Love Letters to Congress and Who Gets Magic Dragoned Between FSI and First Post

I added a new tab in this blog for Love Letters to Congress and Other Notes. I will try to update the page as I am able with appropriate selections. But I hope somebody out there will volunteer to curate the online collection and give it the attention it deserves, a sort of an oral history, the blog edition for the Foreign Service.  

I must add that I have now gotten off this joy ride to nowhere — for real — so whatever Congress do to the locality pay will have no effect on my household income. But I still look at this as a fairness issue for those who remains in the Service. I just hope you all don’t get get stuck in the OCP fight. If you are a member of the FS community, your main mission if you decide to accept it — ta-da! –is to to help educate Congress and the American public about your work and your life abroad in the service of this country. Congress is not the enemy, ignorance is.

The U.S. State Department as an organization has never been good at explaining its work to Congress and the American people. You don’t believe me? Ask your neighbors what they know about Foreign Service Officers, and they’d probably ask which foreign country these officers serve. If you tell them, the United States of America, they’d probably ask if these officers are, you know … real Americans, being foreign and all. And those who are able to identify them as American diplomats would inevitably bring up the words, “pinstriped, cookie pushers,” “cocktails”, “elite” and most recently, of course, “voluptuous blond” and “WikiLeaks.” To others they are nothing more than visa stampers and passport shufflers. A good number of the American public who travel overseas have no reason to see them at US embassies or consulate unless they have lost their passports, marry or adopt a foreigner, lands in the foreign hospital or jail, survives a plane crash, is a victim of crime, is evacuated, or in a host of other emergency crises abroad.

It is a sad truth but the American public know diddly squat about the work diplomats do overseas.  You are in Iraq for a year, and what exactly it is you do there?  You drone on, and the public switches their teevee to American Idol.You will hear officials insisting that State is full of really smart, really talented people. But you just have to take their word for it because the officers themselves, smart as they are, are not allowed to have their own opinions or tell their stories. Even in their private capacity.

What? Like we’re afraid FSOs would wikileaked themselves in their blogs? C’mon, now, as the kids say, that is so lame.  Diplomats back from overseas are allowed to do gigs called hometown diplomat or something, but who the heck has heard of those?

21st century diplomacy, anyone? Why, of course, that seems popular these days.  In real life, this is what it means:

I saw this blog post from an FSO codenamed, Diplochick. She presents us with a new acronym — “BNA” for “blogs not allowed” and writes:

“So I’m taking down this site – or at least changing the topic of the blog forever more. Maybe i’ll write about gardening or baking…

I love blogging about our crazy new adventure, but the word about town is that Big Brother does not like it at all. Now I could rise up and rebel, but I’m chicken.”

You think Diplochick just got an earful at an A100 training session? Show of hands? Can’t blame her for being chicken.Just so sad…. you see all these wide-eyed newbies entering the service and then puff, their blogs get magic dragoned between FSI and their first posts. But being chicken, I’m sure is better than having trouble as your last name before you even get to your first post.

Still, that’s one less “live” connection between the institution and the public.

She’s not the first, and she won’t be the last. 

Telling the story of the Foreign Service is not an easy thing. You walk that fine line of either coming across as too whiny or as too bland if you’ve got nothing else to blog but brown grass in your backyard due to drought. A good thing that the FS has some talented writers who are able to straddle the fine line.  May your ranks multiply.

Check out my Love Letters to Congress and Other Notes here.

Any future SECDEF who advises POTUS to again send a big American land army to XYZ should “have his head examined”

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gives a g...Image via Wikipedia

Did not make that up. Defense Secretary Robert Gates actually said:  “[In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should “have his head examined,” as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”

Well, Bob Gates … he was always a quotable one and I can’t help but like the guy.

During Secretary Rice’s tenure at the State Department, the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C. launched its Dean Acheson Lecture in 2008.  It’s first ever lecture speaker was no other than — Secretary Gates. I probably was not the only one who thought it weird that a  Secretary of Defense delivered the first lecture named after a Secretary of State. In 2009, Secretary Clinton was invited to deliver the second lecture, I don’t remember it as an exceptionally memorable speech, tell you the truth. But a sitting secretary of the State Department did deliver that lecture.

Last week, Secretary Gates delivered a speech at the US Military Academy at West Point.  As we have come to expect, it was down to earth, straight-shooting and always touching and inspiring. He says, “We have never once gotten it right” on predicting the next military engagements from the Mayaguez to Iraq.  I’m struck at how his speeches often looks inward, backward, and to the future and the next generation of soldiers.  He talks of entrepreneurial leaders who are “full-spectrum in their thinking.” He says, “The military will not be able to train or educate you to have all the right answers – as you might find in a manual – but you should look for those experiences and pursuits in your career that will help you at least ask the right questions.” He asks how to keep experienced soldiers in the Army after troop deployments end in 2014, and how it terrifies him that junior leaders and men and women in the prime of their professional lives may get stuck in cubicles. (I wished he talked about how to bring troops home from Asia and Europe but one can’t have everything).  

