NYT’s David Brooks Asks, “Are we in nursery school?” Acting State Dept Spox Marie Harf Reax. Tsk-tsk!

Posted: 11:41 am PDT
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So last week, SecState #56 and SecState #60, both Republican-appointed Secretaries of State wrote an op-ed about The Iran Deal and Its Consequences.

The Acting Spokesperson Marie Harf was asked about this during the April 8 Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION:  Henry Kissinger and George Shultz published a piece in the Wall Street Journal today that raised a lot of questions about the deal.  These are diplomatic statesman types.  Do you guys have any reaction to that?  Do you think they were fair?
MS HARF:  Well, the Secretary has spoken to a number of his predecessors that were former secretaries of state since we got this agreement – or since the parameters – excuse me – we got the parameters finalized.  And we’re having conversations with other senior officials.  We are happy to have that conversation about what this agreement is, what it isn’t, the work we still have to do, and how we are very confident that this achieves our objectives.  And that conversation will certainly continue.
[…]
QUESTION:  Okay.  So one of the things they say is that “absent a linkage between nuclear and political restraint, America’s traditional allies will conclude that the U.S. has traded temporary nuclear cooperation for acquiescence to Iranian hegemony” in the region.  Not true?
MS HARF:  I would obviously disagree with that.  I think that an Iran backed up by a nuclear weapon would be more able to project power in the region, and so that’s why we don’t want them to get a nuclear weapon.  That’s what this deal does.
QUESTION:  Back when —
MS HARF:  And I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives.  I heard a lot of sort of big words and big thoughts in that piece, and those are certainly – there’s a place for that, but I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives about what they would do differently.  I know the Secretary values the discussions he has with his predecessors regardless of sort of where they fall on the specifics.
QUESTION:  Well, I guess one of the criticisms is that there aren’t enough big words and big thought – or people argue that there are not enough big words and big thoughts in what the Administration is pursuing, its overall policy, particularly in the Middle East right now, which has been roiled with unrest and uncertainty.  And I think that’s what the point is they’re making.  That you reject, it, I understand that.  One of the —
MS HARF:  Well, in a region already roiled by so much uncertainty and unrest —

On that same day, conservative talk show radio host Hugh Hewitt had NYT’s David Brooks as guest and was asked about the Kissinger-Schultz op-ed, and the State Department’s official response to it. Click here for the transcript: Below is an audio of the exchange.

HH: David Brooks, this is the critique of the critics, is that we don’t have a lot of alternatives. In fact, every critic I’ve heard has alternatives, and I’m sure Kissinger and Schultz do. But a lot of big words? Really?
DB: Are we in nursery school? We’re not, no polysyllabic words? That’s about the lamest rebuttal of a piece by two senior and very well-respected foreign policy people as I’ve heard. Somebody’s got to come up with better talking points, whatever you think. And of course, there are alternatives. It’s not to allow them to get richer, but to force them to get a little poorer so they can fund fewer terrorism armies.

The Daily Caller caught that story and posted this:  Are We In Nursery School?’: David Brooks Slams Marie Harf Over Kissinger, Shultz Op-Ed Criticism.

Ouch!

But that’s not the end of the story.

William M. Todd, apparently a friend of the Harf family reposted the Daily Caller story on his Facebook page with a note that says: “Team Obama bans polysyllabic words !!”

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 11.17.57 AM

Here is the State Department’s Acting Spokesperson on Mr. Todd’s FB page.

Marie Harf Bill – I’m not sure how you could think this article accurately portrays me or how I view complicated foreign policy issues, given how long you’ve personally known me and my family. Does your hatred of this administration matter so much to you that it justifies posting a hurtful comment and a mean-spirited story about the daughter of someone you’ve known for years and used to call a friend? There’s a way to disagree with our policies without making it personal. Growing up in Ohio, that’s how I was taught to disagree with people. I hope your behavior isn’t an indication that’s changed.

She also posted a lengthy follow-up response here from the Daily Press Briefing.

William M. Todd responded on FB with the following:

I certainly can understand why your Team would disagree with Henry Kissinger and George Schultz on policy matters. However, what is amazing to me was your condescending and, almost childish criticism of what I considered to be a well-reasoned and thoughtful op-ed on the current Middle East crisis.

So, this is where we are people.

That’s potentially the next official spokesperson of the United States of America to the world.

