Where in the world did Secretary Clinton vacation?

Photo from US ConGen Bermuda
August 20, 2009

Yes, Secretary Clinton went on a holiday and the press had a field day trying to guess if she went to New Mexico, Vegas, or Los Angeles. They tried their guessing game with the Spokesman:

QUESTION: Well, is Secretary Clinton on holiday? She’s not going to New Mexico just – (Laughter.)
MR. KELLY: I think I can assure you she’s not going to New Mexico, no.
QUESTION: Okay.
QUESTION: What exactly was the itinerary that was approved?
MR. KELLY: Matt, we don’t go into the details of that. You’ll have to ask the —
QUESTION: Ask the North Koreans?
MR. KELLY: Yeah.
(Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you. Were there other stops – were there other stops?
MR. KELLY: There were other stops on their —
QUESTION: Two other stops?
MR. KELLY: — proposed itinerary.
QUESTION: Yes. Would one of them be a place that’s —
MR. KELLY: There were other stops.
QUESTION: — one of them be a place that North Koreans might not generally be comfortable with going to?
QUESTION: Disney World?
QUESTION: A little bit north. Are they going to Vegas?
MR. KELLY: I’ll repeat, Matt, we don’t go into the details of —
QUESTION: Are they going to Las Vegas?
MR. KELLY: You’ll have to ask the North Korean mission, Matt, if they’re going to Las Vegas. QUESTION: What about Los Angeles?
MR. KELLY: I believe you’ll have to ask the North Korean mission, Matt.

I don’t know if the North Koreans were able to track Bermuda on their map. Above photo showed the Secretary of State and President Clinton with some US ConGen Bermuda’s staff a few days ago. The Clintons were with (right-left) Consul General Grace Shelton, Deputy Principal Officer Frank Fulgham and Consul Margaret Pride in Hamilton.

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$75 million to run a single PRT is not excessive?

Map from OIG/MERO Report

The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has just released two Iraq-related reports the last few days. One on the Embassy’s transition planning as the Department take on increased roles and responsibilities following the withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq by December 31, 2011 (we’ll get to that in a separate post); the other report is a review of the effectiveness of Regional Embassy Offices (REOs) in Iraq.

Quick background:

“In the summer of 2004, upon the disestablishment of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the Department established Regional Embassy Offices (REO) in the cit­ies of Basra and Hillah in southern Iraq, and Kirkuk and Mosul in northern Iraq.1 In February 2009, REO Kirkuk closed. Most of its functions were transferred to the Regional Reconstruction Team (RRT) located in downtown Erbil. In May 2009, REO Basra was closed and replaced by the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Basra. When the OIG audit began in December 2008, three REOs were operating, but as of the date of this report, only REO Hillah is active.”

Now – the good news:

“REOs, as diplomatic extensions of Embassy Baghdad, were important in pro­jecting an active USG presence in Iraq’s outlying provinces. REOs effectively served as bases for conducting engagements with Iraqis, reported firsthand on political and economic developments in the provinces, and acted as vital nearby staging areas for personal protection operations.”

The not so good news? These bases for engagement come at a pretty stiff price tag:

“[…] Operating and supporting a forward-deployed USG civilian presence is a challenging and expensive proposition. Due to the unstable security environ­ment in Iraq, REOs depended on private contractors to provide life support and personal protective services. At the time of this audit, there were a total of 265 USG staff members at REO Basra, RRT Erbil, and REO Hillah, and a total of 1,027 life support and personal security contractors — a ratio of nearly four life support and personal security contractors to each USG staff member.”

$75 million to run a 37-member PRT. From the OIG report:

REO Hillah was established in June 2004 on the site of the former regional headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority for south central Iraq. The south central area is known as the Shia heartland, with the city of An Najaf serving as the capital. Babil Province, south of Baghdad, has a mixed Sunni and Shia population, and is an important transport and fuel network, which creates sectarian volatility. REO Hillah mainly served as a base for five PRTs operating in Babil, Karbala, Najaf, Wasit, and Qadisiyah. However, by early 2008, four of the PRTs in Hillah were trans­ferred to their respective provinces, and REO Hillah supported only PRT Babil.

