US Embassy Luxembourg: Be Cool and Keep Yourself Together – Another Political Ambassador Heading Your Way

On June 28, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Robert A. Mandell to be Ambassador to Luxembourg. The WH released the following brief bio:

Robert A. Mandell is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Greater Properties, Inc., a commercial real estate venture in Central Florida.  Previously, he served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Greater Construction Corp., from 1998 until 2005.  Mr. Mandell serves on the Board of Directors of Florida Hospital, the Burnham Institute for Medical Research of La Jolla, California, and the Vermont Studio Center. He also serves on the Audit and Finance Committee of the Adventist Health System.  Previously, Mr. Mandell was a member on the Orange County Chairman’s Transportation Commission and on the Orange County Public Schools’ Blue Ribbon Panel on Education.  In 2010, he was appointed to the President’s Export Council.  

Mr. Mandell holds a B.S. and a J.D. from the University of Florida.

US Embassy Luxembourg
Photo from US Embassy/Flickr lists Mr. Mandell as one of the Obama inauguration donors who gave $50,000 for the presidential festivities.  Donors at the $50,000 level reportedly get tickets to the official ceremony, the parade and inaugural balls. The government places no limits on these contributions, but Obama capped money for his inauguration at $50,000 per person – still, as OpenSecrets point out, more than 10 times what individuals could give to his campaign. More on this nominee from HuffPo here.

So anyway — the last time we’ve blogged about U.S. Embassy Luxembourg was earlier this year when the Office of the Inspector General issued its review of the mission and came out with quite a scathing report. The OIG inspectors write in their report that several FSOs assigned to the mission curtailed from their “cushy” European assignments to volunteer for duty in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. Shocking, just shocking! After the then political ambassador resigned to spend more time with her family, a TDY chargé d’affaires took over running the mission. In April this year, Dave Fetter who was previously Consul General in Quebec assumed office as the mission’s chargé d’affaires.

In the aftermath of that front office blowout, NPR speculates that sometimes after a situation like this “an administration will go with a State Department professional in order to bring some much needed stability to an embassy. So it’s not a foregone conclusion that she’ll be replaced with another big political donor type.”

Of course, now we know that the White House has decided that another political ambassador is just what the U.S. Embassy Luxembourg needs, for stability or something. 

The good news is Mr. Mandell apparently comes from real estate background.  As I understand it, the ambassador’s residence in Luxembourg need some real work.  It may have a gazillion square footage but it’s a big, old house and Uncle Sam does not always have the money for repair and restoration.  So — maybe he can help restore the residence to its old glory during his tenure? That would be good, right?  The bad news is, he may not get confirmed until fall which means his tenure could run for as short as 12-15 months to another four years depending on what happens in 2012.

I just hope he’s not going to kick out his DCM before he gets to post (cross yourself and knock on wood!). Because that would not be a good start.

Related item:
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts | June 28, 2011




US Embassy Latvia: DCM Bruce David Rogers, Sudden Death at 54

Photo from US Embassy Latvia

The US Embassy in Latvia announced the sudden death of the Deputy Chief of Mission in Riga, Bruce Rogers. The career diplomat died in his sleep on June 27. He was 54. He leaves behind his wife and two children. Below is the statement from the embassy:

Riga, June 28, 2011. – It is with great sadness that the U.S. Embassy announces the sudden passing of Deputy Chief of Mission Bruce D. Rogers. Mr. Rogers served two tours in Latvia, first as Political-Economic Chief and later as Deputy Chief of Mission. He passed away in his sleep last night at the age of 54.

