D/Secretary Sullivan Touts 500 Additional Comments Submitted to Redesign Portal

Posted: 3:40 am ET
Updated: 3:12 pm PT
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Deputy Secretary John Sullivan held a town hall for State Department employees on August 8, 2017 (see Three Reasons For Sullivan’s Town Hall, Plus Feedback, and Some Re-Design Concerns;  Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s Town Hall With @StateDept Employees Now in Gifs), and  Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable.  He recently updated employees with several questions he promised to answer during the town hall.

In a brief message to employees, D/S Sullivan said that “the redesign process is moving ahead on schedule” and that they appreciate the employees participation.  Apparently, before the town hall, the State Department received approximately 300 suggestions/ comments submitted to the online portal dedicated for the redesign. Mr. Sullivan told employees that in the week after the town hall, they had received more than 500 additional submissions to the portal. “Each of those contributions has been reviewed and considered by the teams working on the redesign effort.” He urge employees to “remain engaged” as “we work together to improve this wonderful institution to which you and so many others have given so much over our nation’s history.”

On the Department’s Pathways Programs

D/S Sullivan announced that on August 17, Secretary Tillerson approved conversions to one-year term, part-time Civil Service appointments for Pathways interns who have successfully completed the program, who are within their 120-day conversion period, and have been recommended for conversion by their hiring bureaus.

On LGBT employees/assignments

D/S Sullivan told employees that the Department is “dedicated to ensuring equal treatment for all employees.” He informed employees that the State Department “pro-actively maintain a matrix to assist LGBT colleagues planning assignments overseas.” He also told employees that as of 2017, 97 governments have granted accreditation. “This is 58 percent of reported countries, which is a substantial increase since we started monitoring accreditation in 2011. We have also made significant progress in moving countries off the “No” list into another category that may be short of accreditation but provides employees with additional options.”  

On the Travel Approval Process

He informed employees that “there has been no change to the process for routine international travel and a clarification has already been sent to bureau front offices.” We’ve previously learned that the guidance was issued Monday evening, August 7, that ALL overseas travel “to participate in events” must be approved via action memo to the Secretary himself. It also requested a detailed budget breakdown of the trip and information on other participants. The same guidance was rescinded by Tuesday evening, August 8.

Mandatory Retirement Age to 66

D/S Sullivan notes that the mandatory retirement age is a component of the Foreign Service’s up-or-out system, which was modeled after a similar system in the military. “It is also a recognition of the rigors and stresses of a Foreign Service career, largely spent overseas in often difficult and dangerous places.” He notes further that any change to the mandatory retirement age would require a change to the Foreign Service Act of 1980.  His response also cites the exception to the mandatory retirement at age 65  – if the Secretary of State “determines it to be in the public interest to retain someone for a period not to exceed 5 years beyond the mandatory retirement age.” 

That’s in the books, but we’ve never heard of the secretary of state invoke that exception. In one case we are aware of where an FSO was subject to mandatory retirement and asked how he/she can request that exception, HR reportedly told him/her not to bother.

A reader feedback notes that there were mandatory retirement exceptions granted to some FS specialists, specific to Financial Management Officers.  We were informed that extensions for FMOs seem to happen with regularity although “not everyone asks, and some that ask are politely told ‘don’t bother’.”  Those who were granted limited extensions were given 1-2 years and appears to be “high performers who for one reason or another were FS-1s who did not make SFS and were vital members of the regional bureau budget team.”  

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Photo of the Day: Tillerson Meets with Bureau of Administration Folks

Posted: 2:43 am ET
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The Bureau of Administration provides support programs to the Department of State and U.S. embassies and consulates. These programs include: procurement; supply and transportation; diplomatic pouch and mail services; official records, publishing, and library services; language services; setting allowance rates for U.S. Government personnel assigned abroad and providing support for Department assisted overseas schools; domestic real property and facilities management; domestic emergency management; support for White House travel abroad; and logistical support for special conferences.