OIG visited REO Hillah in February 2009, and an interim report was issued in April 2009 recommending: (1) stopping or curtailing all capital improvement proj­ects; (2) relocating PRT Babil and other USG employees to a nearby U.S. Army base; (3) curtailing or transferring REO Hillah security and support staff to other locations in Iraq; and (4) decommissioning and returning the Hillah hotel property to the Government of Iraq.

Embassy Baghdad objected to OIG’s recommendation to accelerate the closing of REO Hillah stating that speeding closure and relocation would undermine an existing process moving forward at a measured pace. The Embassy emphasized the need to consider the negative impact on all of the organizations and personnel supported by the REO.

Embassy Baghdad had calculated $55 million in annual security costs at REO Hillah to support approximately 300 personal security specialists and a perimeter guard force. The annual support costs for about 350 KBR employees and locally hired Iraqis was estimated at $20 million. REO Hillah is currently supporting one 37-member PRT, and OIG determined that $75 million in annual operating costs was excessive and an expensive way to support a single PRT. OIG observed that cost savings of $6.5 million a month meant that closure of the REO by May 2009 could result in savings of more than $32 million in FY 2009.

In addition to the operating costs, REO Hillah had 10 capital improvement projects underway, including three not yet begun and valued at $1.4 million, four projects that were 15 percent completed leaving $235,000 unobligated, and three projects 25 to 73 percent completed with $643,000 unobligated, adding up to potentially nearly $2.3 million in unexpended funds. OIG has learned that the Embassy has stopped all capital improvement projects at REO Hillah. The Embassy’s contracting officer’s representative, with management support, rejected requests by the site contractor to continue with several proposals, including work on a firing range, procurement of communications systems for fire trucks, and purchase of handheld radios.

However, as of July 2, 2009, Embassy Baghdad had not taken any further action toward closing REO Hillah. Therefore, OIG reiterates its recommendation to accelerate the relocation of PRT Babil and the closure of REO Hillah.

The Embassy is understandably concerned about the “negative impact on all of the organizations and personnel supported by the REO.” But please let’s think about this for a moment. If REO Hillah is supporting a 37-member PRT, that’s over $2 million dollars to support each PRT member in that location. The move would be inconvenient for sure, but how much of a negative impact is there going to be if the PRT operation moves to the nearby U.S. Army base as suggested by the OIG? I would have felt much better if Embassy Baghdad quantified that in their response to the report; otherwise, I can’t help but agree that $75 million is just a tad much as operation cost for a 37-member PRT.

On a related note — AFP recently reported that in May this year, the administration projected a 3.998 trillion dollar budget for 2009 with a deficit of 1.841 trillion dollars, reflecting swollen spending amid the worst economic crisis on record. The estimated budget deficit for the current fiscal 2009 ending September 30 will reportedly be trimmed to 1.58 trillion dollars, around 262 billion dollars lower than forecasted. Yay?!

Related Items:

Insider Quote: Specialist and Generalist

A Wide Receiver catching a ball.Image via Wikipedia

When it comes to distinguishing between the Foreign Service career paths, many officers still give me a blank stare when I mention I’m a specialist and not a generalist. I get the impression that once someone is in a-100 class (generalist’s orientation) they never hear about the specialist path. […] I understand American’s coming from other agencies serving a tour as an FSO not picking up on it. Everything in the department of state is new to them. I’m talking about regular FSOs that have already worked for several tours. I explain to them the differences in pay, job responsibilities, usually no language training, etc. Invariably, I get asked by post to fill in for officers even though I’ve never received any generalist training in that regard. I’ve been a backup for management officers but that usually the norm for an IT person, since we work under that section and learn about it anyway. But my current post has brought up other back-fill positions that I really have no right to do at the expense of my own responsibilities. I’m all about working as a team, but that’s like putting a running back into a wide receiver position. You better plan on seeing a few balls get dropped.

