John Kerry: Man of the Hour in Afghanistan

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has just released a statement on the Announcement of First Round Results of that contentious Afghan presidential elections:

The United States welcomes today’s announcement of certified results in the first round of the Afghan Presidential elections. We congratulate all candidates in this historic race, and applaud the vigorous campaigns run by President Karzai and Dr. Abdullah, garnering support across the country and ethnic lines. As neither of the top two candidates received more than fifty percent of the vote, the Constitution calls for the holding of a run-off. We welcome President Karzai’s statesmanlike acceptance of this result and his agreement to a second round of voting.

The United States commends the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) for fulfilling their mandates, working in coordination with one another to ensure that the electoral and adjudication processes were carried out under Afghanistan’s Electoral Law and according to international standards.

Read the whole thing and view the photos here.

Looks like our man of the hour in Afghanistan is no other than Senator John Kerry of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Photos below from the US Embassy Kabul’s Facebook page.

That’s Amb Eikenberry, the ECC official, Senator Kerry,
UNAMA’s Kai Eide and President Hamid Karzai

Senator Kerry with Abdullah Abdullah and Ambassador Eikenberry

Senator Kerry with President Karzai

Makes one wonder where in the world is the Special AfPak Rep, Richard Holbrooke?

Who Will Sink Al Franken’s S. Amdt. 2588?

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The H.R. 3326 Department of Defense Appropriations Act 2010 bill was passed by the House on July 30, 2009, and by the Senate on October 6, 2009. GovTrack’s last update on Oct 19, 2009 12:11pm indicates that the bill may now proceed to a conference committee of senators and representatives to work out differences in the versions of the bill each chamber approved. The bill then goes to the President before becoming law.

There were about 85 amendments proposed in this bill. One of those that has attracted a greater share of attention is Senator Al Franken’s S.Amdt. 2588: “To prohibit the use of funds for any Federal contract with Halliburton Company, KBR, Inc., any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, or any other contracting party if such contractor or a subcontractor at any tier under such contract requires that employees or independent contractors sign mandatory arbitration clauses regarding certain claims.” The Franken amendment passed: Yea-Nay Vote 68 – 30 with these Republican legislators voting “no.”

The amendment was prompted by this victim who was gang-raped in Baghdad. The victim according to Mother Jones was “forced into mandatory binding arbitration, a private forum where Halliburton would hire the arbitrator, all the proceedings would be secret, and she’d have no right to appeal if she lost.” It took three years just to get the court to agree that she can sue. Read more here.

Mr. Jefferson Sessions [R]
of Alabama says, “The amendment would impose the will of Congress on private individuals and companies in a retroactive fashion, in validating employment contracts without due process of law. It is a political amendment, really at bottom, representing sort of a political attack directed at Halliburton, which is politically a matter of sensitivity. Notwithstanding, the Congress should not be involved in writing or rewriting private contracts. That is just not how we should handle matters in the Senate, certainly without a lot of thought and care, and without the support or at least the opinion of the Department of Defense.”

As if by speed mail, DOD came through with an opinion. Ryan Grim reports in the Huffington Post on the Department of Defense’s position on Franken’s anti-rape amendment:

“The DoD opposes the proposed amendment,” reads a message sent from the administration to the Senate on October 6, the day the amendment passed by a 68-30 vote. “The Department of Defense, the prime contractor, and higher tier subcontractors may not be in a position to know about such things. Enforcement would be problematic, especially in cases where privity of contract does not exist between parties within the supply chain that supports a contract,” reads the DoD note. “It may be more effective to seek a statutory prohibition of all such arrangements in any business transaction entered into within the jurisdiction of the United States, if these arrangements are deemed to pose an unacceptable method of recourse.”

What? That sounds like a cracker bonbon!

RfR asks, “Whats the big deal?” and writes: “The 2010 Franken Senate Defense Appropriations Amendment overreaches into the business of private enterprise. Defense contractors are a part of the functioning free market; not the Federal Government. A handful of isolated assaults is no reason to summon the interference of the Federal Government and Congress. This amendment interferes with the privacy of companies and the ability of our defense contractors to effectively conduct the business of protecting America from terrorism.” Read here why RfR exists.

Yeah, right, of course. This is nothing but a political amendment and has nothing to do with protecting working people. Yes, enforcement would be problematic, wouldn’t it? And expensive. They may have to add a few more millions on the government’s tab. Oh, heavens! They may have to spend more time screening people before they send them off to work in the red zones!

Holy mother of goat and all her crazy uncles!

The business of America is business, but at what cost? See that’s actually 30 out of 100 United States Senators who voted in favor of business interests over the rights and dignity of individual victims. Congress could pass laws cutting off highway funds to States which didn’t raise their drinking age to 21 but some legislators don’t want to do anything about this because well, what if these companies don’t want to work for the taxpayers anymore? Then what? Yep, where would they be if they can’t bid on our lucrative contracts?