On August 16, the State Department released a photo of Secretary Tillerson with S/P Brian Hook meeting with unidentified representatives of the Bureau of Administration, an office located under the umbrella of the Under Secretary for Management. A nominee for “M” has been announced but has not been confirmed. No nominee has been announced for the Bureau of Administration.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with representatives of the Bureau of Administration, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on August 16, 2017. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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U.S. Mission Russia to Suspend Nonimmigrant Visa Operations Starting August 23

Posted: 2:06 am ET
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On August 21, U.S. Mission Russia announced that it is suspending nonimmigrant visa operations across Russia effective Wednesday, August 23.

As a result of the Russian government’s personnel cap imposed on the U.S. Mission, all nonimmigrant visa (NIV) operations across Russia will be suspended beginning August 23, 2017.  Visa operations will resume on a greatly reduced scale.  Beginning September 1, nonimmigrant visa interviews will be conducted only at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.  NIV interviews at the U.S. Consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok are suspended until further notice.  As of 0900 Moscow time Monday, August 21, the U.S. Mission will begin canceling current nonimmigrant visa appointments countrywide.  The NIV applicants who have their interviews canceled should call the number below to reschedule their interview at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for a later date.  NIV applicants originally scheduled for an interview at the U.S. consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok should call the number below if they wish to reschedule their interviews at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

The staffing changes will also affect the scheduling of some immigrant visa applicants.  Affected applicants will be contacted if there is a change as to the time and date of their interview.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow and three consulates will continue to provide emergency and routine services to American citizens, although hours may change.  (For American Citizen Services hours, please check the U.S. Mission to Russia website at https://ru.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/acs-hours.)

US Mission Russia released a Fact Sheet also noting that the cancellation of visa interviews prior to September 1 is due to “planning for departures and staff reductions” that has already begun “in order to meet the Russian government’s September 1 deadline for the reduction of personnel.” It further notes that operation at reduced capacity will continue as long as its mission staffing levels are reduced.

As of August 21, the appointment visa wait times for U.S. Mission Russia for visitor visas are as follows: Moscow (85 calendar days), St. Pete (44 days), Vladivostok (2 days) and Yekaterinburg (59 days). When visa interviews resume at the US Embassy in Moscow on September 1, all visa interviews at the three constituents posts will remain suspended.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (via TASS) said that “the US authors of these decisions have plotted another attempt at stirring up resentment among Russian citizens regarding decisions by the Russian authorities.”

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Wars are not won by military genius or decisive battles

by Cathal J Nolan
(This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons).

War is the most complex, physically and morally demanding enterprise we undertake. No great art or music, no cathedral or temple or mosque, no intercontinental transport net or particle collider or space programme, no research for a cure for a mass-killing disease receives a fraction of the resources and effort we devote to making war. Or to recovery from war and preparations for future wars invested over years, even decades, of tentative peace. War is thus far more than a strung-together tale of key battles. Yet, traditional military history presented battles as fulcrum moments where empires rose or fell in a day, and most people still think that wars are won that way, in an hour or an afternoon of blood and bone. Or perhaps two or three. We must understand the deeper game, not look only to the scoring. That is hard to do because battles are so seductive.

War evokes our fascination with spectacle, and there is no greater stage or more dramatic players than on a battlefield. We are drawn to battles by a lust of the eye, thrilled by a blast from a brass horn as Roman legionaries advance in glinting armour or when a king’s wave releases mounted knights in a heavy cavalry charge. Grand battles are open theatre with a cast of many tens of thousands: samurai under signal kites, mahouts mounted on elephants, a Zulu impi rushing over lush grass toward a redcoat firing line. Battles open with armies dressed in red, blue or white, flags fluttering, fife and drums beating the advance. Or with the billowing canvas of a line of fighting sail, white pufferies erupting in broadside volleys. Or a wedge of tanks hard-charging over the Russian steppe. What comes next is harder to comprehend.

Regimental Combat Team 6, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment DOD Photo Taken By Cpl James Clark | 01.20.2012 (Diplopundit selected this photo for the article)

The idea of the ‘decisive battle’ as the hinge of war, and wars as the gates of history, speaks to our naive desire to view modern war in heroic terms. Popular histories are written still in a drums-and-trumpets style, with vivid depictions of combat divorced from harder logistics, daily suffering, and a critical look at the societies and cultures that produced mass armies and sent them off to fight in faraway fields for causes about which the average soldier knew nothing.