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US Embassy Djibouti Welcomes 140 American Evacuees From Yemen, Thanks India and Djibouti For Help

Posted: 9:58 am PDT
Updated: April 14, 10:01 am PDT
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The US Embassy in Djibouti says that the crisis in Yemen has become a top priority for the embassy and that Ambassador Tom Kelly and his staff have worked very closely with their Djiboutian counterparts to provide support and assistance to the American evacuees from Yemen .

 

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More photos available here.  There was a time not too long ago when the consular section at Embassy Djibouti consisted on one entry level FSO and three local staff. We are presuming that in anticipation of the arrival of evacuees from Yemen that the CA bureau had sent additional temporary assistance to Djibouti but we have yet to confirm that.

Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Yemen announced today that another Indian naval ship, the Sumitra, is currently in Hodeidah and will be departing for Djibouti either tonight or tomorrow. As was the case two days ago, the embassy has no information on who to contact to board this ship.  The State Department Yemen Crisis page is here.

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Update 4/14/15

 

State/OIG to Review Use of Special Government Employees (SGE), Conflicts of Interest Safeguards

Posted: 2:20 am EDT
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Back in 2013, we blogged about the State Department Special Government Employees:  Who Are the State Dept’s 100 “Special Government Employees”? Dunno But Is Non-Disclosure For Public Good? and this: State Dept refused to name its SGEs because of reasons #1, #2, #3, #4 and … oh right, the Privacy Act of 1974:

At that time, there was a message from Mission Command:

“Good morning, Mr. Hunt (or whoever is available). Your mission, should you choose to accept it, involves the retrieval of all Special Government Employee (SGE) names. There are more than a hundred names but no one knows how many more.  They are padlocked in the Privacy Act of 1974 vault, guarded by a monstrous fire-breathing creature from Asia Minor. PA1974 vault location is currently in Foggy Bottom.  As always, should you or any member of your team be caught or killed, everybody with a badge will disavow all knowledge of your actions. This message will self-destruct in five seconds.  If not, well, find a match and burn.”

Teh-heh!

In January 2014, without Mr. Hunt, the State Department finally released its SGE list as reported by ProPublica here . ProPublica  concluded then that “the list suggests that the status is mostly used for its intended purpose: to allow outside experts to consult or work for the government on a temporary basis.” Which makes one wonder why it wasn’t readily released in the first place.

The recent Clinton email debacle, revived interest on Secretary Clinton’s use of the SGE program that allowed some political allies to work for the government while pursuing private-sector careers. In March, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who heads the Judiciary Committee was on it.

Via WaPo:

“The public’s business ought to be public with few exceptions,” Grassley said in a statement Saturday. “When employees are allowed to serve the government and the private sector at the same time and use private email, the employees have access to everything and the public, nothing.”

Senator Grassley’s request to the State Department, apparently not yet answered, is available here.

Last week, Senator Grassley received confirmation that the State Department Office of Inspector General will review the department’s use of the Special Government Employee program. Below is part of Senator Grassley’s statement:

“This program is meant to be used in a limited way to give the government special expertise it can’t get otherwise,” Grassley said.  “Is the program working the way it’s intended at the State Department or has it been turned on its head and used in ways completely unrelated to its purpose?   An independent analysis will help to answer the question.  An inspector general review is necessary. Available information suggests that in at least one case, the State Department gave the special status for employee convenience, not public benefit.”

In response to Grassley’s request, State Department Inspector General Steve Linick confirmed his office “intends to examine the Department’s SGE program to determine if it conforms to applicable legal and policy requirements, including whether or not the program, as implemented, includes safeguards against conflicts of interest.”

Grassley is concerned about potential conflicts of interest arising from a top State Department employee, Huma Abedin, who worked for both the government as a Special Government Employee and an outside firm, Teneo, at the same time.

More about Ms Abedin’s consulting work here.  Senator Grassley’s request to IG Linick is available here.  IG Linick’s response to Senator Grassley is available here.

You get the feeling that State/OIG is the most wanted office in WashDC these days?

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American Diplomacy at Risk: Increased Politicization of the State Department — That Ain’t Funny Any-Moooo!

