Curious, Strange, Whatever — Victoria Nuland is Officially Announced as New State Dept Spokesperson

Victoria NulandImage via WikipediaThe Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs is the head of the Bureau of Public Affairs within the United States Department of State. Typically, the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs is also the official spokesperson of the State Department. The Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs reports to the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (“R”).

On May 26, 2011, the State Department announced the appointment of Ambassador Victoria Nuland as State Department spokesperson. She takes over PJ Crowley’s old gig at the podium but unlike PJ, she will not be dual-hatted as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.  We should point out that Geoff S. Morrell, the Pentagon Press Secretary is also the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.  Oops, different agency….

The State Department announcement includes other changes in  the front office of the Bureau of Public Affairs:

The State Department announces that Ambassador Victoria Nuland will serve as State Department Spokesperson and Mark Toner will serve as Deputy Spokesperson. Mike Hammer is the Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, Dana Shell Smith will serve as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, and Michael Ratney will serve as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Media. Cheryl Benton remains as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Outreach and Philippe Reines as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic Communications.

Following Ambassador Nuland’s departure from the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, Assistant Secretary Rose Gottemoeller will resume lead responsibility for issues related to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty.

Ambassador Nuland’s brief bio via

Ambassador Victoria Nuland was named Special Envoy for Conventional Armed Forces in Europe in February 2010. She previously served on the faculty of the National War College (2008-2009).

She was the 18th United States Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from 2005-2008. As NATO Ambassador, she focused heavily on strengthening Allied support for the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, on NATO-Russia issues, and on the Alliance’s global partnerships and continued enlargement.

A career Foreign Service Officer, Ambassador Nuland was Principal Deputy National Security Advisor to the Vice President from 2003-2005, and the U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to NATO from 2000- 2003. From 1997-1999, she was Deputy Director for former Soviet Union affairs at the Department of State, with primary responsibility for U.S. policy towards Russia and the Caucasus countries. She has also spent two years at the Council on Foreign Relations as a “Next Generation” Fellow looking at the effects of anti-Americanism in 1999-2000, and as a State Department Fellow in 1996-1997, when she directed a CFR task force on “Russia, its Neighbors and an Expanding NATO.”

From 1993-1996, she was Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary of State. From 1991-1993, she covered Russian internal politics at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. She has also served on the Soviet Desk (1988-1990), in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia where she helped open the first U.S. Embassy (1988), in the State Department’s Bureaus of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (1987) and in Guangzhou, China (1985-1986).

She speaks Russian and French. Her awards include: the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service (2008); the Secretary of Defense’s Distinguished Civilian Service medal (1999); decorations from the governments of Italy and Lithuania, and numerous State Department Superior Honor awards. She received her B.A. from Brown.

On May 16, 2011, Laura Rozen of The Envoy and Josh Rogin of The Cable reported this forthcoming appointment of Ambassador Nuland.

Laura Rozen quotes one of the “denizens” of the7th floor:

“Toria is very skilled and talented and will do very well here,” one denizen of the State Department’s “executive level” seventh floor said, noting that given Nuland’s ties to GOP circles – her husband is Brookings foreign policy scholar and Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan, and she previously served as an adviser to Cheney — “who better…to aggressively defend the Administration’s foreign policy?”

Oh, dear – what stripe of justification is that?

Josh Rogin’s piece quotes former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Nuland’s old boss:

“Her appointment demonstrates that Secretary Clinton has, quite rightly, an extremely high estimation of the value and confidence in the Foreign Service,” Talbott said, “The more use that’s made of the foreign policy civil service and the Foreign Service, the better.”
“She has a high degree of self confidence and an absolute dedication to working for the administration she is working for, whatever administration that is,” Talbot said

When news of her appointment first trickled out, Eric Martin at Progressive Realist called it a “curious choice“:

Although definitive conclusions about Nuland can’t fairly be drawn from her choice of spouses, it’s not entirely irrelevant that her husband is a founding member of the Project for a New American Century and a board member of PNAC’s recent attempt at rebranding, the Foreign Policy Initiative.  In short, he’s a Washington player who aims to move administration policy further away from the promises of candidate Obama. Are we to believe that a household firewall will keep every bit of confidential Obama administration information in Nuland’s brain from coming to Kagan’s attention?  Obviously, Washington is an incestuous place, and there are precedents for such household conflicts of interest, but this one would be less disturbing if there were more reason to believe that former Cheney aide Nuland really had the administration’s interests at heart.

On May 20,  Patricia Kushlis at WhirledView  called it a “strange appointment:”

So the seemingly amoral Nuland, we’re led to believe, can and will do anyone’s bidding and do it well – in short, a consummate career diplomat.
[…] But why would Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration agree to appoint to this politically sensitive position someone who willingly served such a controversial figure in supporting and implementing the “war on terror” and all the baggage that comes with it?
[I]t’s unclear to me whether Nuland will need to go through Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings for the new position because, well, the two-pronged job that Crowley held did.  The first prong was as highly visible spokesman. The second as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.  And I’m pretty sure that Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs did require Senate approval. But will Nuland face Senatorial scrutiny just as Spokesperson or not?  Maybe not and for her, that could only be fortuitous.  She’s too closely associated with Cheney and company to make this spokesperson appointment necessarily smooth sailing through a committee controlled by Democrats.

