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U.S. Consulate General #Basrah, Iraq: Six-Year Old Diplomatic Outpost Faces Closure

Posted: 2:12 pm PT

 

Next month, the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah, Iraq would mark its sixth anniversary as the United States diplomatic outpost in the country’s southern-most province near the border with Kuwait.

Located adjacent to the Basrah International Airport, ConGen Basrah serves the four provinces of Iraq’s southern region: Basrah, Muthanna, Dhi Qar, and Maysan.  The office consists of an executive office, headed by the Consul General, and sections covering economic and commercial affairs, political affairs, public diplomacy, and issues concerning rule of law, border enforcement (both coastal and land/sea), police development, regional security and regional affairs, management, and U.S. development programs managed by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It provides limited consular services to emergency American citizen issues but does not does provide visa services or non-emergency American citizen services, both of which are provided by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

We’ve recently learned that the State Department is now planning on closing the Consulate in Basrah.  One source told us that there is no timeline yet for the post closure. Our source estimates that with all the contract buy-outs, property, and local staffing issues to deal with, it could take half a year to shut things down. When we inquired if the memo circulated this past week was soliciting input or if this is a done deal, another source told us that this is pretty much a done deal as the security upgrade planned for this FY2017 had been cancelled. Not sure which construction/upgrade  project was cancelled but last year, a $4,885,950.00 contract for Basrah was awarded by State/OBO as one of its capital project in Iraq.

Whether this post is officially shuttered  this year or next year, we anticipate that this is only the first in the round of post closures that we understand for now includes over a dozen smaller posts spanning the globe.

U.S. Ambassador James F. Jeffrey officially opens the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah, Iraq, with Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey D. Feltman on July 5, 2011. Includes sound bites from Maj. Gen. Eddy Spurgin – commander, 36th Infantry Division/U.S. Division-South and Piper Campbell, the Consul General at Consulate Basra.

The State/OIG report on Inspection of Embassy Baghdad and Constituent Posts, Iraq in May 2013 notes the following:

The Government of Iraq would like to reclaim the 108-acre compound that houses the U.S. consulate general—a former British forward operating base 12 miles from Basrah on an Iraqi military compound adjacent to the international airport. The embassy is committed to maintain a presence in the south of Iraq, not least because it is the largest source of new oil to market in the world, and many U.S. companies are pursuing commercial opportunities there. The local government supports a U.S. presence, and the Government of Iraq committed in a 2004 bilateral agreement to provide a permanent site for consulate operations. To date, however, there has been no progress identifying a future site. The U.S. Government does not have a land use agreement for the current compound. The consulate general’s hold on the property remains tenuous.

At the time of the inspection, the Department was completing a $150 million interim construction project to provide basic security and infrastructure upgrades, but the facility and its isolated location are not suitable for a diplomatic mission on more than a temporary basis. Employees live in deteriorating containerized housing units; the compound has no central generator grid or access to city power; all supplies, including food, have to be trucked to the compound; and the security support needed to interact with contacts in Basrah City is costly. Operating costs to maintain the current, oversized facility and its hundreds of guards and life support staff are approximately $100 million per year. The Department has not given priority to or identified funding for a purpose-built facility.

Basrah’s ability to sustain operations is fragile under the best of circumstances because of its location at the end of a supply chain beset by shipping delays, security concerns, and the difficulty in recruiting and retaining U.S. direct-hire staff. As long as the consulate general occupies a sprawling compound that requires nearly 1,200 support staff, efforts to reduce costs and develop a long-term diplomatic presence commensurate with U.S. interests will remain on hold. If the Department cannot decide soon on Basrah’s future, it will at the very least have to fund interim upgrades to make facilities livable.
[…]
At BDSC and Consulate General Basrah, employees live in cramped containerized housing units. Currently, most employees occupy their own unit with a bathroom but no cooking facilities. No long-term plan exists to bring housing closer to Department standards. The need for better long-term housing, addressed in a recommendation earlier in this report, is acute.

The 2013 OIG report recommended that “Embassy Baghdad, in coordination with the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, should decide on the size and the nature of the diplomatic platform needed in Basrah.”

It appears that the Tillerson State Department has now decided that the United States does not need a diplomatic platform in Basrah.

Note that ConGen Basrah went from 81 direct-hire Americans and 1,102 contractors in January 2012 to 75 direct-hire Americans and 986 contractors in January 2013. In January 2014, the latest publicly available data via State/OIG, the direct-hire number was 46, while contractors were at 657.

According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, a proposal to open, close, or change the status of a post normally is made and recommended by the assistant secretary for the appropriate regional bureau.  […] The final decision to open, close, or change the status of a diplomatic mission is made by the President.  The final decision to open, close, or change the status of a consular post, consular agency, branch, or special office is made by the Under Secretary for Management.

Wait, the State Department is still missing its Under Secretary for Management.