Specialist and Generalist
From FS Blog: 240to120.com

ConGen Mumbai: Everybody Needs Love

All You Need Is LoveImage via Wikipedia

Sigh! As if life is not hard enough down in the trenches …

A good thing that Judge Paul Friedman of the US District Court of the District of Columbia dismissed this case.

One plaintiff, proceeding in forma pauperis, filed a pro se complaint seeking to compel the issuance of a visa for his fiancée and requesting one million dollars in damages for the allegedly wrongful initial denial of the visa, and for “unreasonable harassment” and denial of civil rights in the process. Compl. at 2. The Court appointed pro bono counsel for the plaintiff and stayed the case to allow the parties time to resolve the matter. The plaintiff’s fiancé has since been issued a visa, and the plaintiff has voluntarily dismissed the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service as a defendant. See Joint Status Report, July 30, 2009, ¶¶ 2, 4; Order, Aug. 11, 2009 (dismissing the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service as a defendant).

The plaintiff, however, asks the Court to admonish or sanction the remaining defendant, the U.S. Consul General in Mumbai, India, for its conduct in what plaintiff alleges was delay in the process of obtaining the visa. See Joint Status Report ¶ 5(a). The defendant contends that this Court has no jurisdiction over this matter, there was no wrong-doing by the defendant, the case has become moot with the issuance of a visa for the plaintiff’s fiancée and that therefore, the sole remaining party should be dismissed. See id. ¶ 5(b). The plaintiff has not identified either a cause of action upon which may be based a claim for sanctions, admonition, or damages against the U.S. Consul General for Mumbai, or a basis for this Court’s jurisdiction over such an action. The Court is aware of no such jurisdiction or cause of action. Accordingly, the complaint will be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

But that’s not all. Included in the papers is the Court’s expression of appreciation to Karen Grisez, Esq., and to the firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, for its able pro bono publico representation of the plaintiff, who was proceeding in forma pauperis.


In forma pauperis .
Someone who is without the funds to pursue the normal costs of a lawsuit or criminal defense.


I know what you’re thinking. How did Romeo get around the
I-134 requirement? I mean, if you can’t afford the normal cost of a lawsuit, how can you afford to live with your US-bound fiancée in America? The Affidavit of Support need to show that the sponsor’s income is 100 percent of federal poverty guidelines as required under Section 212(a)(4) of the INA. Um, okay, I get it — somebody else signed the I-134? But if the fiancee becomes a public charge later, would USCIS then turn around and deport her back to her … hmmn? no?

Did I say I’m glad the good judge dismissed this case? But darn, a million US dollars! That would have been as good as a lottery …

TED@State: Paul Collier on Rebuilding a Broken Nation

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

Long conflict can wreck a country, leaving behind poverty and chaos. But what’s the right way to help war-torn countries rebuild? At TED@State, Paul Collier explains the problems with current post-conflict aid plans, and suggests 3 ideas for a better approach.

Paul Collier studies the political and economic problems of the very poorest countries: 50 societies, many in sub-Saharan Africa, that are stagnating or in decline, and taking a billion people down with them. His book The Bottom Billion identifies the four traps that keep such countries mired in poverty, and outlines ways to help them escape, with a mix of direct aid and external support for internal change.

From 1998 to 2003, Collier was the director of the World Bank’s Development Research Group; he now directs the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford, where he continues to advise policymakers.

Interactive script here.

From ted.com

Lessons Learned Resources

Lessons Learned. SureImage by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via Flickr

I have put together a compilation of lessons learned resources with some relevance to the State Department and the Foreign Service here. The web page is live in googlepages and will be updated as needed; a new link is added from Diplopundit’s Online Resources for easy access (see right side-bar). Any suggestion for additional materials would be deeply appreciated.