Posted: 2:12 am EDT
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The American Academy of Diplomacy (www.academyofdiplomacy.org) recently released its report called “American Diplomacy at Risk,” that highlights serious problems and call for important changes in the way the State Department manages American diplomacy. The report notes that there are too many short-term political appointees too deep in the system. For example, eight of the 10 most senior foreign policy officials at State are non-career. The use of Special Representatives, Envoys, and Advisors has also skyrocketed; there are now 57 of these single-issue “tsars” that directly reports to the Secretary (also see  While You Were Sleeping, the State Dept’s Specials in This “Bureau” Proliferated Like Mushroom).

There is an increasingly politicized appointment and policy process in the State Department, resulting in a steady decrease in the use of diplomacy professionals with current field experience and long-term perspective in making and implementing policy. This is reversing a century-long effort to create a merit-based system that valued high professionalism. It is both ironic and tragic that the US is now moving away from the principles of a career professional Foreign Service based on “admission through impartial and rigorous examination” (as stated in the Act), promotion on merit, and advice to the political level based on extensive experience, much of it overseas, as well as impartial judgment at a time when we need it most.
[…]
The president and the Secretary of State should systematically include career diplomats in the most senior of State’s leadership positions because they provide a perspective gained through years of experience and diplomatic practice, thus assuring the best available advice and support.

We make a number of specific recommendations in the full report to recognize the importance and value of the contributions made by Foreign Service professionals. Details and rationales are in the report. Of these, the most important include:

• Ensuring that a senior FSO occupies one of the two deputy secretary positions, the undersecretary for political affairs and the director of the Foreign Service Institute (FSI);

• Changing the Deputy Secretary’s committee inside State that recommends ambassadorial nominations to the Secretary (the “D” committee) to include a majority of active duty or recently retired FSOs;

• Obeying the law (the Act) on ambassadorial nominations as “normally from the career Foreign Service” and “without regard to political campaign contributions,” thereby limiting the number of non-career appointees to no more than 10 percent;

• Restoring the stature of the Director General (DG) of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources (HR), by appointing highly respected senior officers to these positions, reflecting the intent of the law and their importance in managing the personnel system of the Foreign and Civil Service;

• Limiting the number of non-career staff in bureau front offices and limiting the size of special envoy staffs while blending them into normal bureau operations, unless special circumstances dictate otherwise.

SPOT AN FSO

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, flanked by their respective advisers, sit together on April 9, 2015, in Panama City, Panama, during a bilateral meeting - the first between officials at their level since 1958 - on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas. [State Department photo/ Public Domain

CUBA: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, flanked by their respective advisers, sit together on April 9, 2015, in Panama City, Panama, during a bilateral meeting – the first between officials at their level since 1958 – on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas. [State Department photo/ Public Domain

16393128143_d7efaf5a49_z

IRAN:  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and senior advisers watch President Barack Obama hold a news conference from the Rose Garden at the White House backstage at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne before he addressed reporters in Switzerland on April 2, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

The AAD report looks in two directions. “One is at the politicization of the policy and appointment process and management’s effort to nullify the law—the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (“the Act”)— both of which reduce the role of a professional Foreign Service. We strongly believe this weakens the nation and the State Department and must be reversed and resisted.  A second focus is on key improvements for both the Civil and Foreign Service to strengthen professional education and the formation and quality of these careers.”

The report also makes two central recommendations:

1. The Secretary and the State Department should continue to press the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Congress for resources—positions, people and the funds needed to support them—to restore to American diplomacy the ability to play its critical role in the country’s national security.

2. The Department must define the respective and distinctive roles of the Foreign Service and Civil Services to clarify their complementary functions, in accordance with legislative language.

The rest of the recommendations are summarized under five headings: reversing the politicization of the policy process; ending efforts to nullify the Foreign Service Act of 1980; improving personnel development and education; meeting the challenges of the Civil Service; and optimizing workforce development.

Click here to view the abridged report.

Click here to view the full report.

For a consolidated list of recommendations, click here.

A side note, there wasn’t a lot of coverage when this report was publicly released on April 1, 2015.  WaPo’s Joe Davidson did write about it in Foreign Service officers fear State Dept. wants to define them away. The comments section over in WaPo will give you an idea about the perception of the American public, and will, undoubtedly make FS members frustrated or even upset. But no matter how mad you may get, if you must respond online, we caution for a tempered response like one made by retired FSO James Schumaker. And do please stay away from “Did you pass the FSO exam?,” as a response; that will not win friends nor influence people.

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