Storify: Ambassador Bryza’s Rocky Road to Baku and Back

<a href=”; target=”_blank”>View the story “Ambassador Bryza’s Rocky Road to Baku and Back” on Storify</a>]

Insider Quote: ‘Getting off the X’ in Iraq

“My security colleagues would call it ‘getting off the X’. […] We run. We go. We do not stand and fight. We will execute a high-speed J-turn and we will get as far away from the attackers as we possibly can.”

Patrick Kennedy
Under Secretary of State for Management, U.S. Department of State
in As soldiers leave, U.S. diplomats face huge Iraq challenge

Diplopundit’s Best Photos – The Foreign Service in 2011

Below are some of our favorite photos of 2011, in no particular order. The photos are available through Flickr, FB, and the occasional ambo blogs. 

How high can you jump, Mr. Ambassador?

US Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Matt Bryza jumping over a bonfire
during the celebration of Novruz Bayram
Photo from US Embassy Baku/Flickr
Pancake Special with Lochman Smile

U.S. Consulate
General in Calgary memorialized the
tragic events of September 11, 2001.
Consul General Lochman serves pancakes to first responders and CF personnel
Via US Consulate General Calgary/Flickr

A moment in time in Laos
Ambassador to Laos Karen Stewart during her visit to
Phalak, a village of mostly Hmong people who returned to Laos from Thailand
Photo from Than Thoot Karen!
Can you say run in Cambodian?
A U.S. Marine plays a game with children during a community service project at
the Help the Cambodian Children Goodwill Center.
Photo from US Embassy Cambodia/FB
It’s a boat! It’s a plane! It’s Kristie Kenney!
U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney during
the most recent Thailand floods
Photo via US Embassy Bangkok/FB

NOTE: This photo of Ambassador Kenney as she parachutes over the central
region of Lopburi with a military
instructor after jumping from a Thai military helicopter
would have been our pick except that it is an AFP photo(photo now posted by US Embassy Bangkok/FB, so we’ll add it here)

Is that really what you want?

U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro and his daughter Merav on a shopping tour for the four
species and decorations for their Sukka in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv.
Photo from US Embassy Tel Aviv/Flickr

Is this man going to give me the gift or what?
Consul General (CG) Karachi Bill Martin
visits flood victims at a relief camp
and a goods
distribution site in the
hardest-hit area of Tando Allahyar on
October 26, 2011.
Photo from US ConGen Karachi/Flickr

Force of nature

Taken during the US response to the Christchurch
Photo from US Embassy NZ/Flickr
Getting ready for the big day

Ambassador and Mrs. Mark Brzezinski just prior to his
presentation of credentials to His Majesty King Carl XVI
of Sweden on November 24, 2011
Photo from US Embassy Sweden/Flickr

Four monks and the cherry trees
Four Buddhist monks, who live in North Carolina, photograph each other

among the cherry trees in Washington, D.C. The men are originally from Thailand
Photo from US Embassy Tokyo/Flickr

Do they make them that young now?

Boy in uniform during Ambassador Gene Cretz
visit to Misurata, Libya
Photo via
Just between us, are we ever leaving Afghanistan?
Grover (Kajkoal) welcomes U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker to the French
Cultural Center
for the launch event of the Baghch-e-SimSim on
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Photo from US Embassy Kabul/Flickr

To Diplopundit’s friends and readers, may your holidays be merry and filled with joy in the company of loved ones and good friends. Our thoughts and good wishes also go to our men and women in uniform who are still in Afghanistan, and our Foreign Service personnel in
high stress/high threat/unaccompanied posts around the world.

Quote: Like the French Foreign Legion?

“When I tell people that I was in the Foreign Service, I get a lot of blank stares and awkward questions. Even well educated people often have no idea what the Foreign Service is.

“Is that like the French Foreign Legion?” a medical doctor and Ivy League graduate once asked me.”