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Ken Weisbrode’s The Atlanticists: An American Diplomacy Story as Cracks Appear in U.S.-Europe Alliance

Posted: 12:07 pm PT

 

Kenneth Weisbrode is a historian at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute, Fiesole, Italy. He was formerly a defense analyst at the Atlantic Council of the U.S. and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

His book, The Atlanticists is “the history of the American commitment to Europe in the twentieth century as seen through the eyes of the personalities who made it. Such commitment did not emerge serendipitously. It was carefully constructed and cemented by a network of diplomats and politicians that imagined, built, and sustained a new international system centered on the Atlantic. In their vision, America and Europe were essential parts of a single, cooperative community, not rivals or one another’s periodic savior. Mr. Weisbrode reveals–for the first time, warts and all–the insider’s story of the people who built this community.”

Given the current strain in the U.S.-European relationships, and the danger of the alliance coming apart, this is the book we’re currently reading. He writes:

Roosevelt was not the first president to serve as his own foreign minister but he took the practice to new lengths in sowing so much confusion, redundancy, rivalry and antipathy in the bureaucratic  ranks that the young foreign service was very nearly nipped in the bud. The New Dealers he promoted in Washington were willing coconspirators in the emasculation of what many of them considered to be a heavily Republican State Department. What they did not erode from negligence they wounded by frontal attack.

Oh. So what’s going on right now … ‘All this has happened before, and will happen again’, like the Cylons’ mantra. Time to re-watch Galactica!

But hey, did you know about that young diplomat who was recalled from an overseas post because the then secretary of state was reportedly infatuated with the diplomat’s wife?  That young diplomat was later given the task of remaking the State Department — not by the infatuated secretary of state — but by a successor named “sleepy Phil.” Pause here and imagine the nicknames they’re going to call you in the history books.

And get this, the first head of the EUR bureau was the son of a senator who apparently demanded it as a condition for supporting the legislation for the 1909 departmental reorganization.

This, this note though about the secretary of state: “treated as a clerk who receives orders which he has to obey at once and without question” is almost too funny to read now.

Or the then secretary of state after his resignation who wrote to his nephew John Foster Dulles, “The question asked is, ‘where is he to find a rubber stamp?'”  Those diplomats, they never unintentionally throw an insult; and they know enough to put it in writing for historians to find.

Ken Weisbrode’s other books include:

Below is an excerpt courtesy of Kindle Preview:

 

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Rex Tillerson’s Inner Circle Photo Album, Say Cheese Con Quezo!

Posted: 11:22 am PT

 

Since Secretary Tillerson arrived at the State Department, he has been surrounded by a small group of people who appears to manage his interactions inside and outside the building including his extremely limited availability to the media. We understand that as secretary of state, his time is limited and that his staff has to prioritize who/what he sees but the reports coming out of Foggy Bottom appears to have less to do with a new staff learning to prioritize and more to do with control and trust. More of the former, and less of the latter.  Even folks who were hopeful, even excited when the former Exxon CEO was appointed to Foggy Bottom, have since expressed dismay at how the newbie secretary of state is running the oldest executive agency in the country. If Secretary Tillerson is walled off from his workforce, and only gets his information through the filtered lens installed by his inner circle staffers, what kind of information do you think he’s going to get? Just the rosy ones (like everthing is A-OK) or they have pitchforks out for ya? Must be the reason why Secretary Tillerson delivered his remarks at State without even taking questions or why the 69th secretary of state has yet to do a townhall meeting with demoralized employees who are facing not only a reduction in workforce but also a 30% reduction in funding.

If folks don’t want Secretary Tillerson talking to anyone, why not just park him in a vault and issue admission tickets?

Below is a round-up of Secretary Tillerson’s inner circle. Let us know if we forgot anyone.

Margaret Peterlin

Tillerson’s Chief of Staff, previously served as a former deputy director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  The Chicago Maroon notes her appointment in February: “While at the University of Chicago, Peterlin was the first editor-in-chief of The Chicago Journal of International Law. Following her graduation, she clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit and later worked for House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX).  Following the September 11 attacks, Peterlin drafted pieces of national security legislation, such as the authorization for the use of force in Afghanistan, the U.S.A. Patriot Act, and legislation behind the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security.”

If you’ve noticed that Ms. Peterlin is seated next to Secretary Tillerson at almost every event, that’s by design.  Instructions were sent from the Executive Secretariat to the field that “Margaret [chief of staff] MUST come after S in protocol order and all seating must reflect this.” That one is not an April Fool’s joke.  There is a reason why the Ambassador/Charge come after S in protocol order, but hey it’s a new world, who needs reasons? There apparently was not even an attempt to explain why they needed to change protocol in order to allow her to sit next to the Secretary of State. Of course, this is more than just about a seating arrangement. After Tillerson’s party is gone, the Ambassador/Charge is still in country. This change does not reflect well on the ambassadors and the perception (right or wrong) on how they are valued by the Secretary of State. Besides, you gotta ask — why would host country officials bother with the embassy if they think an ambassador is not important enough to the secretary of state? Why not just pick up the phone and call Margaret?

