Foggy Bottom’s Top ‘Champion of Diplomacy’ to Step Up, or Maybe Not

 

On Wednesday, the WH released the transcript (PDF) of President Trump’s July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Just Security has a helpful timeline here for those not caught up with the matter yet.
Foggy Bottom watchers were immediately drawn to the two presidents’ exchange referencing the then U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Louise Yovanovitch who served as Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv from August 18, 2016 – May 20, 2019.  (see @StateDept Recalls Amb. Marie Yovanovitch From Ukraine After Persistent Campaign For Removal).
We have seen folks calling publicly for Secretary Pompeo to stand up for one of his top career diplomats. Maybe he’ll surprise us but those waiting will probably be in for a disappointment.
The Trump-Zelensky call occurred in July 25, 2019 (although there apparently was an April 2019 call, too), about two months after Ambassador Yovanovitch was recalled from Ukraine.  The released July 25 transcript does not indicate the individuals in on the call, but the declassified whistleblower complaint identified at least one participant from the State Department, Secretary Pompeo’s Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl (see Pompeo Appoints West Point Pal, Ulrich Brechbuhl as @StateDept Counselor).  Somebody pointed out to us that the “counselor” title often causes outsiders to believe that this position handles legal matters. It does not. With few exceptions, most recently, Tom Shannon Jr. (2013–2016) and Kristie Ann Kenney (2016–2017), the “C” position is typically held by a political appointee who performs tasks assigned by the Secretary of State (i.e., a senior official without portfolio).

“Counselor of the Department, T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, is an Under Secretary-level principal officer who serves the Secretary as a special advisor and consultant on major problems of foreign policy and who provides guidance to the appropriate bureaus with respect to such matters. The Counselor conducts special international negotiations and consultations, and also undertakes special assignments from time to time, as directed by the Secretary.

The day after the phone call, July 26, Secretary Pompeo also met with the president at the White House.  The notion that the targeting of a veteran public servant by this president, his personal lawyer, and others is a surprise to the secretary of state, begs for some creative imagination. He had a chance to stand up for her before she was recalled, did he do that? The idea that he must have done so or she would have been fired doesn’t make sense. She is a career FSO with workplace protections. They could not just fire her on a whim. But what could a recalled career diplomat do with no onward assignment? The State Department could send her to a university, right?
Ambassador Yovanovitch is currently a Senior State Department Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy (ISD), in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown. She is a Career Minister (FE-CM) of the U.S. Foreign Service; that’s equivalent in rank to a Lieutenant General in the U.S. military.  She had three previous ambassadorial appointments: Ukraine (2016-2019) and Armenia (2008-2011) under the Obama Administration, and the Kyrgyz Republic (2005-2008) under the G. W. Bush Administration. She also previously worked as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, the #2 senior ranking official at the EUR bureau. Which is to say that she has extensive diplomatic experience overseas and in Foggy Bottom. And yet, for some reason, Secretary Pompeo, who talks way too much about swagger and professional ethos could not find a spot for Ambassador Yovanovitch in his org chart.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, we ‘d like to note once more that ambassadors like Ambassador Yovanovich, a career diplomat, do not go freelancing nor do they go rogue; they do not make their own policy concerning their host countries.  They typically get their marching orders from their home bureau, in this case, the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) at the State Department, under the oversight of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, who reports to the Secretary of State.  And they follow those orders.  Even on instances when they personally disagree with those orders or the administration’s policies, they follow orders. Career diplomats who do not follow their instructions do not have lengthy careers in the U.S. diplomatic service.
We, of course, have to acknowledged the presidential prerogative on the appointments of ambassadors. But. If her recall had really nothing to do with politics, if as the State Department puts it, the departure was “as planned” how come Foggy Bottom has not put her extensive experience and training to appropriate use?  How come she’s not in Foggy Bottom?  How come she had no senate-confirmed successor at the US Embassy in Kyiv, if this was “as planned”? There are a few officials at State who would know the whys and hows of her treatment based on their responsibilities in the bureaucracy.
The U.S. Senate confirmed Secretary Pompeo’s second bestie in Foggy Bottom in May 2019 (see Senate Confirms Brian Bulatao as Under Secretary of State For Management). Prior to Bulatao’s confirmation,  the Deputy Under Secretary for Management William Todd was running the bureau with oversight on personnel and assignments.
The Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources Carol Perez assumed her post as DGHR  on January 30, 2019. She directs the recruitment, assignments and professional development of State Department and Foreign Service personnel. Prior to her assumption of office, William Todd was also Acting DGHR.
At the geographic bureau, the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine is under the umbrella of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) . The most recent Senate-confirmed assistant secretary Wess Mitchell took office in October 2017 and left post on February 15, 2019 (see EUR’s Wess Mitchell Quits, New Acting EUR A/S Millard Reportedly to Retire 2/22).  Since March 18, 2019, Ambassador Philip T. Reeker, a career diplomat has been the Acting Assistant Secretary for the bureau.
Given what we know now, what happened at the IO bureau was not a glitch but a marker to alert us of a dreadful trend (IO case involved the departures of 50 of 300 domestic IO employees). There are now two very public instances where Secretary Pompeo appeared unable to protect his people from political retaliation. How good a “champion of diplomacy” are you if your umbrella can only keep the shit off your head but not your people? This is a necessary question to ask as we enter a most difficult period in our national life.

Via Politico:

While it’s still not clear what Pompeo did or did not do, the still-unfolding Ukraine scandal could dramatically affect his standing at Foggy Bottom and on Capitol Hill, not to mention his well-known political future political ambitions.
[…]
State Department staffers, meanwhile, are questioning how the secretary could have allowed the Ukraine-related dealings to go on under his nose, and whether he was complicit in derailing the career of a respected ambassador along the way.

“It’s impossible to believe that the secretary wasn’t aware of what was happening,” said one State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “If he was kept in the dark, that’s even more troubling.”
[…]
Aside from Pompeo, lawmakers and their aides are trying to establish what role certain U.S. envoys played in connecting Giuliani with Ukrainian officials, and whether Pompeo signed off.

Those diplomats include the special envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker and the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland. There also are questions about the actions of U.S. ambassadors in other European countries where Giuliani may have met with Ukrainian officials.
[…]
Of special interest: the role Pompeo and his aides played in recalling Marie Yovanovitch, the career diplomat who was serving as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

Related posts:

Amb. Marie L. Yovanovitch

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