I also found this Mike Licht image of a lessons learned tombstone. He writes in his blog that “A “Lessons Learned” report is a ceremonial corporate mea culpa that will be swiftly embalmed, buried, entombed in archives, and unread by the next set of leaders, who will embark on similar misguided projects of their own.” I hope that is not the case here.


Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience

| Released by SIGIR in January 2009

Hard Lessons concludes with 13 lessons drawn from 6 difficult years of Iraq reconstruction. Virtually all the leadership interviewed for this report agreed that the US approach to contingency relief and reconstruction operation needs reform.


Oral Histories: Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Teams

| 2008-2009

The Iraq PRT program has highlighted the challenges that the U.S. government faces in conducting operations in conflicted environments. The Iraq PRT Project collected insights and lessons learned from government, military, and non-governmental officials. Interviews were conducted by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training under a contract with the Institute of Peace.

Includes interviews with 72 Government Officials from 2008-2009. There are also several interviews of military officers and NGO personnel.


Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq

| Special Report, March 2007

This report examines the U.S. experience with PRTs in Iraq, notes shortcomings, and suggests ways they could be more effective. The report is based on statements by panelists at a public forum held at the Institute on February 14, 2007, and on interviews conducted by the author with government agencies and commercial contract firms that participate in the PRT program. Report is by Robert M. Perito, senior program officer at the United States Institute of Peace.


Oral Histories: The Sudan Experience Project

| 2006-2007

Sudan’s North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is a unique example of an effort by the international community to negotiate and to implement a peace agreement. The Sudan Experience Project Oral History Library contains the transcripts of nearly 100 interviews with those who negotiated and who are implementing the CPA. These first person accounts and the lessons learned from their experience are a substantial contribution to our understanding of the challenges of negotiating and implementing complex peace agreements.

Includes interviews with 33 Negotiators and 57 Implementers taken from 2006-2007.


Oral Histories: Afghanistan Provincial Reconstruction Teams

| 2005

In November 2005, there were 22 PRTs in Afghanistan: nine were directed by the U.S. and countries belonging to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force directed the other 13. The Afghanistan Experience Project collected lessons learned by Provincial Reconstruction Teams by interviewing 52 government officials, military officers, and representatives of international and non-governmental organizations who had served in Afghanistan. Interviews were conducted by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training under a contract with the Institute of Peace.

Includes interviews with 52 Government Officials in 2004-2005. There are also several interviews of military officers (12) and IO/NGO personnel (4).


The U.S. Experience with Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan: Lessons Identified

| Special Report, October 2005

This report is the product of the United States Institute of Peace’s Afghanistan Experience Project. It is based on extensive interviews conducted with American and foreign officials, soldiers, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations that worked directly with Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan. It also reflects interviews conducted with a broad range of contacts during the author’s visit to Afghanistan in June 2005. The report discusses lessons identified by those who served in Afghanistan. It is intended as a training aid for developing programs that prepare American personnel for service in peace and stability operations. Robert M. Perito, Coordinator of the Afghanistan Experience Project at the U.S. Institute of Peace, prepared this report.


The 9/11 Commission Report

|
Public report released on July 22, 2004

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9-11 Commission), an independent, bipartisan commission created by congressional legislation and the signature of President George W. Bush in late 2002, is chartered to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks. The Commission is also mandated to provide recommendations designed to guard against future attacks.

Joseph T. Cox: Second Tour

The night before Thanksgiving

my son told me he’s going back to Iraq,

again. The first cost him his two best friends

and his CO’s legs. He doesn’t talk about it much.

This time he has go to Fort Riley

for two or three months first.

I told him that after that shit hole,

Iraq might even look good.

His grandfather went to Germany,

got shot twice, came back an angry,

sullen man, still picking shrapnel out of his legs

as he fought the middle-aged battle of the bulge.

I had my time in Vietnam, never shot,

but came back different, or so my

first wife told me before she left.


E
very soldier’s war is unique, every minute,

every step, every square foot, even for those

in the same country at the very same time.