Dave Seminara, Former Foreign Service Officer
in A Traveler in the Foreign Service: Not much of a diplomat

US Mission New Zealand: Two Years in Pictures

Our wonderful folks at U.S. Mission New Zealand who went through seven earthquakes in 2011, including the Christchurch Earthquake in February, have put together a collection of photographs to remember the life of the mission in the last two years. 

Here is how Ambassador David Huebner explain it in his blog:

As a general matter, I think it’s important to remind folks of the value and meaning of the work they do, and of how skilled they are at doing it. So, I plowed through my files and selected photos from many of the events in which the Embassy and Consulate General have been involved since I arrived, plus a couple of images from elsewhere to provide context. The slide show below contains all 70 photos in our new hallway exhibition:

After we got everything up on the walls, I asked my Embassy colleagues
to vote for their favorite of the images on display. The “winner” was
the photo below of our colleague Mike leaving Christchurch four days
after the February 22nd earthquake.

Photo by Josh Greene February25,2011
via US Embassy New Zealand
In Christchurch for the US-NZ Partnership Forum when the quake struck, Mike and seven other staffers camped on the floor of the US Antarctic Program offices at night and forayed into the ruined city by day to search for injured Americans, provide relief services to American citizens, and facilitate the arrival and deployment of urban search and rescue teams from the United States.

It was difficult, emotional, and highly stressful work … with little sleep, limited water, no amenities or toiletries, more than a few unpleasant surprises, and only the clothes on their backs. Snapped by my colleague Josh with his Blackberry as he and the others finally boarded an evacuation flight after their work was done, the photo of Mike powerfully captures the mood of the week.

The second most “favorited” photo is that of the Emperor penguin colony representatives in Antarctica during their first diplomatic encounter with Ambassador Huebner.

Photo by USAF/MarkDoll | December1,2011
via US Embassy New Zealand

Read his post in full here.

Below are three from the 70-photo collection that I particularly like: 1) Ambassador Huebner with Chelsea, the Kiwi; 2) the two men in suits working on the haka, a traditional ancestral war cry/dance of the Māori people; and 3) the half naked Hawaiian dancers with the four U.S. Marines in full uniform.

Independence Day 2011 Hawaiian performers in Wellington
Photo by Ola Thorsen August 4,2011
US Embassy New Zealand

Kudos to US Mission NZ, particularly Mike C., the digital engagement specialist and
Ola T., who snaps the photographs, for  their dedication and active management of the embassy’s social channels.  The
streams are always current and the photos are appropriately labeled. We
can’t find an excuse to invent our own captions 🙂  I have to add that USNZ has a pretty well organized website, too. The only thing that I’d like to
see it improve is if a link to Warden Messages is located right on the
main page, instead of four clicks deep. (update @10:10 pm-link on the main page now, wow!)

Check out the mission’s online presence below:

US Embassy Website, Wellington US Embassy NZ / Samoa
US Embassy Twitter feed Follow US Embassy NZ / Samoa
US Embassy Twitter feed Follow Me
View my Profile View my Profile
Click to view the US Mission to New Zealand's FlickR Photo Gallery Photos
Connect to the US Embassy Wellington's Facebook Page Connect with Wellington / Apia
Subscribe to a YouTube Channel Watch our Videos & Subscribe
View our Vimeo Page Watch our Videos on Vimeo

Confirmations: Joyce Barr (State/A), Michael McFaul (Moscow), Other Nominations Remain in "Status Quo"

WH photo

During the Floor Wrap Up for Saturday, December 17, 2011, the Senate confirmed the following nominees for the State Department:

#421 Joyce A. Barr – to be Assistant Secretary of State (Administration)

#503 Michael Anthony McFaul – to be Ambassador of the US of America to the Russian Federation.

Earlier the same afternoon, Senator Reid asked for unanimous consent that the Senate take up and confirm the following nominations on the Executive Calendar but Senator McConnell objected to the request.

#421 Joyce A. Barr – to be Assistant Secretary of State (Administration)

#422 Michael A. Hammer – to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Public Affairs)

#501 Mari Carmen Aponte – to be Ambassador of the US of America to the Republic of El Salvador.

