Acting A/S Beth Jones Yanks Out “Disaster” DCM from NEA Post — Brava!

Back in January, we posted a brief item about Ambassador Beth Jones, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State of Near Eastern Affairs. (see QotW:  Will Beth Jones Be Formally Nominated as Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs?)

Recently, Laura Rozen of the Back Channel posted more on the rumored potential successor to Jeffrey Feltman at the NEA Bureau. Excerpt:

Acting Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs Beth Jones will not stay in the job in Obama’s second term, the Back Channel has previously reported. Among the rumored candidates in the mix to possibly succeed her, US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, Syria envoy Ford, and US Ambassador to Jordan Stuart Jones, who previously served as deputy US Ambassador in Iraq and DAS for Europe, diplomatic sources said. Other possibilities mentioned include US envoy to Iraq Robert Stephen Beecroft, US envoy to Turkey Francis Ricciardone, and NSS Senior Director for the Persian Gulf Puneet Talwar. The administration is, however, unlikely to pick an outsider/non career diplomat for the sensitive NEA post, especially in the wake of Benghazi, diplomatic sources said Friday, and suggested Patterson or Ford, both with past ambassadorships in the Arab world, would have an edge.

Read in full here.

While Ambassador Jones is not in the running for the top job at the NEA Bureau, we think she deserves credit for yanking out a deputy chief of mission described as “a disaster” from one of her NEA posts. Instead of letting things fester, as is often the case in the bureaucracy, this one was sent out packing to land back in WashDC.

The traditional arrangement for running an embassy assigns internal management of the mission to the deputy chief of mission. And while we recognize the many challenges in doing that, we are also convinced that not everyone who is a DCM is cut out to be one.  When the bureau let it stew too long particularly in a  sort of pressure cooker place, the mission gets, well, overly chewy and unpleasant.

So let’s hope that whoever takes over Ambassador Jones’ job at the NEA Bureau will show a similar propensity for tackling difficult managers in our overseas missions.  And while Secretary Kerry is reportedly relying on senior managers to take care of the big house while he is starting to beef up his miles, he ought to do something about the State Department’s  Recycling Division for bad managers.  We’re getting awfully tired seeing recyclees pop up here, there and the most unexpected places.

Dear Secretary Kerry, can you please send these recyclees to a leadership bootcamp, and no we don’t mean to the NFATC/ Foreign Service Institute where they cure them with Myers-Briggs.

A side note —

We recently posted about the “abysmal morale” at the US Embassy in Cairo, another NEA post (see US Embassy Bangui: 15% Danger Post With Terrifically Bad Trimmings, It’s Not Alone –Wassup Cairo?).  While writing this post, we received a note that a high-level visitor from DC will soon be in Cairo to discuss post morale.  We hope that trip is fruitful. We’d volunteer to be baggage handler so we can live-tweet the trip and the expected town hall with mission staff but folks might get shy ….

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US Embassy Cairo Tweets Link to a Jon Stewart Show, Laughter Optional, Obviously

On April 1st, and not an April Fools’ prank, concern about freedom of expression in Egypt made it to the State Department’s Daily Press Briefing with Toria Nuland. Below is the quick exchange:

QUESTION: The TV satirist Bassem Youssef was (inaudible) for insulting Islam and President Morsy and for that reason he was questioned or interrogated for over five hours. Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. NULAND: Thank you for that. We are concerned that the public prosecutor appears to have questioned and then released on bail Bassam Youssef on charges of insulting Islam and President Morsy. This coupled with recent arrest warrants issued for other political activists is evidence of a disturbing trend of growing restrictions on the freedom of expression.

As I said last Thursday, we’re also concerned that the Government of Egypt seems to be investigating these cases while it has been slow or inadequate in investigating attacks on demonstrators outside of the presidential palace in December 2012, other cases of extreme police brutality, and illegally blocked entry of journalists to media cities. So there does not seem to be an evenhanded application of justice here.

On April 1st, The Daily Show aired an 11:06 episode on Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, and Bassem Youssef. If you missed it, see the clip below.  We laughed so hard we needed a roll of  duct tape to keep our spleen from bursting!