Anyway, you don’t hear that kind of talk in the State Department, which has never been particularly good about talking about its past or future, only of what is now.  Not enough money is often the excuse. Not in its institutional DNA is more like it.    

Here is Secretary Gates, still my favorite ultimate insider/outsider bureaucrat in all of DC:  

[W]hen it comes to predicting the nature and location of our next military engagements, since Vietnam, our record has been perfect.  We have never once gotten it right, from the Mayaguez to Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti, Kuwait, Iraq, and more – we had no idea a year before any of these missions that we would be so engaged.
The need for heavy armor and firepower to survive, close with, and destroy the enemy will always be there, as veterans of Sadr City and Fallujah can no doubt attest.  And one of the benefits of the drawdown in Iraq is the opportunity to conduct the kind of full-spectrum training – including mechanized combined arms exercises – that was neglected to meet the demands of the current wars.  Looking ahead, though, in the competition for tight defense dollars within and between the services, the Army also must confront the reality that the most plausible, high-end scenarios for the U.S. military are primarily naval and air engagements – whether in Asia, the Persian Gulf, or elsewhere.  The strategic rationale for swift-moving expeditionary forces, be they Army or Marines, airborne infantry or special operations, is self-evident given the likelihood of counterterrorism, rapid reaction, disaster response, or stability or security force assistance missions.  But in my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should “have his head examined,” as General MacArthur so delicately put it.
I hope you take some instruction and inspiration from the career of Russell Volckmann, Class of 1934.  At the outbreak of World War II Volckmann was serving as a full-time embed in the Philippine army.  After the Japanese invasion, Volckmann fought alongside his Philippine unit, and rather than surrender, he disappeared into the jungles and raised a guerrilla army of more than 22,000 men that fought the Japanese for the next three years.  When the Japanese commander finally decided to surrender, he made the initial overtures not to General MacArthur, but to Volckmann, who went on after the war to help create the Green Berets.  My point: if you chart a different path, there’s no telling the impact you could have – on the Army, and on history.

Indeed, the Army has always needed entrepreneurial leaders with a broad perspective and a diverse range of skills.  As President Kennedy put it, speaking on these grounds half a century ago, “your military responsibilities will require a versatility and an adaptability never before required in war or in peace.”  And for an era of full spectrum conflict, when we confront security dilemmas that Kennedy called “new in intensity, ancient in origin,” America can succeed only with leaders who are themselves full-spectrum in their thinking.  The military will not be able to train or educate you to have all the right answers – as you might find in a manual – but you should look for those experiences and pursuits in your career that will help you at least ask the right questions.
Which brings me to the third and greatest challenge facing your Army, and frankly, my main worry.  How can the Army can break-up the institutional concrete, its bureaucratic rigidity in its assignments and promotion processes, in order to retain, challenge, and inspire its best, brightest, and most-battled tested young officers to lead the service in the future?  After the major Afghan troop deployments end in 2014, how do we keep you and those 5 or 10 years older than you in our Army?
Consider that, in theater, junior leaders are given extraordinary opportunities to be innovative, take risks, and be responsible and recognized for the consequences.  The opposite is too often true in the rear-echelon headquarters and stateside bureaucracies in which so many of our mid-level officers are warehoused.  Men and women in the prime of their professional lives, who may have been responsible for the lives of scores or hundreds of troops, or millions of dollars in assistance, or engaging in reconciling warring tribes, they may find themselves in a cube all day re-formatting power point slides, preparing quarterly training briefs, or assigned an ever expanding array of clerical duties.  The consequences of this terrify me.
One thing I have learned from decades of leading large public organizations is that it is important to really focus on the top 20 percent of your people and, though it may be politically incorrect to say so, the bottom 20 percent as well.  The former to elevate and give more responsibility and opportunity, the latter to transition out, albeit with consideration and respect for the service they have rendered.  Failure to do this risks frustrating, demoralizing and ultimately losing the leaders we will most need for the future.

Read his entire speech here.

Global Witness: Son of Equatorial Guinea’s dictator plans $380M superyacht

Via Global Witness | 28th February 2011

Global Witness has learned that Teodorin Obiang, the notorious son of Equatorial Guinea‘s long-ruling dictator, commissioned plans to build a superyacht worth $380 million – almost three times more than his energy-rich country spends annually on health and education programs combined [1]. This news comes amid an increasingly heated debate about how Middle Eastern dictators and their family members have enjoyed luxury lifestyles, as well as stashing their assets in foreign countries.