#502 Adam E. Namm – to be Ambassador of the US of America to the Republic of Ecuador.

#503 Michael Anthony McFaul – to be Ambassador of the US of America to the Russian Federation.

#504 Roberta S. Jacobson – to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Western Hemisphere Affairs),

#505 Elizabeth M. Cousens – to be Representative of the United States of America on the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, with the rank of Ambassador.

#506 Elizabeth M. Cousens – to be an Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations, during her tenure of service as Representative of the United States of America on the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

The Majority calendar indicates that “All nominations received by the Senate during the 112th Congress, first session, will remain in status quo, notwithstanding the provisions of rule XXXI, paragraph 6, of the Standing Rules of the Senate.”

See Rule XXXI #6: Nominations neither confirmed nor rejected during the session at which they are made shall not be acted upon at any succeeding session without being again made to the Senate by the President; and if the Senate shall adjourn or take a recess for more than thirty days, all nominations pending and not finally acted upon at the time of taking such adjournment or recess shall be returned by the Secretary to the President, and shall not again be considered unless they shall again be made to the Senate by the President.

So, the nominees need not have to be resubmitted again, but since the GOP has blocked adjournment, there will be no official ‘recess’ and the Senate will have scheduled pro-forma sessions during the Christmas break. Which means, President Obama will not/not be able to make any recess appointments.

On the controversial recess appointees, it looks like Ambassador Aponte’s nomination (El Salvador) as well as Ambassador Bryza’s (Azerbaijan) with the late pleas are not totally dead. (Update 12/20: The Orlando Sentinel reports that Senator Reid’s office said Monday there still might be a chance to salvage Aponte’s nomination, through complex Senate procedures.” I don’t know how Ambassador Bryza’s nomination could be saved when he did not even get his SFRC hearing, much less the committee’s endorsement)

Here is a useful explanation from the CRS:

Nominations that are not confirmed or rejected are returned to the President at the end of a session or when the Senate adjourns or recesses for more than 30 days (Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6). If the President still wants a nominee considered, he must submit a new nomination to the Senate. The Senate can, however, waive this rule by unanimous consent. For example, on November 19, 1999, at the close of the first session of the l06* Congress, Majority Leader Trent Lott asked and received unanimous consent “that all nominations received by the Senate during the 10thCongress, first session, remain in status quo.” Similar agreements were reached in earlier Congresses as well. The majority leader or his designee also may exempt specific nominees by name from the agreement, allowing them to be returned during the recess or adjournment. Just before the recess between the first and second sessions of the 107th Congress, for example, the Senate by unanimous consent agreed to hold all nominations in the status quo except for one, which was returned to the President. Prior to the August recess in the 107thCongress, however, the Senate did not reach such an agreement, and 162 pending nominations were returned. President George W. Bush re-nominated many of the nominees after the recess.

Officially Moved: Nancy J. Powell goes from DGHR to New Delhi, and if she turns 65 in 2012, so what?

On December 16, President Obama announced his intent to nominate outgoing Director General of the Foreign Service, Nancy J. Powell to be Ambassador to India.  The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador Nancy J. Powell, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, currently serves as Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources at the Department of State.  She was conferred the personal rank of Career Ambassador in January 2011.  Prior to her current assignment, Ambassador Powell served as Ambassador to Nepal (2007-2009), Ambassador to Pakistan (2002-2004), Ambassador to Ghana (2001-2002), and Ambassador to Uganda (1997-1999).  Previous overseas assignments included service in Ottawa, Kathmandu, Islamabad, Lome, Calcutta, New Delhi, and Dhaka.  Her Washington assignments have included: Refugee Assistance Officer, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Acting Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Activities, and the National Intelligence Officer for South Asia at the National Intelligence Council.  Ambassador Powell joined the Foreign Service in 1977 following six years as a high school social studies teacher in Dayton, Iowa.

She received a B.A. from the University of Northern Iowa.

