Obama Officially Nominates WHA’s Roberta Jacobson as Next Ambassador to Mexico

Posted: 1:41 am EDT
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The WH has now officially announced President Obama’s intent to nominate Roberta S. Jacobson as the next Ambassador to the United Mexican States. The WH released the following brief bio:

Roberta S. Jacobson, a career member of the Senior Executive Service, is the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the Department of State, a position she has held since 2012.  From 2010 to 2012, she was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs.  Previously, Ms. Jacobson served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Canada, Mexico, and NAFTA issues from 2007 to 2010 and as Director of the Office of Mexican Affairs from 2003 to 2007.  She was Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru from 2000 to 2002.  From 1989 to 2000, Ms. Jacobson held several roles in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, including Director of the Office of Policy Planning and Coordination from 1996 to 2000.  She began her career at the Department of State as a Presidential Management Intern.

Ms. Jacobson received a B.A. from Brown University and an M.A. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

If confirmed, Ms. Jacobson would succeed career diplomat Tony Wayne who was appointed Ambassador to Mexico by President Obama in 2011. President Obama had previously nominated Maria Echaveste for the Mexican post in the fall of 2014. She withdrew her nomination after waiting four months for her confirmation. Her supporters blamed it on a “failed, politicized nomination process” according to NBCNews.

The Mexico Mission is one of our largest posts. We hope Ms. Jacobson gets a speedy confirmation but the SFRC is a perplexing place these days. We want to add that we’ve watched Ms. Jacobson stay cool and collected under congressional grilling over the Administration’s Cuba policy. She is probably one of the State Department’s better congressional witnesses — straight-forward, not antagonistic or evasive, and was engaging. She did not get flustered even when senators were in their scolding best for the cameras. She obviously knows her stuff, and she looks them in the eye when she talks. We’d like to suggest that the State Department clone her for its congressional witnesses prep.

Hey, did you know that Andrew Jackson was the first nominee for ambassador to Mexico? According to history.state.gov, he was appointed on January 27, 1823 but he declined the appointment. It looks like the second appointee in 1824 did not proceed to post either.  Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851) was then appointed in 1825 and he did present his credentials three months after his appointment.   If confirmed, Ms. Jacobson would be the first female American ambassador appointed to Mexico. Ever.  Can we get a yay! for that?

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Elected Officials Applaud Land Purchase For State Dept Fort Picket Training Facility

Posted: 12:32 am EDT
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On May 28, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), issued a subpoena (pdf) to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to compel it to provide the Committee with all analyses, documents, and communications related to the State Department’s plan to construct a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Virginia (see Uh-oh Dept: Royce Issues Subpoena to OMB Over Diplomatic Security Training Facility Documents).

On June 1, five elected officials announced the land purchase for the FASTC facility at Fort Pickett.

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, along with U.S. Reps. Randy Forbes and Robert Hurt announced that land has been purchased and construction will begin on a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) at Fort Pickett in Nottoway County, Virginia.

Last week, the Director of the U.S. General Services Administration signed a Record of Decision (ROD), which identified Fort Pickett as the site to construct and operate the FASTC.  This decision was made following a month-long review period of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which considered potential environmental impacts of the site, as well as FASTC’s operations and training needs, and comments from the public.

The ROD and land purchase are major milestones in efforts to provide a facility dedicated to training foreign affairs personnel in security, lifesaving, and emergency techniques necessary for operating in today’s dangerous overseas environments. Building the FASTC at Fort Pickett will enable training collaboration and interagency partnerships between civilian, military, and intelligence agencies in the Washington D.C. area.

The Senate’s Virginia delegation is pleased; here is Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA):

“This is good news for the State Department and for Virginia,” said Sen. Warner.“The jobs and economic activity created by this project will be welcomed by this community, and the facility will have an important role in training those security officers who protect American diplomats around the world.”

“Today we are one step closer to breaking ground on a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center at Fort Pickett that will play a key role in keeping our diplomatic personnel safe around the world,” said Sen. Kaine. “Nearly three years after the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, a permanent facility to properly train our diplomatic personnel for service in an increasingly dangerous world is long overdue.”