The yacht Pelorus at inlet to StockholmImage via Wikipedia
Roman Abramovich’s Pelorus, understood to be
the blueprint for the planned Obiang yacht

Teodorin (full name Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue) asked Germany’s Kusch Yachts to draw up a basic design for the secret project, which is codenamed “Zen.” Last year, Global Witness revealed details from a U.S. Justice Department investigation into Teodorin which mentioned plans to build a yacht. After discovering that it was to be built at Kusch’s shipyard in northern Germany, a Global Witness investigator visited the company and obtained key details about the project, confirming the identity of the client, and the yacht’s price tag. The vessel’s basic design was completed by Kusch in December 2009 for 250,000 Euros ($342,000) with an original delivery date set for late 2012. However, construction has not yet started.

The Obiang regime has a long track record of looting money that belongs in Equatorial Guinea’s treasury. Global Witness has previously revealed Teodorin’s profligate lifestyle in the US and elsewhere with a $35 million dollar Malibu mansion, a fleet of luxury cars and a private jet, while earning a ministerial salary of $6,799 per month [2]. It would take him some 4,600 years to pay for Project Zen on his reported official salary.

“Evidence points to corruption by Teodorin on a scale that would not be possible or attractive if countries like Germany and the U.S. were not safe havens, in terms of free passage for him and for his questionable private wealth,” said Gavin Hayman, Director of Campaigns at Global Witness. “$380m is a staggering sum – that a President’s son from such a poor country has ordered this yacht is outrageous extravagance on his part.”

Teodorin’s father, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, took power in 1979 following a bloody coup and presides over a repressive government almost entirely dependent on energy revenues generated by ExxonMobil, Marathon and other multinational giants and has one of the worst human rights reputations in the world [3]. Obiang came eighth on a 2006 list by Forbes of the world’s richest leaders with a fortune estimated at $600 million, whilst the majority of Equatorial Guinea’s people live in poverty [4]. Incredibly, since oil was discovered in the mid-1990s, poverty levels have actually worsened. Equatorial Guinea enjoys a per capita income of about $37,900, one of the highest in the world. Yet 77 percent of the population falls below the poverty line, 35 percent die before the age of 40, and 58 percent lack access to safe water [5].
Kusch employees who spoke with Global Witness’ undercover investigator said that Teodorin’s yacht will be 118.5 meters (387 feet), housing a cinema, restaurant, bar, swimming pool and a $1.3 million security system complete with floor motion sensors, photoelectric barriers and fingerprint door openers. Teodorin reportedly met a representative of Kusch at a hotel in Switzerland to discuss the design.

Its total contract price is approximately 288 million Euros, or $380 million at current exchange rates. This would make it the world’s second most expensive yacht, behind Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich‘s $1.2billion Eclipse [9].

Active links added above.  Read the whole thing here.

And the African Union just elected big daddy to be its president? Wow! Just big wow! And you’re wondering why AU has nothing but toothless condemnation for one of its former presidents?

Anyway, know what I’m thinking?  Perhaps the company contracted to build the superyacht might demand a larger down payment, security or whatever insurance you get for cases like this–just in case. Given the track record of dictators getting kicked out in a matter of days … weeks … 2012 sounds like a lifetime. 

Where could #Gaddafi go if he were exiled? Somewhere where he can get a facelift?

The leader de facto of Libya, Muammar al-Gaddafi.Image via WikipediaMuammar Gaddafi has been deaf to criticisms from the international community over the last 4 decades, why would he start listening now? I’ve always thought that if you want an immediate effect on Libya short of military force, you go after his money. If he can’t pay his mercenaries, is he going to write IUOs? If there’s a chance you might die tomorrow, would you accept an IOU? If the Libyan regime is still talking, I don’t think it’s because it has any genuine desire to make any concession, it’s only buying time.   

President Obama has now signed an Executive Order on the Libya Sanctions. He also  sent a letter to Congress. Part of the EO says: 

I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America,
find that Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, his government, and close
associates have taken extreme measures against the people of
Libya, including by using weapons of war, mercenaries, and
wanton violence against unarmed civilians. I further find
that there is a serious risk that Libyan state assets will be
misappropriated by Qadhafi, members of his government, members
of his family, or his close associates if those assets are not
protected. The foregoing circumstances, the prolonged attacks,
and the increased numbers of Libyans seeking refuge in other
countries from the attacks, have caused a deterioration in the
security of Libya and pose a serious risk to its stability,
thereby constituting an unusual and extraordinary threat to the
national security and foreign policy of the United States, and
I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.