Visual media especially play on what the public wants to see: raw courage and red days, the thrill of vicarious violence and spectacle. This is the world of war as callow entertainment, of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009) or Brad Pitt in Fury (2014). It’s not the world of real Nazis or real war.

Battles also entice generals and statesmen with the idea that a hard red day can be decisive, and allow us to avoid attrition, which we all despise as morally vulgar and without redemptive heroism. We fear to find only indecision and tragedy without uplift or morality in trench mud, or roll calls of dead accumulating over years of effort and endurance. Instead, we raise battles to summits of heroism and generals to levels of genius that history cannot support. Though some historians might try, celebrating even failed campaigns as glorious. Prussia is wrecked, yet Frederick is the greatest of Germans. France is beaten and an age is named for Louis XIV, another for Napoleon. Europe lies in ruin, but German generals displayed genius with Panzers.

Whether or not we agree that some wars were necessary and just, we should look straight at the grim reality that victory was most often achieved in the biggest and most important wars by attrition and mass slaughter – not by soldierly heroics or the genius of command. Winning at war is harder than that. Cannae, Tours, Leuthen, Austerlitz, Tannenberg, Kharkov – all recall sharp images in a word. Yet winning such lopsided battles did not ensure victory in war. Hannibal won at Cannae, Napoleon at Austerlitz, Hitler at Sedan and Kiev. All lost in the end, catastrophically.

There is heroism in battle but there are no geniuses in war. War is too complex for genius to control. To say otherwise is no more than armchair idolatry, divorced from real explanation of victory and defeat, both of which come from long-term preparation for war and waging war with deep national resources, bureaucracy and endurance. Only then can courage and sound generalship meet with chance in battle and prevail, joining weight of materiel to strength of will to endure terrible losses yet win long wars. Claims to genius distance our understanding from war’s immense complexity and contingency, which are its greater truths.

Modern wars are won by grinding, not by genius. Strategic depth and resolve is always more important than any commander. We saw such depth and resilience in Tsarist Russia in 1812, in France and Britain in the First World War, in the Soviet Union and the United States during the Second World War, but not in Carthage or overstretched Nazi Germany or overreaching Imperial Japan. The ability to absorb initial defeats and fight on surpassed any decision made or battle fought by Hannibal or Scipio, Lee or Grant, Manstein or Montgomery. Yes, even Napoleon was elevated as the model of battle genius by Clausewitz and in military theory ever since, despite his losing by attrition in Spain, and in the calamity of the Grand Armée’s 1812 campaign in Russia. Waterloo was not the moment of his decisive defeat, which came a year earlier. It was his anticlimax.

Losers of most major wars in modern history lost because they overestimated operational dexterity and failed to overcome the enemy’s strategic depth and capacity for endurance. Winners absorbed defeat after defeat yet kept fighting, overcoming initial surprise, terrible setbacks and the dash and daring of command ‘genius’. Celebration of genius generals encourages the delusion that modern wars will be short and won quickly, when they are most often long wars of attrition. Most people believe attrition is immoral. Yet it’s how most major wars are won, aggressors defeated, the world remade time and again. We might better accept attrition at the start, explain that to those we send to fight, and only choose to fight the wars worth that awful price. Instead, we grow restless with attrition and complain that it’s tragic and wasteful, even though it was how the Union Army defeated slavery in America, and Allied and Soviet armies defeated Nazism.

With humility and full moral awareness of its terrible costs, if we decide that a war is worth fighting, we should praise attrition more and battle less. There is as much room for courage and character in a war of attrition as in a battle. There was character aplenty and courage on all sides at Verdun and Iwo Jima, in the Hürtgen Forest, in Korea. Character counts in combat. Sacrifice by soldiers at Shiloh or the Marne or Kharkov or Juno Beach or the Ia Drang or Korengal Valley were not mean, small or morally useless acts. Victory or defeat by attrition, by high explosive and machine gun over time, does not annihilate all moral and human meaning.

The Allure of Battle: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost by Cathal Nolan is out now through Oxford University Press.Aeon counter – do not remove

Cathal J Nolan  teaches military history at Boston University. He is the author of The Allure of Battle: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost(2017).

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

 

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