* * *

In State Magazine’s December issue, Ambassador Powell said goodbye after a two-year tenure as Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources at the Department of State. She also highlighted the accomplishments of her HR shop including the following:

“We successfully staffed our priority posts, especially in AIP, with volunteers. Thank you to all who recognized the vital importance of providing Foreign Service expertise to these missions. This willingness to step up is crucial to maintaining a system that gives employees the opportunity to decide when it is best for them and their families to serve in these dangerous places without sacrificing our mission.”

That sorta got my porcu-quills up.  The previous DGHR who oversaw arm twisting and directed assignment threats of diplomats during Condi Rice’s time, got a nice onward assignment as ambassador to a tropical country. His deputy, similarly, ended up as ambassador to another tropical “paradise” albeit, where the last surviving tribes in the world engaging in cannibalism lives. Don’t worry, the tribe does not venture into the capital city just to dine.

I wish — just for once, that the folks asking people to
volunteer to serve in our priority posts in the war zones of Afghanistan
and Iraq and in Pakistan, would themselves volunteer to work there? No,
not just visit. But. Work. There. Because why not? That would be a nice
example of leadership in action instead of a misfired caper of “follow
what I say but not what I do.”

Wonderful to see all you volunteers stepping up to fill in vacant slots in AIP posts (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan), but Ambassador Powell herself ain’t going there. She was in Pak seven years ago before the civilian uplift and before State bundled it up as part of AIP.  And now she is going to New Delhi, India, a 15% COLA and a 20% hardship post. What are you grumbling about?  India is almost an AIP post, and really — given its close proximity to Pakistan shouldn’t it count as a priority post also without the flying bullets? Wonder where the Deputy DGHR going for onward assignment? Don’t know but we’ll sure hear about it.

Col. Michael Howard, commander, 4th Brigade Combat Team,  25th Infantry Division,
escorts senior State Department representatives, Ambassador Nancy Powell, Ambassador
Joseph Mussomeli, and Dr. Ruth Whiteside at Forward Operating Base Salerno
in Khost province, eastern Afghanistan, Oct. 14. Representatives visited various areas
within the provinces  of  Paktya, Paktika, and Khowst to assess
the security and governance in the area.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Marcus Butler

In any case, if confirmed, the reportedly 64-year-old nominee would succeed Tim Roemer, who resigned from his post in April 2011 following a two-year stint as U.S. envoy to India.  And if all goes well, this would be Ambassador Powell’s 5th ambassadorial appointment.

Besides the issue of an onward assignment, I find this a rather curious nomination in terms of timing.  It does not look like she will get a confirmation hearing between now and the end of the year. So she would need to be renominated next year. Depending on how things are in the Senate, she could have her confirmation hearing within the first three months. Or not.

I recognize that 2012 is an election year but Ambassador Powell is a career diplomat.  The presidential election outcome should have limited bearing on her tenure.  Typically in a political transition, career appointees with some exceptions are allowed to serve their full term, which is normally three years. Except that Ambassador Powell is a prospective candidate for what I’d call, State Trek’s “airlock.

If her Wikipedia entry is correct and she was born in1947, she would turn 65 next year. She would run right smack of the mandatory retirement age under the Foreign Service Act of 1980. Which means, her ambassadorial tenure in New Delhi could be a short 8-10 months or less depending on when she would get her Senate confirmation or when is her actual birth month. Normally, FSOs are supposed to retire on the last day of the month they turn 65.

Spending 2-3 months on confirmation preparation for a tenure that would not even last more than 12 months seems like a questionable allocation of resources. Also the USG has to pay for her entire relocation to India.  Retired diplomat Peter Burleigh (who served as Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, and the UN) has been acting as Charge d’affaires at U.S. Mission India since Mr. Roemer’s departure last spring. Two consecutive one-year tours of the chief of mission in India would not have any impact on continuity, priorities and mission effectiveness, of course.

But it gets better.  Apparently, there is also such a thing called the Foreign Service Standard Operating Procedure D-01:

(click on image for larger view)

In all of US Embassy India’s constituent posts, only Kolkata is considered an HDS post.  So, if the SOP above is current, why is Ambassador Powell, a career member of the Foreign Service even nominated for New Delhi when it seems she would hit 65 in less than 24 months?