The executive order went into effect at 8:00 p.m. EST on February 25, 2011. Specifically mentioned in the sanctions are:

1. Ayesha QADHAFI [Lieutenant General in the Libyan Army, born circa 1976 or 1977]
2. Khamis QADHAFI [born 1980]
3. Muammar QADHAFI [Head of State of Libya, born 1942]
4. Mutassim QADHAFI [National Security Advisor and Lieutenant Colonel in the Libyan Army, born circa 1975]
5. Saif Al-Islam QADHAFI [born June 5, 1972]

I do think Gaddafi is in this for the long haul, even if this leads to a running bloodbath.  He’s been in power so long, he thinks of Libya the same way Robert Mugabe thinks of Zimbabwe. He suffers from the “this country is mine” syndrome.  At his age, it’s not like he can mount a coup again, or reinvent himself after 41 years of tyranny. But every revolutionary grows old like you and me and everyone else. Except — it looks like this one will leave a trail of blood and death to his grave.

On February 21, the Guardian considered the possible asylum destinations for the Madman of Tripoli, if and when he finally gets pushed out. The Guardian points out the Gaddafi could follow Tunisia’s Ben Ali to Saudi Arabia – or seek asylum in Venezuela or a host of African countries.

Idi Amin finished up in Saudi Arabia. Mobutu Sese Seko went to Togo then settled in Morocco. Mengistu Haile Mariam, author of Ethiopia’s Red Terror, is living out his days in Zimbabwe. And so, if the once unthinkable should happen and the dictator falls in Libya, whither Muammar Gaddafi?

Burkina Faso, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Venezuela and Zimbabwe are among the contenders floated by analysts if the self-declared “doyen of Arab leaders, king of kings of Africa and imam of all Muslims” was forced to seek asylum. Saudi hospitality has previously been extended to ousted Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif and overthrown Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. But its relations with Libya have been strained for years; in 2009 Gaddafi told King Abdullah: “You are propelled by fibs towards the grave and you were made by Britain and protected by the US.”

Venezuela is a stronger candidate having had close ties with Libya of late. Gaddafi was seen shopping on a Venezuelan island during a summit 18 month ago. President Hugo Chavez has visited Libya several times and a football stadium there was named in his honour.
One unlikely friend is Nelson Mandela, who never forgot Gaddafi’s support for the African National Congress in the struggle against apartheid. Mandela, now 92 and retired, was once quoted as saying: “Those who feel irritated by our friendship with President Gaddafi can go jump in the pool.”

Read more here.

Toronto’s Globe and Mail, by the way, has an interesting graphic here spotlighting the Gaddafi effect on Africa. Libya’s dictator who has quickly moved from being simply eccentric to being certifiably insane not only bought political influence across the continent, he also paid for peacekeeping missions, infrastructure and humanitarian aid in Mali, Liberia, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia.  In fact, apparently there are African countries who have already offered him asylum. According to this: Unnamed diplomats said Friday that African countries were offering refuge to Moamer Gaddafi and his family, but indicated that for the time being the invitations were being declined.

One could argue that any of the African countries above would be possible destinations for him.  But I don’t think he would opt for any of these places, even when an invitation is offered for one very good reason.

He can’t get a decent facelift there.

Robert Fisk writes “Only a few days ago, as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi faced the wrath of his own people, he met with an old Arab acquaintance and spent 20 minutes out of four hours asking him if he knew of a good surgeon to lift his face. This is – need I say it about this man? – a true story.”

I don’t doubt it and he needs it.

So I started looking.  Certainly there is South Africa. According to this, “South Africa boasts some of the world’s leading plastic surgeons. The quality and care you’ll receive is world-class – you’re getting the best for a whole lot less!”

It’s not like he’ll be pressed for money. But I do not think South Africa is a good fit for him. Mandela is 92 and retired, not possible to know how things might change in a couple of years…

There is one place that might be the very best fit for him.  Gaddafi was reportedly shopping for an island there?  Anyway, his revolutionary brother and BFF is also there.  Hugo Chavez (who by the way can deliver speeches as long as Muammar) can also spew rants against the United States with a drop of a hat, and without a teleprompter!  I just don’t know if Venezuela is large enough to hold both of them …

Chavez has prevailed in doing away with term limits, so he could just continue on to his 4th, 5th term and on and on.  Which makes for a more “secure” future for a newly deposed dictator, if it comes to that.  Gaddafi may also want to be sure that the country that hosts him, won’t cower and hand him over to the UN, ICJ, or whoever wants to try him for crimes against humanity.  Hugo Chavez and cower, of course, are not often used in the same sentence.  So that’s a plus point, I think for Venezuela.

But the main reason, Gaddafi might pick Venezeula is that it occupies the 3rd place in the Top 10 Medical and Surgical Vacations in Latin America.  Except for earthquakes, Latin America is a mighty nice place. Anyway, # 3Venezuela:

Venezuela is your destination if it’s just buttocks or breasts you are after. Plastic Surgery Centres here specialize in implants and augmentation for the two areas and there are additionals such as tummy tucks, nose jobs, liposuction, face-lifts and so on.