House Armed Services subcommittee chairman Randy Forbes from Virginia’s 4th District says:

“Today marks another major step forward for a project that is not only important to Virginia, but also critical to the men and women who serve our country abroad,” said Rep. Forbes, Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee. “Attacks against American missions in Yemen, Afghanistan, and the tragedy in Benghazi, Libya in 2012 serve as powerful reminders of the evolving threats our Diplomatic Corps face on a daily basis.  The construction of this dedicated training facility is essential to ensure that every American supporting our mission overseas is able to successfully promote U.S. interests and return safely home.”

Representative Robert Hurt from Virginia’s 5th District says:

“This is another positive step in bringing this critical, long overdue project to Fort Pickett,” said Rep. Hurt. “We will continue to work together to ensure our American diplomatic personnel have the best security training possible, and I am pleased that once again, that we are one step closer to groundbreaking at Fort Pickett, which has been identified as the site that offers the best resources for this training and the best long-term value for the taxpayer.”

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe also praised the announcement:

“I am very pleased that the Record of Decision has been signed by the GSA. This is a big step in moving forward on construction of the U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Security Training Center,” said Gov. McAuliffe.  “The GSA and DOS have done their due diligence and have undertaken an extensive process in search for the best possible and most cost effective site for the FASTC. It is no surprise that Virginia emerged as the right home for this important project, which will be an enormous economic driver for the region and our Commonwealth, creating as many as 1,000 jobs.  My team and I were pleased to be a part of the effort that brought the FASTC to Virginia and we will continue to work with the congressional delegation, the various federal agencies and Nottoway County to bring this important project to fruition.”

The announcement notes that the Administration announced the selection of Fort Pickett after a multi-year exhaustive search as the best site to meet the State Department’s operational requirements and take advantage of synergies with the intelligence agencies and military facilities nearby in the Washington D.C. area. Also that Warner, Kaine, Forbes, and Hurt have long-supported the establishment of a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center at Fort Pickett.

We just hope this project does not get stuck in Congress indefinitely while elected representatives continue to squabble over its location.

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Matthew Palmer on MSNBC Talks About Diplomats and His New Book, Secrets of State

Posted: 12:08 am EDT
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FSO Michael Dodman: No use complaining about the “10,000-mile screwdriver”

Posted: 12:02 am EDT
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Michael Dodman, a Foreign Service officer since 1988, was consul general in Karachi from July 2012 to August 2014. He was the recipient of the 2014 Ryan C. Crocker Award for Outstanding Leadership in Expeditionary Diplomacy for his work there. He is currently director of the entry-level career development and assignments section of the Bureau of Human Resources.

Michael Dodman_karachi

Photo via USCG Karachi

Below is an excerpt from a piece he wrote for the Foreign Service Journal:

The most important thing I learned from my two years leading Consulate General Karachi is this: Successful diplomacy in a high-threat post depends on understanding Washington—and, for a constituent post, the embassy as well.

There is no use complaining about the “10,000-mile screwdriver.” Today’s technology guarantees that no overseas post will ever operate with the sense of autonomy and distance from the flagpole that we once did. The key to managing and succeeding is constantly taking the pulse of Washington, and anticipating information demands—both to avoid surprises and (hopefully) head off directives you disagree with.

I thought I had done a good job meeting the key Washington players during consultations before I went to post. But events in September 2012 and later, particularly the spring 2014 attack on Karachi Airport, made me realize I hadn’t even scratched the surface in terms of everyone who had a say in operations at my post.

Success in navigating the shifting waters of Washington, particularly from a constituent post, required:

  • Regular and open communication with the desk;
  • Understanding the State Department and interagency decision points, and the importance of EAC cables and other channels of communication;
  • Earning the trust of Washington decision-makers; and
  • Building and maintaining a close partnership with the embassy front office and country team, including spending a few days every month in the capital.

Read in full here.

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