Politico is now reporting that when Secretary Rice tried to reach Tillerson last month, “it was an aide to his chief of staff Margaret Peterlin who called back, asking what Rice wanted to discuss.” That means the gatekeeper has other layers of gatekeepers. And how many exactly?

Bloomberg called Peterlin “enigmatic” in its recent extensive profile. We should note that Peterlin’s official biography remains blank, and with few exceptions, she is often unidentified in photos released by the State Department.

See Bloomberg’s Tillerson’s enigmatic chief of staff, Margaret Peterlin, wields power, not the spotlight; WaPo’s Tillerson must bridge the gap between his workforce and the White House; Politico’s The former ExxonMobil chief is leaning heavily on two senior aides who, officials say, have cut him off from the rest of his 75,000-person staff; The Atlantic’s The State of Trump’s State Department.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, on March 19, 2017. [State Department photo/Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson chats with Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se at the Ministerial Working Luncheon of the Global Coalition Working to Defeat ISIS at the U.S. Department of State on March 22, 2017. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

 

Brian Hook

Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State and Director of Policy Planning, and apparently the guy whose “hair is always on fire,” according to an unnamed State Department official quoted by Politico. He held a number of senior positions in the Bush Administration, including Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations; Senior Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Special Assistant to the President for Policy in the White House Chief of Staff’s office; and Counsel, Office of Legal Policy, at the Justice Department. See his official bio here.  And now everyone inside the beltway is reading that he tasked an official with an economics portfolio to draft a memo summarizing the U.S. fight against the Islamic State. Well, now….

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a bilateral meeting in Beijing, China, on March 18, 2017. [State Department photo/ Public Domain] DS NOTE: Next to Tillerson is Chief of Staff Margaret Peterlin, Acting Assistant Secretary for EAP Susan Thornton, and  Brian Hook, Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State and Director of Policy Planning

Christine Ciccone

Deputy Chief of Staff. She was formerly the chief operating officer of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. She resigned late in 2015 when the Bush campaign underwent downsizing according to the Daily Wire.  Ciccone also worked in George W. Bush’s presidential administration as special assistant to the president and before then was a longtime Senate staffer. See Bush chief operating officer departs campaign.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, joined by U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, left, and Deputy Chief of Staff Christine Ciccone, prepare for a meeting with U.S./Alaska Permanent Participants to the Arctic Council in Fairbanks, Alaska, on May 10, 2017. [U.S. Air Force photo / Public Domain]

R.C. Hammond

Describes his job as “chief cat-herder.” On Twitter, he is @rchammond “Omitting needless words since 2003.  +  alum.” He was press secretary for Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign.

In April, Mr. Hammond famously compared the department’s organizational structure to the Titanic in an interview with NYT (See Tillerson in No Rush to Fill Nearly 200 State Department Posts). Recently, after demanding the names of her sources, this State Department’s Senior Adviser for Communications apparently told a CNN reporter that no one from the agency would speak to her again, and reportedly this: “WE don’t think you’re SMART ENOUGH to HANDLE our information!!!!!” Charming. Are these the folks with no sense of humor?

Also see Politico’s Yet another R.C. Hammond-press episode; Daily Beast’s Rex Tillerson vs. The Enemy of The People: Inside The Media War At The State Department;

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and members of the U.S. delegation listen to opening remarks by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov ahead of their bilateral meeting in Moscow, Russia, on April 12, 2017. Pictured right to left: U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft, interpreter Marina Gross, Secretary Tillerson, Chief of Staff Margaret Peterlin, and senior advisers Brian Hook and R.C. Hammond. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Matt Mowers (@mowers)

“Current . Alum of  &   campaigns. Working everyday to .” Not sure what his official title is (his name is not listed on the org directory) but Bloomberg reported in March that this former aide to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is Tillerson’s main conduit to the White House (see American Diplomats’ Comfort With Tillerson Gives Way to Unease;  also see Former Christie aide, witness at Bridgegate trial, rises at State Department and At Bridgegate trial, Trump aide describes how Christie’s office tracked endorsements.

Via Twitter

William “Bill” Inglee

Behind the Scenes Guy at the State Department; he is so behind the scenes that we have not been able to locate a public photo of him on the state.gov account, nor is he listed on the agency’s org directory.  A non-state.gov site lists him as the Special Assistant on Budget, Office of the Secretary [S], United States Department of State.  He is currently on leave from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) where he is a visiting fellow at the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies. He previously worked as Clerk and Staff Director, House Committee on Appropriations, 2011–13; and was Policy Adviser (national security and trade) to former Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, 1999–2000. Read the full biography here.

click on image to read the full bio

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