My only wish is that my son will find peace,

but I honestly don’t know how to tell him that,

and when I try, it sounds like just one more lie.

Reprinted from War, Literature & the Arts | Volume 20:1&2 | 296

A frequent contributor to WLA, Joseph T. Cox is headmaster of the Haverford School and author of the poetry collection Garden’s Close.

You have no rank, whatsoever …

Yeah, right.

I was reading Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, first published in 1979 (and more recently published by Picador in 2008) about the test pilots and astronauts at the dawn of the space age. Wolfe wrote that his “book grew out of some ordinary curiosity” about what “makes a man willing to sit up on top of an enormous Roman candle… and wait for someone to light the fuse.”

Image of old U. S.Image via Wikipedia

The book is an engrossing read; frankly, reading Chuck Yeager flying the NF-104 is more exciting than watching any teenage-driven demographic movies that populate the cinema these days. The book is also about the wives and the unwritten rules and standards they lived by as they supported their husbands’ careers. This was out of the 40’s and 50’s, where wives generally stayed home, and where trailing husbands as a specie, were still unheard of except in the celestial wormholes of Jupiter.

I came to page 218 of the book and I had to pause to laugh out loud:

A commander designated to give the wives an orientation lecture says: “First, would you ladies please rearrange yourselves by rank, with the highest ranking wives sitting in the first row and so on the back to the rear: It takes about fifteen minutes for the women to sort themselves out and change their seats, since very few of them know one another. Once the process has been completed, the commander fixes a stern glare upon them and says: “Ladies, I want you to know that I have just witnessed the most ridiculous performance I have ever seen in my entire military career. Allow me to inform you that no matter who your husbands are, you have no rank whatsoever. You are all equals, and you should kindly remember to conduct yourselves as such in all dealings with one another.” That was not the end of the story, however. The wives stared back at their instructor with looks of utter bemusement and, as if with a single mind, said to themselves: “Who is this idiot and what planet has he been stationed on?” For the inexpressible provisions of the Military Wife’s Compact were well known to all. A military officer’s wife rose in rank with her husband and immediately took on all the honors and perquisites pertaining thereto, and only a fool or the sort of simple-minded jerk who was assigned to give orientation lectures to wives could fail to comprehend this.

Despite the absence of a similar Diplomatic Wife’s Compact, the Foreign Service is not altogether different from this. It’s not cultural, mind you. It’s just part of organizational life and the need for the neat ordering of the hierarchy. The next time you are tempted to give an orientation to incoming diplomatic spouses whether here or at post, remember this. And please, for the love of god and gin — don’t tell them “you have no rank, whatsoever.”

They will know the truth soon enough.

Snapshot: US Mission Nigeria

US Embassy Abuja via Facebook

Despite a robust package of incentives, staffing Lagos and Abuja was hard, with many officers in stretch assignments, working out-of-cone, on excursion tours, or on directed first assignments. These staffing woes, an operating budget that was lagging behind program funding, and aging facilities in Lagos reduced the efficiency of diplomatic operations. Both the consulate office building and many U.S. Government-owned residences in Lagos had suffered physical neglect, based partly on the view that operations in Lagos would get smaller when the Embassy moved to Abuja in 2000. This shrinkage is unlikely to happen.

Inspection of Embassy Abuja and Consulate General Lagos, Nigeria (ISP-I-08-25A)
Excerpted from Office of Inspector General Semiannual Report to the Congress, April 1, 2008 to September 30, 2008 | PDF


Quote: Non-Portable Rights, Once More

EthiopiaImage by robynejay via Flickr


“When you go to another country, you don’t take your rights with you. As romantic and adventurous as it sounds to spontaneously pack up and travel the globe, when you don’t do your homework, reality can be harsh.”


Rory Linnane

From Captured in Ethiopia: An American nightmare
The Daily Cardinal – August 26, 2009
(A UW-Madison sophomore recounts her experience being detained and deported from her host country of Ethiopia).