Mr. Rogers was a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. He joined the Department of State in 1985 and served in Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Kingdom, Latvia, Belgium and Afghanistan. On his last assignment as Director for Provincial Reconstruction and Local Governance in Kabul, he supervised personnel at 25 locations around Afghanistan. Previously he also served as the Deputy Political Advisor at the U.S. Mission to NATO (2003-2006) and as Political-Economic Chief (2000 – 2003) at the U.S. Embassy here in Riga. In 1991 he was part of the team that re-opened the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait at the end of the first Gulf War. His domestic assignments included two tours in the Department of State’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, as an instructor in the Orientation Division at the Foreign Service Institute, and as a regional affairs officer in the Office of Counter-Terrorism. In that capacity he led two assessment teams to East Africa in the wake of the bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Mr. Rogers was the recipient of four State Department Superior Honor Awards and two Meritorious Honor Awards. He had a B.A. in History and International Relations from San Francisco State University. In 2007 he received a Master’s Degree with Highest Distinction in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College in Newport Rhode Island. He leaves behind his wife, Gale Rogers, a retired Foreign Service Officer, and two children.

In his six years in Latvia, Mr. Rogers played a major role on behalf of the U.S. government in assisting Latvia in its accession to NATO and the E.U. and in strengthening economic ties between the U.S. and Latvia. Ambassador Judith Garber said, “Bruce loved Latvia passionately, and he loved working on U.S.-Latvian relations. He was due to leave in just a few days, and it was very hard for him to go because he loved being here so much, but he knew Latvia would always be in his heart.”

A memorial book will be available for signing in the multi-purpose room of the Embassy starting at 9 am, June 29th. There will also be a memorial book at the Embassy’s Independence Day celebration at Mezaparks on Sunday, July 3rd.

Gaza Flotilla 2011: Set to Sail with Former U.S. Diplomat Ann Wright, Retired U.S. Ambassador Samuel Hart, Alice Walker and More

Freedom Flotilla incident. 31 may 2010. Cartog...Image via Wikipedia
An international flotilla is set to sail for Gaza to challenge Israel’s naval blockade of the Palestinian territory. Last year, lives were lost during a confrontation at sea.

This year, a US vessel named the Audacity of Hope will join the flotilla of some ten ships with over 30 Americans and activists from other countries.  Former U.S. diplomat Ann Wright is an organizer of the U.S. Boat to Gaza. Ann is a retired U.S. Army Colonel and a former US diplomat who served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. In 2003 she resigned in opposition to the Iraq war. also reports that Samuel Hart, a Jacksonville resident and former U.S. ambassador to Ecuador with 27 years  of service as a career diplomat is also joining the Gaza flotilla. The report did not indicate which vessel he will be on:

By the time the civil rights movement began making significant strides, Hart had left Mississippi, first to serve as an Army officer, then to join the diplomatic corps in 1958.

Which is one of the reasons the retired ambassador decided at age 77 to participate in the upcoming Freedom Flotilla II, which will attempt to carry humanitarian aid past an Israeli blockade to 1.5 million residents of Gaza.

“I wasn’t at Selma,” said Hart, a Jacksonville resident since 1994. “I wasn’t at the March on Washington. … I see great similarities between this and the civil rights movement. I am pleased to be a part of it.”


But before the flotilla even left port, it is once more big in the news.

On June 24, Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokesperson released the following statement on the Gaza   “Anniversary” Flotilla:

Last month marked the one-year anniversary of the confrontation between Israeli forces and activists when a flotilla attempted to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza on May 31, 2010. The United States deeply regrets the tragic loss of life and injuries suffered among those involved in that incident aboard the Gaza bound ships.

We are concerned that a number of groups are organizing a one year “anniversary” flotilla to commemorate the incident by sailing from various European ports to Gaza in the near future. Groups that seek to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that risk the safety of their passengers. Established and efficient mechanisms exist to transfer humanitarian assistance to Gaza.
We underscore that delivering or attempting or conspiring to deliver material support or other resources to or for the benefit of a designated foreign terrorist organization, such as Hamas, could violate U.S. civil and criminal statutes and could lead to fines and incarceration.

Read the whole thing here:

During the Daily Press Brief on June 27, the journalists chased the spokesperson around the room:

QUESTION: The – some of the ships that will make up this flotilla that you’re so – not enthusiastic about have left already, heading for points close to Gaza, if not Gaza itself. The Israelis over the weekend first warned journalists and then were rescinded this warning that if they got on any of these ships that they could be subject to criminal penalties, deportation, 10-year ban from the country.