Then @USEmbassyCairo got itself in the eye of a Twitterstorm.  Again.  Wait, how did that happened? Wanna bet that the handler of @USEmbassyCairo was paying too close an attention to the Department’s spokesperson the day before and found a creative way to impress that official message to the Morse Morsi Government?  It may have crossed his/her mind that this could start a Twitter war of sorts but hey, no pain, no gain. Besides, haven’t we heard often enough that the State Department is willing to “to make mistakes of commission rather than omission?”   So on April 2, @USEmbassyCairo tweeted this:

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Apparently,  over at the presidential palace in Cairo, people had a hyper sensitive reaction to comedians making fun of hats and people.  So the Egyptian Presidency lobbed  the following tweet:

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The Twitterverse sat up and waited for a fight. But – it did not get any, because, @USEmbassyCairo disappeared without leaving a forwarding address:

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Then the Twitterverse got all crazy.  Fortunately, the embassy  did not become a worldwide trend over there (what a thing to put in your EER), but just take a look at a sampling of tweets here. Talks about lobotomy, long leash, MB pressure, caving in, being chicken, and more, not anything terribly good.

The Cable’s John Rogin reported that the decision to take down the Twitter page did not come from Foggy Bottom.   He did not include in his report if he saw clean hands there:

 A State Department official told The Cable Wednesday that the decision to take down Embassy Cairo’s Twitter page was made by U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson without the consultation of the State Department in Washington. Foggy Bottom is urging Embassy Cairo to put the page back up, lest it appear that the United States is caving to the online pressure.

“This not a permanent shutdown. Embassy Cairo considers this to be temporary. They want to put new procedures in place,” the official said.

What’s that? Every time there’s a Twitter conniption, they want to put new procedures in place?

We do not doubt that the decision to pull the page down comes from the Front Office. Can you imagine if Foggy Bottom micromanage all embassy Twitter accounts worldwide? The instruction to go forth and tweet came down from the mother ship, true, it does not mean that all outposts necessarily know what they’re doing.  We suspect that taking down the Twitter page was a knee jerk reaction from US Embassy Cairo’s Front Office.  If it’s not online, it must now be gone.  Playing with 21st century tools with guidance from a 20th century manual makes for a lot of burned hands.

The next time some social media guru preach something silly like, the State Department is willing to “to make mistakes of commission rather than omission”  — make sure you send him or her to Cairo, Yemen and the likes,  make him/her practice the “craft” that he/she preaches and see how that works in real life.

Tarek Radwan, the associate director for research at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center posted an apt comment about this incident over in Tahrirsquared.com and even proffered a radical suggestion:

Ambassador Patterson’s decision to pull the plug reflects an uncoordinated and ill-planned approach to the relatively minor diplomatic fallout. If anything, the backlash from the Morsi government and the Muslim Brotherhood adds credibility to the position against legal harassment of political activists (and comedians). Deleting tweets and closing accounts not only shows ignorance of the dynamics of social media (and the capacity to “Storify” or take screenshots) but also implies that critics can strong-arm the U.S. online presence if it takes an unpopular stance. The ambassador, the face of U.S. diplomacy in Egypt, already suffers from the stigma of stronger relations with the Muslim Brotherhood that taints her relations with opposition or nonprofit organizations that more closely share U.S. values. Try not to make it worse.

Well, try it, try it, if you can.

As of this writing, @USEmbassy Cairo is back online with over 48,000 followers restored but scrubbed of tweets made after March 26.  @EgyPresidency has also scrubbed its “political propaganda” tweet and has now released a statement on Facebook  “on the questioning of the stand-up comedian” and says in part:

The Presidency reaffirms that Egypt after the revolution has become a state of law with independent Judiciary. Hence, the Prosecution’s summoning of any Egyptian citizen regardless of his title or fame is the decision of the Prosecutor General, who operates independently from the presidency.

That one was greeted with hooting over in Facebook .

Instead of taking down the page, perhaps @USEmbassyCairo could have pointed  out that in 1798 when America was a very young country, the laws of the land empowered the executive branch to limit free speech?  Not as encouragement for repression, of course, but to show that we’ve come a long way since those obnoxious laws from our past.  In those days calling our President a “repulsive pedant, a gross hypocrite and an unprincipled oppressor” could get somebody indicted, fined $200 and sentenced to nine months in jail.  Imagine if that were still true today. We could cover our deficit and we’ll have a thriving jail industry.

We are seriously tempted to suggest that the @USEmbassyCairo and @EgyPresidency get themselves a red phone line at a ready for incidents like this. If they both stay on Twitter, there will be many more skirmishes like this. Unless @USEmbassyCairo gets a lobotomy as suggested online, which we do not/not recommend.

But what probably is going to keep us awake  all night is the fate of Patricia Kabra, the Counselor for Press and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.  We’ve seen US Embassy Cairo’s  willingness to throw its previous PA advisor under the bus once before (the regularly assigned  PAO was sidelined on the job).  If she get sent packing, we’ll see a trend in the most perilous PA assignment in the State Department.


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