
But on social media, the demand for almost immediate response carries an inherent risk. The question is how much are you willing to risk? And what about those who are “engaging” in the the public sphere in their personal capacity? How tolerant is your organization to perceived mistakes that will inevitably happen?
Anyway, wasn’t US Embassy Egypt’s Larry Schwartz thrown under the bus because of those ‘er “mistakes of commission?” Recalled anyone with balls from State’s 21st century statecraft shop who went online to defend our man in Cairo?
We don’t recall Mr. Ross or anyone at State with a Twitter handle defending the poor sod at the US Embassy in Cairo in the aftermath of that controversial statement and tweets following the mob attack there in September. The statement and the tweets could have only been approved by the Chief of Mission in Cairo because that’s where the clearance authority is delegated per FAM regulations.
See more here. The notion that the embassy statement was sent to Main State for clearance when there was a senior PA officer at post, or that the PAO was specifically told not to use it and he went ahead and did it anyway is just way too ludicrous. That’s not how careers are built at State.
And really dudes — if the mob is going over your walls, and the police is not coming, you want to try and diffuse the situation rather than throw petrol bombs at the crowd. So …
President Obama, who does not hold office at the State Department did offer muted support which is better than nothing: “And my tendency is to cut folks a little bit of slack when they’re in that circumstance, rather than try to question their judgment from the comfort of a campaign office.”
Secretary Clinton said what? Sorry, can’t hear you.
Still, in October, unnamed State Dept officials told the WSJthat Mr. Schwartz had been on temporary assignment in Cairo and has been given a new “permanent position” in Washington. They made the relocation sounds like a promotion. While a TDY assignment to Cairo is not unheard of, Egypt is not/not a Hard to Fill post. Which means assignments are formalized a year before an FSO is actually assigned there. Prior to Cairo, Mr. Schwartz was the Director for Planning, Policy, and Resources at the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. As to Mr. Schwartz being given a new permanent position, he is not listed anywhere on the State Dept’s current directory. Anyone know if he even has a real desk there?
Perhaps State is learning. Last November when @USEmbassyCairo made another splash on Twitter, at least the Near Eastern Affairs bureau spokesman showed up for some sort of “we’ve got your back” moment.
That’s a good thing. And it should help, too if you stop throwing your guys under the bus.
We have previously posted here about Ambassador Richard Olson, currently of US Embassy Kabul but may not be for long (see US Mission Pakistan: Ambassador Munter’s Summer Departure and Is This Our Next Man in Islamabad?). The talk that he’s heading to Islamabad is getting louder. The Cable’s Josh Rogin is reporting based on three sources that President Barack Obama intends to nominate Ambassador Richard Olson (not Olsen as reported) to be the next U.S. ambassador to Pakistan. Three sources with direct knowledge of the pending appointment apparently told The Cable.
Olsen, a senior member of the foreign service, has been serving as the coordinating director for development and economic affairs at U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, since June 2011. If confirmed, he will replace Ambassador Cameron Munter, who announced in May that he would step down from his post after only 18 months on the job. Munter, who presided over the Islamabad embassy during perhaps the worst period in U.S.-Pakistan relations in over a decade, resigned of his own accord and will retire from the foreign service and join the private sector, these sources said.
Before going to Kabul, Olsen was U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates from 2008-2011. He previously served abroad in Mexico, Uganda, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Iraq, and as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. mission to the NATO.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a senior correspondent and associate editor at the Washington Post and author of the new book making waves, Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan. On June 26, an exclusive excerpt from his book titled Deadwood was published by Foreign Policy. The lead question, Why did America send its C team to Afghanistan?
Our twelve take aways below:
The US Embassy in Kabul has an invisible giant reset button that gets pushed once a year, and mission life starts anew each summer.
Staff members could have done a lot more stuff (maybe answer more now emails) in Washington, DC but then they would not count as a number in the “civilian surge.”
The Baghdafication of Kabul appears complete with Kabul sounding as familiar as Chandrasekaran’s Emerald City. Rajiv needs his kevlar, incoming fire starts right about now.
An agency who clings fervently to mandatory age retirement for the proper functioning of the Foreign Service sent a 79-year-old man to the reconstruction team in Kandahar.
When a senior State Department official told the writer, “We’re at Team C” he’s either preparing for retirement or won’t mind hate mail swamping his State Department inbox.
The top State Department official in Kandahar was thrown out of the Kandahar Governor’s office and survived to order a non-disclosure agreement to protect his office’s combination lock codes from his military colleagues.
Summer Coish prominently mentioned in the article may be bound for high places, just not to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) in Foggy Bottom.
Forty percent of U.S. government civilians who were assigned to Helmand from July 2009 to June 2010 did not last six months.
By late 2010, USAID was reportedly hiring 20 new people a month to go to Afghanistan, but it was losing seventeen. The three who remained were not desperate.
A senior State Department official told the writer: “[…] there’s enough deadwood here that it’s becoming a fire hazard.” No one has ordered a firetruck, but the State Department might order that the official’s desk be foam sprayed.
Urinating on the US Embassy chancery wall or near the flagpole can get you sent home, unless you are the deputy Turkish ambassador, or someone with a small bladder who threatens to complain under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Alcohol purchases at the embassy convenience store was limited to two bottles of wine or one bottle of spirits per person per day. One bottle of spirits (distilled beverage) can have as high as 40% alcohol by volume (ABV), so that’s a hell of a restriction.