If he’s not satisfied with Venezuela, it is a short jump to #7  which is Colombia where: Body alteration vacations are the thing in Colombia. You can fly to Bogota for liposuction, a nose job and boob job for a fraction of the cost in the USA. Diego Maradona might have started the phenomena of tourists coming here for plastic surgery when he had his stomach stapled in Cartagena.”

Stapled? That sounds so painful. But a tyrant who has caused the murder of hundreds of his people, would not flinch on something as wimpy as a “staple….” 
Anyway, if Colombia does not work, there is always #8 Cuba: “once aimed its services at well-off patients from Central and South America but now attracts patients from Canada, Germany and Italy. Dental implants, veneers, crowns and general dentistry are popular packages.”

Well, dental work, too. And why not? 

Please don’t write me emails complaining that this is a weird post.  I know that already. But that mad dog of Tripoli ranting about drugs in coffee as his thugs are killing innocent people deserves an equally bizarre write-up.

CSM reported that Gaddafi’s Plan B is “to live and die in Libya.” I watched one of his sons say the same thing on television – the Plan Alphabet is to “live and die in Libya.”  Which would certainly be a catastrophe of extreme proportion for the Libyan people. 

Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton were quoted in press reports calling for Gaddafi to leave Libya “now.” I don’t know what are the chances of Gaddafi actually ditching Libya for an asylum destination.  But no matter how slim, I think there should be one chute open for him and his family.  A mad man can do unspeakable things as we have already seen. A trapped madman can do even worse. 

Foreign Service "Cushy" Lives: 10 Ways to Help Debunk the Myth in Congress and Elsewhere


HR 1: The House of Representatives did pass a budget proposal for the FY11 budget late last Friday. There was a contentious debate surrounding this legislation in determining where cuts would occur.  The process surrounding this proposal was conducted outside the normal channels for appropriations and budget consideration, something that is highly unusual.  The bill (HR1) went to the floor of the House with significant proposed cuts from the FY11 request for international affairs, including approximately $1.1b for State, $205m in Operating Expenses for USAID, $83m for the Foreign Agriculture Service, and $93m for the International Trade Administration (part of Commerce). As AFSA understands, nearly six hundred amendments were presented and debated.

The Reed Amendment: Of particular concern is an amendment offered by Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY 28th) designed to roll back the hard won progress we have made on overseas comparability pay. The Reed amendment was designed to restrict funds from being used to close the pay gap. Rep. Reed apparently misunderstood and mischaracterized the facts related to OCP. In the end, the Reed amendment was agreed to (without a recorded vote) and included in the final House bill.

Action with the Senate: Reliable sources in the Senate say that the House Bill (including the Reed amendment) is dead on arrival and that it is highly unlikely that there will be any backtracking on the 16% we currently have. However, the budget climate on Capitol Hill does lead us to conclude that it will be extremely difficult to secure funding for the final 8%, although we will still try.  

I have written previously about the proposed pay cut for Foreign Service Officers which passed the House last weekend. See Since you enjoy your jobs so much, Congress wants you to take a pay cut ….

AFSA has a template letter to Congress here.  A reminder if you work for Uncle Sam:

AFSA reminds active duty Foreign Service employees that it is illegal to lobby congress using official time or government resources.  If you write or call your congressional representative, do not use government time or resources (such as a government computer, letter head, telephone, etc).  If you meet in person with a congressional representative, you must take annual leave or schedule the meeting on your lunch hour.  In addition, make clear that you are writing or speaking in your individual capacity as a constituent and not as a representative of your agency.     

Donna of Email From The Embassy, currently in Jordan has a great blog post on the Foreign Service pay cut. A finger right on the button on this issue. She writes:    

Now, all you FSOs out there, are you ready for this? Here’s what I think: This is all your fault.

Seriously. Your. Fault.

And she proceeds to describe what goes into a CODEL visit and why Important Politicians think FSOs have cushy lives.

Read Current Events (Or Why We Deserve This Pay Cut).

At the end of that post, she asks, “How can we change this?”

The truth of the matter is, as one writer puts it, even informed, engaged Americans know diddly squat about the State Department or what diplomats do overseas.  Read Ben Casnocha’s post here.

DiploPundit offers the following magnifique suggestions (tongue clearly in cheek) that you may or may not like.