This makes me want to weep and throw my shoes at the somebodies. Really.

* * *

If Liz Were Queen posted yesterday that there is talk that the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may allow this amendment to be stripped out or watered down. She also has a list of talking points in her site when talking to your representatives. Go, please call 202-224-3542 and tell the Majority Leader not to strip or water this down. Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and tell your senators to keep the Franken Amendment, S.Amdt. 2588, in the defense appropriations bill.

Related Post:
Oct 22: Who’s Storming Which Door to Sink Al Franken’s S. Amdt 2588?

Congressional Record

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Quote: Cocktail parties are death …

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“One of the great failures of the Diplomatic Service has been its inability to cast off its images as bowler hated, pin-striped and chinless with a fondness for champagne. It does not help when Ministers earn themselves a cheap thrill by colluding with the notion that the FCO is elitist and fuddy duddy. Or that Eton is a dirty word. A Foreign Office career is one of the best levelers – upwards or down – that has been devised. It is also testing. Bubbly is far from the mind when burning confidential documents on the roof of the Embassy in Baghdad, battening down the hatches against stone throwing mobs outside the High Commission in Lusaka or the Embassy in Tripoli, grinding out text at all-night sessions in Brussels or New York, paying incognito visits to Syria or doing bumps and jumps in an RAF Tornado over Kuwait. Indeed cocktail parties are death as I am sure 99 perfect of DS colleagues would agree. Whoever it was who suggested an international treaty banning National Day receptions should be canonized.”

Sir David Gore-Booth
British Ambassador to India
from the Valedictory Despatch: Sir David Gore Booth, Delhi, 1999
British Diplomatic Oral History Project | 1999
David Alwyn Gore-Booth, diplomat and banker (1943- 2004)

From Valedictory Despatches to Twitter?

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The Ambassadors’ Parting Shots

Today on BBC Radio 4 Matthew Parris kickoffs a 5-episode program on the passing of the valedictory despatch. That’s the traditional final telegram home in which British ambassadors could “let their hair down and settle a few scores.” That is, they could say whatever they wished in their final telegram home. The series features declassified Foreign Office files alongside interviews with the diplomats who wrote them. These files were released to the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act. Click here to hear the episodes. Click here to hear a clip now (additional excerpts read by actors).

The BBC also interviewed our blog friend, three times British Ambassador Charles Crawford, who left the FCO in 2007. Ambassador C gave it a thumbs up: “The BBC series is well researched and should be well worth a listen if you are interested in the way diplomacy has evolved, both for better and worse, in recent decades.” He further writes that the valedictories were canned when he was in Warsaw, and that he sent two from there: “– one on the philosophical aspects of the end of communism in Europe (extracts from which readers in a world scoop here have seen: The Final Submission); — one describing my Lifetime Career Oscar Achievement Awards, a self-indulgent but droll list of the best and worst moments of 28 years’ service.” Read Charles’ post here.

You can read below some of the valedictory despatches (pdfs) included in the series.

Andrew Bryson , the producer of the BBC show writes that “this centuries-old tradition survived in the Foreign Office through countless changes of government, upheaval and wars – before coming to an abrupt end under Labour in 2006. Perhaps the remarkable thing was that it lasted so long.”

He reports that the final straw was a 2006 valedictory from Sir Ivor Roberts, then the outgoing British ambassador to Italy. “It was fitting that his parting shot, the last of the genre, should also be a classic. He told of a Foreign Office under siege by management consultants, efficiency drives and Wall Street business-speak mumbo-jumbo:”

“Can it be that in wading through the plethora of business plans, capability reviews, skills audits, zero-based reviews and other excrescences of the management age, we have indeed forgotten what diplomacy is all about?
Sir Ivor Roberts, Rome, 2006

Apparently, hours after this telegram was sent, ambassadors then received word from Whitehall that the practice was to be discontinued.

The report says there was concern for the “growing tendency of these valedictories to leak.” That or could it be that they no longer write them “mainly because no-one is interested to read anything longer than a text message?” Or perhaps a tweet at 140 characters?

So instead of texting “most difcult assgmt, glad wl soon b out of here” you can actually say “sucks to all this; time to go home and start a garden while wifey starts her own career.” Or “Nine countries, six continents, three wives later – thank you it has been a great ride.”

Man, you can start a whole new lit genre writing valedictories in Twitter. Except that Whitehall would cringe at that and Foggy Bottom has not done these type of dispatches; and well, it also doesn’t tweet goodbyes.

Of course, if they come around to it, and your valedictory is longer than 140 characters, you can fix that with Twitzer – a Firefox extension for Twitter that will short tweets that seem to cross the 140 limit. Once installed, the extension will fetch all the Twitzered text from and update the Twitter site itself.

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