I’m wondering if there was any contact between the U.S. and Israel about that, and whether the warning that you put out last week – or, not the Travel Warning, per se, but the – your statement in which you warned Americans that they might be violating U.S. law if they participated, did that apply to journalists?

MS. NULAND: First, with regard to the Government of Israel’s decision, our understanding from press reporting but also from our own contacts was that that first announcement was made at a relatively low level, and when senior Israelis became involved, the decision was amended, as you saw.

The U.S. warnings to U.S. citizens apply to all U.S. citizens. We are concerned about any of our citizens involved in a situation that could be provocative, that could be dangerous. That said, freedom of the press; journalists make their own decision, but we have made clear that we are concerned about this situation.

QUESTION: But a journalist who is on one of these boats, could they be subject to laws that bar – the law specifically, the legislation, the laws that you mentioned in your statement which have to do with material support for Hamas?

MS. NULAND: I’m not aware of legal distinctions that we would make between journalists and other citizens, but I can double-check whether there’s a distinction to be made there. I think our concern was that this was a dangerous situation for any American to be involved in.
QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. To the best of your knowledge, has there ever been a ship caught smuggling arms on these aid ships? Has there been any ship that was caught with arms being smuggled to Gaza?

MS. NULAND: Our understanding is that Israel has been the victim of arms smuggled illegally at sea and —

QUESTION: Right. But not these aid ships? Are you aware of any of these aid ships used to smuggle arms?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to precisely which kind of ships arms have been found on, but one of the reasons for the Israeli concern is that they have been victims of arms smuggled at sea.

The board of The Foreign Press Association was not at all happy about the threats by Israel on journalists covering the flotilla and released this statement of 26th June, 2011:

“The government’s threat to punish journalists covering the Gaza flotilla sends a chilling message to the international media and raises serious questions about Israel’s commitment to freedom of the press. Journalists covering a legitimate news event should be allowed to do their jobs without threats and intimidation. We urge the government to reverse its decision immediately.”

After Israel reversed its decision the board released another statement on June 27:

The Foreign Press Association welcomes the prime minister’s decision to drop plans to deport and ban journalists covering the Gaza flotilla. We are pleased to see that Israel has recognized the value of allowing reporters to cover an important news event, and understands that journalists should be treated differently from political activists. We urge the government to continue to do its utmost to promote freedom of the press as core values of a democratic society. –  The Foreign Press Association , 27th June 2011

Bloomberg reports that two members of Congress, Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Nita Lowey (D-NY) said U.S. citizens who join a flotilla planning to break Israel’s embargo of the Gaza Strip should face prosecution.

Probably not surprising to Maureen Murphy who writes in Al Jazeera:

I am a Palestine solidarity activist in the US, and one of 23 US citizens who have been issued with a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury as part of what the government has said is an investigation into violations of the laws banning material support to foreign “terrorist organisations”.

None of us have given money or weapons to any group on the State Department’s foreign terrorist organisation list. But what many of us have done is participate in or help organise educational trips to meet with Palestinians and Colombians resisting the US-funded military regimes they live under.
Travel for such purposes should be protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. But a year ago the US Supreme Court decided in Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project to dramatically expand the government’s definition of what constitutes material support for a foreign terrorist organisation.

Now the government considers travel to places like the West Bank and Colombia to be a predicate or justification for opening up an investigation and issuing search warrants to raid activists’ homes and seize their belongings. Political speech if made in a “coordinated way” can be construed as material support.

JTA reports that “commandos from the Israeli Navy’s elite Shayetet 13 unit have spent weeks preparing to stop the flotilla from reaching Gaza, including practicing new ways to quickly board the ships’ upper decks and how to use water cannons and other non-lethal riot control methods.”

And because this is 2011, the flotilla journey will most certainly be tweeted, live-blogged, and may even be streamed live as it unfolds ….