Foreign Service “Cushy” Lives: 10 Ways to Help Debunk the Myth  

1) Next time post gets a CODEL, reception should be at the apartment of a first-tour officer not at the Ambassador’s villa with a pool. That will help them get a feel of real life in the service that is foreign to them. [Action: STATE/H; EMB] 

2) Since Congress wants to save money, every CODEL visitor should travel by commercial air, economy fare  even for trips beyond 14 hours (not military jets), and be offered accommodations in FSO govt-housing. EFMs may not appreciate this but pizza for dinner and CODEL guests pitch in with housework. If not possible, the TDY or Interns’ quarters would do just as well.  No maid service and no wake up call. Just like life from middle class America. [Action: CONGRESS, STATE/H, EMB, FSO/EFM]

3) Every CODEL should be offered participation in “duck and cover” exercise at every diplomatic mission they visit. [Action: STATE/H; EMB] 

4) Congressional folks should be offered participation in Crisis Management Training exercise to all the hotspots. Start with posts in the Middle East and North Africa because the chances of the exercise becoming real is quite high. If they’re in town for a real evacuation, so much the better. First attendees will get lots of press clips. [Action: STATE/H, FSI, CA, EMB]

5) State has always called its FSOs smart; logic follows, they are smart enough to know what not to blog.  Take the gag off FSOs.  Allow them to blog about their lives in vivid, true colors, warts and all without the threat of a career penalty. Not in DipNote, silly [Action: STATE All hands; FSO]
6) Educate bureau and post management that every quietly shuttered blog is one less advocate for the Foreign Service. [

7) Educate the public on the challenges of personal and official expenses and how the twine sometimes meet in the service of diplomacy.  Uncle Sam’s money is all Uncle Sam’s, but the FSO’s personal funds oftentimes also covers Uncle Sam’s shorts. [Action: STATE/A; FSO/EFM].

8) Keeping a stiff upper lip as part of the old culture is just that. Old and sooo 19th century. You can be the change you want to see, but for that — folks need to speak up. Or blog about it [Action: FSO/EFM] 

9) Connect with the American public about real life in the Foreign Service.  As long as the misconception remains that the Foreign Service is an exclusive, elitist institution full of rich people rolling around in the galaxy, there won’t be any sympathy for pay cuts or for any other issue. [Action: STATE: All hands; FSO/EFM]    

10) Advocate for the official change of name for the U.S. Foreign Service to the United States Diplomatic Service. That will stop getting diplomatic folks confused with the other USFS – the Forest Service. [Action: STATE/H, FSO/EFM]  

A note on the acronyms: “H” is the legislative bureau of the State Department and works with Congress; “CODEL” stands for congressional delegation when members of Congress makes trips overseas, “A” is the administration bureau, “FSO” is Foreign Service Officer, “EFM” stands for eligible family member, normally spouses and under 18 year old dependents of diplomats. 


Most items on my list above only works in a parallel universe.  Feel free to  come up with your own list this side of the universe. Whatever you do, you need a better plan because things will not get any better or any easier. 





Ambassador Hunstman stumbles into Beijing’s "Jasmine Revolution" … web police springs to action….

Jeremiah Jenne is a PhD candidate in Chinese history, living and working in Beijing. He is the author of the blog Jottings from the Granite Studio.  Below is an excerpt from the guest post he did for The Atlantic’s James Fallows: Ambassadors Caught on Tape, China Edition:

While there weren’t all that many actual protesters at last Sunday’s “Jasmine Revolution” in Beijing, one attendee who did not escape the notice of sharp-eyed Chinese netizens was US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.

The website M4 (四明网) posted footage of the ambassador being harangued by bystanders.

This is how the writer describes the group: “They represent a kind of lunatic fringe.  And by “lunatic,” I mean seriously…take a look at the site. These guys make Glenn Beck sound like the very model of reason and moderation.”

Then asks the really important question: “Just what the hell was the ambassador doing standing in front of that particular McDonald’s on that particular afternoon?”

Apparently, the US Embassy spokesperson told AFP it was “purely coincidental.”  Mr. Jenne surmised that “Having the ambassador and his family blithely wandering through the area unawares would at the very least seem like bad staff work.”

Also this:

“Now as most know, Ambassador Huntsman last month made official what had been the third worst kept secret in Beijing (behind Hu Jintao’s hair regimen and the fact the government routinely replaces Mao’s body in the mausoleum with a wax “stunt Mao”), tendering his resignation in preparation for a possible White House bid in 2012.”

You have to go here to read his pitch for a 30-second ad spot. And yes, we note that Ambassador Hunstman is wearing a black leather jacket with the American flag emblazoned on the sleeve in the video.  It’s not like he’s trying to blend in with that.

Remember that sensible advice you often hear when you’re overseas? Do not call attention to yourself by your demeanor or attire; and stay away from demonstrations as even peaceful ones can easily turn ugly?  What happened to the checklist?