I bring this up for good reason.  See, the given justification why Dr. Elizabeth Colton’s assignment to Algiers was withdrawnn according to her age discrimination court filings was that “she would be unable to fulfill a two year tour because of the “statutory retirement requirements.”

And yet, here the State Department has recommended and the WH nominated somebody who will be legally kicked out under the law for being officially old next year.  The only reason this would not seem like a questionable allocation of resources is if a decision is already made that the Director General, Ambassador Powell, if confirmed, would not be mandatorily retired next year. Yeah, because there is something called — whatchamaculit?  A mandatory retirement waiver or something called an extension of service if it’s “in the public interest.”

(click on image for larger view)

Um, wait — what’s that? Ambassadors are exempt from “officially” getting old? Sec. 812 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 says that “Any participant who is otherwise required to retire under subsection (a) while occupying a position to which he or she was appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, may continue to serve until that appointment is terminated.”

So if Ambassador Powell gets confirmed, and I see no reason why she won’t get senate confirmation given that this would be her 6th, she could serve from 2012-2015.  Until she’s 68.  No mandatory retirement waiver even required.

Now, one of the majority arguments for mandatory retirement in the Foreign Service the last time it was litigated to conclusion has always been that the Foreign Service involves extended overseas
duty under difficult and often hazardous conditions, and that the wear
and tear on members of this corps is such that there comes a time when
these posts should be filled by younger persons. Mandatory retirement,
it is said, minimizes the risk of less than superior performance by
reason of poor health or loss of vitality. The Court noted the “common
sense proposition that aging — almost by definition — inevitably wears
us all down.”

It is good to know that ambassadors unlike regular
members of the U.S. diplomatic corps are not afflicted by this “common
sense proposition” of aging.

So there you go — there are rules and there are rules, and just as important, there are exceptions to the rules.  The 1% and 99%, even in the Foreign Service — who knew?

On a related note, Dr. Colton who I heard was nominated for the Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy for her work in Egypt this past year (a nomination gobbled up by a black hole never to be heard of again), and was forced to retire last September is scheduled to appear before the U.S. Court of Appeals for her age discrimination case against the State Department.



Updated with additional info on MRA under the FS Act of 1980 12/18.

Confirm Matt Bryza: 36 Conservative Foreign Policy Experts Write to Ranking Senators

U.S. Ambassador to Baku, Matt Bryza is the last of President Obama’s recess appointments from 2010 whose nomination is snagged in the Senate
(Ambassadors Ricciardone and Eisen were confirmed while Ambassador
Aponte’s nomination was derailed this past week). Ambassador Bryza’s
nomination was held up last year by twin-pops, Senator Barbara Boxer
(D-CA) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). The senators represent the concerns of their Armenian constituencies, which are
against the administration’s policy opposing a Congressional resolution
condemning the 1915 Armenian genocide.

WaPo awarded the duo, the Most Craven Election-Year Pandering at the Expense of National Interest Award.

Bryza is posted to Baku, Azerbaijan not Yerevan, Armenia.  But it’s
complicated since the two countries have fought in more than one war including the Nagorno-Karabakh War from 1988-1994.

Ambassador Bryza with wife, Zeyno Baran during
the 4th of July reception at
US Embassy Baku
Photo from US Embassy Baku/FB

Anyway, Senator Menendez even questioned Ambassador Bryza’s “very close ties to Turkey” because his wife is Turkish-born. That the good senator had dragged the ethnic origin of Ambassador Bryza’s wife into this confirmation fight was called shameful by the Washington Post.

In a rebuttal to WaPo, Senator Menendez writes:

“For the record, I stand by my position that Mr. Bryza is the wrong person for the job and have made public my hold in the U.S. Senate on his nomination. That position has absolutely nothing to do with the ethnic origin of his wife. It is based on information that I believe raises concerns about Mr. Bryza’s ability to remain impartial toward Azerbaijan and Turkey, including his opposition to the recognition of the Armenian genocide by Turkey and his close ties to individuals in both governments.”

