Senate Confirms Robert Ford as US Ambassador to Syria

On October 3, the U.S. Senate finally confirmed Ambassador Ford as U.S. Ambassador to Syria. It took Syrian eggs and tomatoes and iron bars to budge the Senate and get that confirmation finally going.

Robert Stephen Ford, of Vermont, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Syrian Arab Republic, to which position he was appointed during the recess of the Senate from December 22, 2010, to January 5, 2011.

No such luck for the other nominees who were also appointed during the recess of the Senate last year.

Could Not Stick to "No Comment," the State Dept Finally Has Nothing and Something to Say on Peter Van Buren’s Case

Student Using an Interactive WhiteboardImage via WikipediaI don’t know why I thought the State Department could hold its tongue and stick to its “no comment” response on the Peter Van Buren case. Apparently, somebody did not read the memo.

An unnamed State Department spokesman gave The Atlantic Wire a statement late last week.  Excerpts below:

“Regarding Mr. Van Buren, we do not discuss individual personnel matters,” a State Department spokesman said in a statement to The Atlantic Wire today.
The State Department’s statement to The Atlantic Wire did defend their policy of investigating information that is potentially “improperly disclosed”, presumably in response to Van Buren’s assertion that they are unfairly targeting him alone for linking to the WikiLeaks materials and publishing critical opinions on his blog.

“The Department of State has an obligation to try to ensure that official information is released in an authorized and appropriate manner, that classified and other protected material is not improperly disclosed, and that the views an employee expresses in his or her private capacity are not improperly attributed to the U.S. government.  Foreign Service Officers and other employees know that they are expected to adhere to the rules associated with meeting these obligations.

All Department employees who write for publication in their private capacity on matters of official concern are required to have their work reviewed by the Department in compliance with longstanding clearance requirements and procedures set forth in the Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual.”  

I expected the State Department to stick to its “no comment.” But if it had to say something about this, I also expected its spokesman to say something a tad more creative not something as lame as this.

Remember that Chinese saying – more talk, more mistake, no talk, no mistake?

Peter Van Buren’s book apparently had been cleared by the appropriate channels in the Big House in compliance with the requirements in the FAM, so why bring that up? Is the spokesman saying without saying that Mr. Van Buren’s book did not follow the appropriate clearance procedures, that’s why he is under investigation? C’mon folks, either the book was officially cleared or not; you can’t have it both ways. If it was cleared, then stop harassing the guy so he can sell the book. If it was not cleared, why have you not frog-marched the author out of C. Street — given that you talk about  “classified and other protected material” in the same statement?

As to clearance of blog posts and tweets, best not go there since that’s a tricky, tricky thing that may show a rather selective flavor.

And oh, a note on disclaimers — the spokesman’s statement says that the State Department obligations include ensuring that “the views an employee expresses in his or her private capacity are not improperly attributed to the U.S. government.”

Well, hookay, but what kind of disclaimer would be acceptable when the guy already had this marked prominently on page 6 of his book:

The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, or any other entity of the US government. The Department of State had the chance to review this book in manuscript form before publication, as required by 3 FAM 4170. Th e Department of State does not approve, endorse, or authorize this book.

If that disclaimer is not acceptable, then I don’t know how else you can write a disclaimer that would say the same thing and be acceptable.

Remember that Chinese saying – more talk, more mistake, no talk, no mistake?

Make that spokesman write this a hundred times on the “R” Front Office’s whiteboard, please.

Slash Non-Fiction: There Goes Diplomacy 3.0 But They Sure Ramps It Up in Iraq

Via WaPo’s Walter Pincus on the State Dept. reeling from budget cuts

The Senate committee on Sept. 21 approved $44.6 billion for the core State, Foreign Operations budget for next year, which was $6 billion below the original request and $3.5 billion below the current level. The House subcommittee approved $39.5 billion, slashing the administration’s request by $11.2 billion, or 22 percent.

In describing the cut, the Republican draft report on the bill said it preserves national security priorities while making “necessary reductions in spending.”

Among the largest House subcommittee reductions was a nearly 20 percent cut in the funds that pay for Foreign Service officers and the civilians who support them. In justifying this action, the subcommittee report said it eliminated funds sought for 184 new staff because since 2008, some 1,622 Foreign Service officers and 1,001 civilians had been hired above attrition.
The House panel took an even bigger cut from the personnel budget for the Agency for International Development (AID), which saw its fiscal 2012 request dropped from $1.5 billion to $900 million. The report notes that 820 new Foreign Service officers have been added to AID since 2008.

Read in full here.

Diplomacy 3.0 is the State Department’s ambitious multi-year hiring program that recognizes
diplomacy as one of the three essential pillars of U.S. foreign policy:
diplomacy, development, and defense.  But since most in Congress only recognizes the third pillar of U.S. foreign policy, I was just waiting for the other two shoes to fall.

And now there they are.

Tell me again — how are we going to have a US Consulate Basra with 1200 employees  or a US Consulate Erbil with 1400 staffers the way this is going? (which would make these two diplomatic posts larger than most embassies anywhere in the world).  With less money available, State maybe forced to shuffle the deck, which probably means post-closures in other parts of the world not called Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. Expect a new mothership cable to ALL POSTS urging posts and mission personnel to do more with less given this newest budget constraints. Unless you’re in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, of course. But fear not, the way this is going, there will come a time when you’ll me able to do everything with nothing.  Except on a diplomatic reception.

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis reporting recently had this update on the State Department’s ramped up presence in Iraq:

The ongoing expansion of the diplomatic facilities—including two smaller
outposts in Mosul and Kirkuk—is deeply controversial in Washington,
where many lawmakers have questioned whether it makes sense for the U.S.
to devote such an enormous percentage of the State Department’s total
budget to one country.

A Jan. 31 report from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, for
instance, estimated that the State Department will spend $25-$30 billion
in Iraq over the next five years. The panel said that U.S. diplomatic
operations in Iraq in fiscal year 2012 will spike to at least $3
billion, roughly a quarter of the State Department’s global operations
budget. Other State initiatives here – like the large and growing Office
of Security Cooperation—will push the fiscal 2012 numbers even higher.

It’s far from clear that Congress is willing to spend that kind of
money on Iraq, given the war’s deep unpopularity at home. Lawmakers
slashed State’s fiscal year 2011 budget request by almost 20 percent, to
$2.1 billion from the $2.6 billion originally requested. Democratic
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont told The Huffington Post earlier this
month that he doesn’t “know why [Iraq] has to be one of our highest

“I think we’ve reached the point in Iraq where whatever we’re
spending money on, we’re throwing good money after bad,” he told the Web

The Senator had a point, no sense throwing good money after bad.  Most especially if we don’t have a lot of money, good or bad.  Anyways, perhaps Congress should write that in the appropriation bill — the money for the State Department that must not/not be spent on Iraq. Of course, that’s like the prohibition clause of no permanent bases in Iraq, Afghanistan  and elsewhere that we regularly see in those bills.