You can view the video here via The Shanghaiist, which also reported that the Ambassador’s Chinese name has now been filtered in China.  “Searching for “洪博培” on Sina Weibo, China’s largest microblog portal, now yields the error message, “According to relevant laws and regulations, the search results may not be shown.” Curiously, search results for “Jon Huntsman” in English appears to remain unfiltered. Similar behaviour on QQ Weibo has been observed by Shanghaiist.“

Philippine People Power: A Cautionary Tale and Lessons for the Ages

Homage to Mad Men - MarcosImage by smallislander via FlickrLike Ambrose Bierce says “God alone knows the future, but only an historian can alter the past.” Historians or whoever is left in power. 

Today, the Philippines celebrated the 25th anniversary of its People Power revolution which toppled Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.  The son of the woman in a yellow dress who is now President of the Philippines, in news account reportedly said that it was interesting to note that the celebration of 25 years of People Power in the country “coincides with the wave of democracy now sweeping parts of the Arab world.” 

“Even by just watching on TV, the emotion in Egypt and Tunisia was so palpable that it brought back memories of our own experience in 1986. While ours was less violent, the similarities between EDSA and Tahrir Square are uncanny,” President Noynoy Aquino said.

In the aftermath of the People Power in the Philippines, Corazon Aquino faced seven coup attempts. The Philippines with a population currently estimated at 92 million continues to be mired in poverty and corruption and afflicted with brain drain.  The Marcoses – well, much reviled in the 1980’s, are now slowly coming back to power. Former First Lady Imelda Marcos won in the 2010 election and succeeded her son as a Member of the House of Representatives of the Philippine. Her son, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., now a Senator and daughter Imee were both previously elected to the same house seat. Imee Marcos is now a Governor. It is conceivable that even if Gaddafi leaves Libya, one of his sons will come back to power one day. The more things changed, the more they stay the same.  

It seems to be that the Philippine lessons for the ages are:  democracy is messy, change is slow, the voting public has a short memory, and there is always a second chance unless you die first.        

Via Al Jazeera:

State Dept Suspends US Embassy Operations in #Libya, Withdraws All Personnel

It’s 3:17 pm EST. Just saw this tweet from the State Department spokesman:

PJ Crowley |

A U.S. charter aircraft departed #Libya at 1:49 p.m. EDT with additional American and international citizens on board, bound for #Istanbul.   
about 1 hour ago  via web  

A short while ago, Reuters reported the suspension of embassy operation from the WH:

Fri Feb 25, 2011 2:43pm EST

The United States has suspended embassy operations in Libya and is moving forward with unilateral sanctions against the government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Friday

Here is the full text of the announcement from the State Department:

“Given current security conditions in Libya, coupled with our inability to guarantee fully the safety and security of our diplomatic personnel in the country, the Department of State has temporarily withdrawn Embassy personnel from Tripoli and suspended all embassy operations effective February 25, 2011. The safety of the American community remains paramount to the Department and we will continue to provide assistance to the greatest extent possible through other missions.”



Note that the State Department suspended operation but did not break diplomatic relations with Libya. Via Josh Rogin of The Cable:

“The flag is still flying, the embassy is not closed, but operations are suspended,” said Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy. “We did not break diplomatic relations.”

The Libyan embassy in Washington is still up and running, a State Department official said.

Interactions between State Department officials and the Libyan government continue. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns spoke twice over the last two days with Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa and Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Feltman has spoken with Kusa several times, the State Department said.

The Times of Malta reported on the arrival of the evacuees at the port in Valletta:

The passengers were visibly tired as they disembarked at the Cruise Passenger Terminal but most were in good health and only a small number were given medical attention by medical teams on the quay. Officials from the Civil Protection Department were also present.

All passengers were offered food and drink as soon as they disembarked. Special attention was also given to children.

Veterinary Officials were also present since a number of pets were brought over by some of the families.

The Maria Dolores was chartered by the State Department, which has since announced that the US embassy in Tripoli has suspended operations.

Even as we think of the evacuees disembarking to safety in Valletta, we must also keep in our thoughts the local employees left in Tripoli.  The US Embassy in Libya has about 120 locally employed staff. I don’t know if any of them/their families made it to Malta. Given that the embassy has only suspended operation, presumably some local employees will look after the USG facilities, but we have yet to confirm that. 

This post has been updated 2/25 @6:03pm EST

At a State Department briefing on suspension of operations at US Embassy Tripoli, the Under Secretary for Management, Patrick Kennedy confirms what we already presumed: “Our Libyan employees are still – were still – we did not break diplomatic relations. Our Libyan employees are still on the payroll and are still at the – working at the chancery.”

They’re on their own. 

This item above added at 2/25 @7:11pm EST



"Operation Fourth Star" — winning the hearts and minds of Senator McCain and Others?

Via the Rollings Stone by Michael Hastings
February 23, 2011 11:55 PM ET

Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators

The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in “psychological operations” to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.

The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as “information operations” at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.

“My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. “I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line.”