In a response to Eric Martin’s post, Andrew Exum, who blogs at Abu Muquwama, writes:

[I]t is completely unacceptable to question Victoria Nuland’s appropriateness for this position based on who her husband is, what he has written, and the policies for which he has advocated. My wife and I sometimes work on the same region of the globe – she as a professional working for an intergovernmental organization, me as a civilian researcher at a defense policy think tank. Should my wife’s career opportunities be limited on account of policy papers I have written for the Center for a New American Security? Of course not.
[I]t is important to distinguish here between political appointees and career civil servants working in the Executive Branch. Victoria Nuland served in the Bush Administration and worked for Vice President Cheney in her capacity as a career officer in the foreign service. (She had previously held positions, also as a career foreign service officer, in the Clinton Administration.) [snip]  It is unfair to hold these people responsible for enabling and executing the policies of the elected officials they serve in the same way that it would be unfair to hold a division commander in the U.S. Army responsible for the policy decision to invade Iraq. If, of course, an individual is nominated for a position that requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate, these and most other questions are fair game.

Read Andrew Exum’s full response here.

If this appointment is torpedoed simply because of her husband and her prior association with a controversial figure, that would send very bad vibes to career diplomats. After all, can you really say “no” if POTUS or VPOTUS asks you to serve in such and such a position? And if you say “yes” does that mean you’re also saying goodbye to your career as a professional diplomat when a next administration is sworn in?

On the other hand, one has to wonder what’s the real deal here? Obviously, the decision makers are well aware of the perceived political baggage that this career officer has in her backpack and was willing to run with her, nonetheless.

So — we’ll have to see how well the “consummate career diplomat” can navigate the “household firewall” and the podium under the glare of intense “baggage” scrutiny.  I imagine that if her “baggage” starts interfering with the message or if she starts to become the story, the decision makers have a Plan B.

Ambassador Nuland may actually be the first female career diplomat to encumber this high profile spokesperson position.

There was Ambassador Carol Laise who served under President Nixon from October 10, 1973-March 27, 1975. She was the the first female Assistant Secretary of State and she served at the public affairs bureau.  The State Department’s Office of Historian lists her as a Foreign Service Officer, her obituary in the NYT indicates that she was a civil servant. Typically, the A/S for Public Affairs is also the official spokesperson; I can’t tell if such was the case with Ambassador Laise.

Then there was political appointee, Margaret D. Tutwiler. She was Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy from  March 3, 1989-August 23, 1992 under the Bush Senior administration and served concurrently as Department of State spokesman.

People magazine (yes, that one!) in the 1990’s on Margaret Tutwiler:

She casts no vote in Congress, plays no direct role in shaping legislation. She isn’t much in evidence in that theater of intrigue, the Washington, D.C., cocktail circuit. Still, she is one of the capital’s most powerful women and for the past year has been one of the world’s most visible. Why? Because almost everyone who wants the official word at Foggy Bottom or needs access to the U.S. Secretary of State must follow a direct path through the office of Margaret Tutwiler.

That’s because the State Department spokesman speaks on behalf of our country.  In that People interview Ms. Tutwiler said something that may be a challenge to the new spokesperson:

“If you’re a Ph.D. and have 17 degrees, the press doesn’t care,” she says. “They like to know that you have a fair idea of the person on whose behalf you are speaking. And I do know this President and this Secretary of State very well.”

That’s something that Philippe I. Reines can say, perhaps not when it comes to President Obama but certainly when it comes to Secretary Clinton. Ambassador Nuland potential message relay goes through her boss, Mike Hammer, then whoever succeeds Judith McHale as the next “R”, then whatever layers you have inside Hillary’s inner circle in the 7th Floor. 

In any case, this is a very, very short list: Laise, Tutwiler, Nuland ….

Note that the announcement of Ambassador Nuland’s appointment came from the State Department and not the White House.  I could be wrong on this, but since she is appointed as spokesperson but not as Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs, there may not be a Senate confirmation. But if her appointment is ranked Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS), I think there will be a Senate confirmation.

We should know soon enough if/when she starts (or not) fielding questions during the Daily Press Brief.

If you have a better source on people and diplomatic history that can help clarify the above info on Ambassador Laise, I would appreciate a comment/correction.

Update @10:04 pm PST
One of our blog pals (thanks L!) reminded us that of career diplomat, Phyllis E. Oakley who was  Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration also served in the Public Affairs Bureau.

Mrs. Oakley actually served as the Deputy Spokesman for the State Department from November 1986 until the end of January 1989, the first woman to hold this position.