In Praise of Our Greatness

Yes We Did!
Photo from The White House

Most folks have no idea how much we like awards. Linda Ingalls, an Office Management Specialist at our Embassy in Pretoria writes in the recent issue of the Foreign Service Journal │January 2009:

“The list of performance-pay recipients (announced in 08 State 110778) has swollen to over 270 members of the Senior Foreign Service. These bonuses total an estimated $3million […]

There was probably a time when performance pay meant something special, a time when the list was shorter and could almost be justified. Today, however, when embassies worldwide must identify painful cuts and freeze real jobs — threatening our ability to meet mission goals — ladling out millions of dollars in bonuses to our highest paid employees feels irresponsible and, frankly, grotesque.”

So we give bonuses despite the budget cuts, eh? That’s what I’d call the C+ Street bailout. Yay! As you may have seen from a previous post, there are also awards for foreign policy achievements, despite whatever. Except wait — one FSO got a well-deserved medal and the CINC was the receiver (of two awards), not the giver of the achievement awards. I’m kinda dizzy here — shouldn’t the CINC be the one giving out awards instead of receiving awards? Whose management brainchild is this inverse reward pyramid, anyway?

For some reason this reminds me of the 1990’s when there were hundreds of unfilled positions worldwide. Folks kept harping about it, so finally, somebody up decided to eliminate all the unfilled positions down. And voilà! No more unfilled problems, see? So I actually did not fell off my chair when I saw that big ceremony at the Ben Franklin Room. As one seasoned diplomat once counseled a younger charge, “Never be the one who says that an idea is bad.” Not bad advice, just a very pragmatic one if you don’t want to be banished from the upper floors.

But poor Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, of course he had no idea – and actually wondered if a “a prankster had hacked his way into the White House e-mail system” (Friday, January 16, 2009; Page A03) when he saw this advisory from the White House Office of Presidential Advance.

“Ceremony to Commemorate Foreign Policy Achievements

He thought, “Two wars, the brink of global depression, and violence from Mumbai to Gaza? Par-tee!” Here is an excerpt of Milbank’s biting account of people celebrating people:

With fanfare, they walked into the gilded Benjamin Franklin Room of the State Department yesterday: President Bush, the first lady, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Rice’s deputy, John Negroponte. They had come to praise great people. Namely, themselves.

Rice presented Laura Bush with a framed “Certificate of Appreciation.” Then she presented Bush with a “commemorative plaque.” And another commemorative plaque, which, like the first, was sheathed in a gold curtain. Finally, she had an honor guard present her boss with five flags in nifty triangular boxes.

“Mr. President, we’ve been through a lot together,” Rice told Bush.

“We’ve been through a lot together,” Bush told Rice.

“Mr. President, history’s judgment is rarely the same as today’s headlines,” Rice assured Bush.

“History will say that Condi Rice was one of the great secretaries of state our country has ever had,” Bush assured Rice.

Dana Milbank also reports that Bush has released two legacy-burnishing booklets, the 40-page “100 Things Americans May Not Know About the Bush Administration Record” and the 50-page “Highlights of Accomplishments and Results of the Administration of George W. Bush.” I have to add that there is a third tome – a 134-page document called A Charge Kept: The Record of the Bush Presidency 2001-2009. Milbank admitted that however laudatory these may be, “pamphlets can’t touch the grandeur of a ceremony at the State Department — and Rice put on a show for her boss yesterday with all the fixings: the crystal light fixtures, the presentation of the colors, the framed medals and flags. With a flourish, the military aide pulled back curtain No. 1 to reveal the first plaque, and curtain No. 2 to reveal the second plaque. “This one shows what you have done to expand the circle of human freedom in the world,” Rice announced.”

Bush had no awards for Rice, but he did come with praise for her (“She’s like my sister”) and for himself. “In short, we’ve made our alliances stronger, we’ve made our nation safer, and we have made the world freer,” he said.

Hmmn…. hmmn…

In December 2004, President Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to L. Paul Bremer III, Tommy R. Franks, and George J. Tenet at the White House.

How come no medals for “Ponte” and Condi? The West Wing will turn into a ghost town at 9 p.m. today. We don’t award medals on weekends, do we?