The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.
The general’s chief of staff also asked Holmes how Caldwell could secretly manipulate the U.S. lawmakers without their knowledge. “How do we get these guys to give us more people?” he demanded. “What do I have to plant inside their heads?”
It wasn’t the first time that Caldwell had tried to tear down the wall that has historically separated public affairs and psy-ops – the distinction the military is supposed to maintain between “informing” and “influencing.” After a stint as the top U.S. spokesperson in Iraq, the general pushed aggressively to expand the military’s use of information operations. During his time as a commander at Ft. Leavenworth, Caldwell argued for exploiting new technologies like blogging and Wikipedia – a move that would widen the military’s ability to influence the public, both foreign and domestic. According to sources close to the general, he also tried to rewrite the official doctrine on information operations, though that effort ultimately failed. (In recent months, the Pentagon has quietly dropped the nefarious-sounding moniker “psy-ops” in favor of the more neutral “MISO” – short for Military Information Support Operations.)
Under duress, Holmes and his team provided Caldwell with background assessments on the visiting senators, and helped prep the general for his high-profile encounters. But according to members of his unit, Holmes did his best to resist the orders. Holmes believed that using his team to target American civilians violated the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which was passed by Congress to prevent the State Department from using Soviet-style propaganda techniques on U.S. citizens. But when Holmes brought his concerns to Col. Gregory Breazile, the spokesperson for the Afghan training mission run by Caldwell, the discussion ended in a screaming match. “It’s not illegal if I say it isn’t!” Holmes recalls Breazile shouting.
On March 23rd, Holmes emailed the JAG lawyer who handled information operations, saying that the order made him “nervous.” The lawyer, Capt. John Scott, agreed with Holmes. “The short answer is that IO doesn’t do that,” Scott replied in an email. “[Public affairs] works on the hearts and minds of our own citizens and IO works on the hearts and minds of the citizens of other nations. While the twain do occasionally intersect, such intersections, like violent contact during a soccer game, should be unintentional.”

Oh dear.  Active links added above. Read the whole thing here:

I don’t think the senators would appreciate knowing that these folks “played” them. If true, another general may soon get his fourth star and filing his retirement papers at the same time.

WaPo reports that “The U.S. command in Kabul issued a statement Thursday saying Gen. David H. Petraeus “is preparing to order an investigation to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the issue.”

Holmes has now been described as somebody with an ax to grind. Responding to that accusation on FoxNews, here’s what Holmes said:

“Do I have an ax to grind? Yeah. But the ax is this. If they can do this to a lieutenant colonel, what are they doing to the sergeants out there? I have a lot of education and training. … I knew where to go and what the rules were and weren’t.”
After first broaching his concerns with higher-ups, Holmes became the subject of an investigation, which cited him for, among other things, going off base in civilian clothes and drinking alcohol. 

Sounds like retaliation, no?

FoxNews also reports that U.S. lawmakers have played down these alleged operations, suggesting “they were not influenced to do anything they didn’t already want to do.”

But really, if you’ve been “played” and swallowed the spin — what is it, hook, line, and sinker — would you jump up and down waving your arms to get attention? Probably not. But in private, you betcha some folks won’t be happy with this.


US Embassy #Libya: Ferry Left Tripoli with 300 Evacuees, Air Evacuation to Istanbul to Follow

PJ Crowley tweets his update on the evacuation of US Embassy staff and private individuals from Tripoli today:

More than 300 passengers are on board the U.S.-chartered ferry from #Libya to #Malta. Additional passengers were added before departure.   
about 2 hours ago  via web 

The ferry carrying American and international citizens from #Libya to #Malta is finally underway. The trip will take roughly eight hours.     
about 3 hours ago  via web  

Also today, the US Embassy in Tripoli announced that evacuation by air will depart the city for Istanbul no later than 5:30 p.m. local time: 

A U.S. Government chartered aircraft will depart Tripoli to Istanbul, Turkey, from the Mitiga Air Field near downtown Tripoli, on Friday, February 25. Processing of passengers will begin promptly at 12:00 p.m. local time. U.S. citizen travelers wishing to depart should proceed directly to Mitiga Air Field as the U.S. Government is unable to provide ground transportation for U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis, with priority given to persons with medical emergencies or severe medical conditions. The aircraft will depart no later than 5:30 p.m. local time.
All U.S. citizen travelers and their spouses and children, are required to have valid travel documents. The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli will assist U.S. citizens with travel documents. U.S. citizens who do not hold a valid U.S. passport or visa and are interested in departing Libya via U.S. Government-chartered transportation should contact the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Embassy Tripoli by sending an email to or by calling 1-202-501-4444.

Read more here.

To get information on American citizens in Libya, please call the State Department’s Task Force in the United States at (888) 407-4747, or +1(202) 501-4444.