Nuthintodowithit …. it’s just all politics. Surprisingly, not a lot of noise on the nomination of career diplomat, John Heffern as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia who was confirmed in September.  Ambassador Heffern also stopped short of using the “G” word during his confirmation hearing arguing
that “the characterization of those events is a policy decision that is
made by the president of the United States.” Same-o, same-o, except that he’s not married to a Turkish-American scholar.

In a letter dated December 15, 2011, 36 conservative foreign policy experts have now written to ranking senators to plead for the confirmation of Ambassador Bryza.  His recess appointment expires within a couple of weeks.

Excerpted from letter via The Cable:

Matt has conducted himself as an exemplary Ambassador to Azerbaijan, a country of growing importance to U.S. interests. He has the right combination of everything – contacts, trust, strategic vision, operational ability, leadership – everything.

Matt’s confirmation is being held up because a small minority of activists accuse him of being a “genocide-denier” – someone who denies that the Ottoman Empire committed genocide against Armenians in 1915.

United States policy under successive Administrations has been neither to affirm nor deny that a genocide occurred. Rather, it is to avoid having the United States place a label on the events that took place at the close of the Ottoman Empire, and in so doing, to help provide the best chance possible for the current states and people of Armenia and Turkey to explore their history together, and to build new relations and trade, in the interests of all people in the region.

To be sure, U.S. policy is to make clear that what happened to Armenians in the closing days of the Ottoman Empire was nothing short of mass murder and forced expulsion. Yet because U.S. policy is not to label these acts, Matt – as a career professional – has done what any professional American diplomat would do: adhere to the policy of successive U.S. Administrations and avoid labeling those acts on his own.

This in no way means Matt is insensitive to their occurrence, their nature, and their importance. And it in no way disqualifies him to serve with distinction as U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan. Indeed, such professional discipline in the face of extremely difficult and emotional issues only demonstrates his suitability to serve as Ambassador.

The signatories includes Elliott Abrams, former Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy; R. Nicholas Burns, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; Robert Kagan, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution; Thomas R. Pickering, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and former Ambassador to Jordan, Nigeria, El Salvador, Israel, the UN, India and Russia; Randy Scheunemann,
former National Security Advisor to Senate Majority Leader and others. 

Read the full letter here.

Iraq Operation New Dawn End of Mission Ceremony

Below is the U.S. Forces – Iraq Operation New Dawn End of Mission Ceremony in Baghdad on December 15, 2011. Includes a brief speech by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, James Jeffrey (at approx 7:30 mark) and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (at approx 9:08), as well as other military officials. Length: 40:27 min


U.S. Consulate General Basra: "Dangerously Exposed" but Under Iraqi Protection

Ted Koppel recently had a piece on our “exit” from Iraq for NBC’s Rock Center.  In an interview with NPR, Ted Koppel noted that  all our troops will
soon be out “save 157 who will be guarding the embassy, and a few
hundred U.S. military trainers.”

In his interview with Ambassador Jeffrey, Ted Koppel  asked the
ambassador what happens if our folks there come under direct attack. 
The ambassador responded that this is the responsibility of the Iraqi
government.  When pushed if he was confident that the Iraqis would
respond, Ambassador Jeffrey said “yes.” Of course, can we really expect
our ambassador there to say “no” on teevee? I am having a really bad tummy ache over this.

I posted the opening of U.S. Consulate General in Basra in this blog last July. The clip below talks about ConGen Basra with 1320 people (apparently also known as Fort Apache), which is rocketed two or three times a week. Also piece here on Shalamcha, Iraq’s southern border crossing into Iran, a stone throw from Basra:

Here are the rest of the clips from NBC’s Rock Center:

No Exit: US military leaving Iraq but presence remains

No Exit: Iraq’s oil and Iran’s influence

No Exit: Ted Koppel’s reflect on Iraq’s future