Ambassador Daniel B. Smith to be Acting Secretary of State Pending Tony Blinken’s Confirmation

–Update below on State/M

The 70th Secretary of State left Foggy Bottom for good before the presidential swearing-in of January 20. Finally. A short clip here from CNN correspondent Kylie Atwood shows the now former secretary of state leaving through the empty halls of HST, apparently  “to a small round of applause from political appointees.” Whatever. We could see Foggy Bottom’s smoke of relief from our house.
We should note that Rex Tillerson got a polite goodbye when he left in 2018 (see Foggy Bottom Bids Goodbye to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson).
Soon after the now former secretary’s exit, the ‘ethos for some but not for others’ wall decors also came tumbling down.  The new State Department spokesperson Ned Price told the AP’s Matt Lee, “We are confident that our colleagues do not need a reminder of the values we share.
Excuse me, who inherited the swagger swags?
Also on January 20, President Biden announced the acting agency leadership across the Biden-Harris administration pending confirmation of permanent leadership by the U.S. Senate. For the State Department, the Acting Secretary of State is Ambassador Daniel Smith, one of the few senior career officials at the agency with the personal rank of Career Ambassador. Until his appointment to the acting position, he was the Director of the Foreign Service Institute. Prior to that, he was Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research from 2013 to 2018 and was Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic from 2010 to 2013.
Traditionally, the highest ranking career official, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P) is appointed as Acting Secretary of State pending confirmation of the new secretary of state.  This would have been David Hale, a career FSO (also with personal rank of Career Ambassador) who has been on that job since September 2018. That’s not the case this time. It is, of course, the administration’s prerogative who to appoint in an acting capacity.
We’ve seen one reporting that attributes the Hale skip over to the statements he made in December following the reported COVID-19 diagnosis of Pompeo’s wife. At that time, the State Department also “slammed the leak of Susan Pompeo’s diagnosis” according to Fox News. The person who spoke for the State Department and blamed his colleagues for “the persistent culture of leaks” was not the spokesperson.  Should be interesting to read the oral history related to this at some point.
Given that all but two of the under secretary and assistant secretary positions in the State Department were filled with political appointees, January 20 also came with the departure of the top functional and bureau officials in Foggy Bottom. The only two positions encumbered by Senate-confirmed career officials were U/Secretary for Political Affairs (David Hale) and the Director General of the Foreign Service (Carol Perez). As best we could tell, Hale is still U/Secretary for Political Affairs. DGHR, however, is now encumbered by Ambassador Kenneth Merten as the bureau’s senior official according to state.gov.  Update 1/21 11:32 am: Carol Perez is listed as senior official for the U/Secretary for Management (this also skips the Deputy M).
All regional bureaus under the U/Secretary for Political Affairs are currently headed by career officials designated as “senior official” or “senior bureau official.” The same goes for all functional bureaus. Overseas, it looks like all political ambassadors have stepped down, except for a few who are non-FS but are in the Civil Service. The US Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan, a former Deputy Secretary of State appears to have remained at post as of this writing. When this happens during the transition, it is typically with the approval of the new administration.
President Biden has previously announced the nomination of the following senior officials:
Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman as Deputy Secretary of State
Brian P. McKeon as Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources
Dr. Bonnie Jenkins as Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs
Ambassador Victoria Nuland as Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Uzra Zeya as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights
Unless we’ve missed the announcement, the nominees for the following positions are still forthcoming:
Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment
Under Secretary of State for Management
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

 


 

 

 

 

Confirmation Hearing: Secretary of State Nominee Antony Blinken (Video/Text)

 

On January 19, Antony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to be the 71st Secretary of State appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing.

Excerpt from his prepared statement (PDF):

If confirmed, three priorities will guide my time as Secretary. 

First, I will work with you to reinvigorate the Department by investing in its greatest asset: the foreign service officers, civil servants, and locally employed staff who animate American diplomacy around the world.

I know from firsthand experience their passion, energy, and courage. Often far from home and away from loved ones, sometimes in dangerous conditions exacerbated by the global pandemic – they deserve our full support. If I am confirmed as Secretary, they will have it.

I am committed to advancing our security and prosperity by building a diplomatic corps that fully represents America in all its talent and diversity. Recruiting, retaining, and promoting officers with the skills to contend with 21st Century challenges and who look like the country we represent. Sparing no effort to ensure their safety and well-being. Demanding accountability – starting with the Secretary – for building a more diverse, inclusive and non-partisan workplace.

Second, working across government and with partners around the world, we will revitalize American diplomacy to take on the most pressing challenges of our time.

We’ll show up again, day-in, day-out whenever and wherever the safety and well-being of Americans is at stake. We’ll engage the world not as it was, but as it is. A world of rising nationalism, receding democracy, growing rivalry with China, Russia, and other authoritarian states, mounting threats to a stable and open international system, and a technological revolution that is reshaping every aspect of our lives, especially in cyberspace.

For all that has changed, some things remain constant.

American leadership still matters.

The reality is that the world doesn’t organize itself. When we’re not engaged, when we don’t lead, then one of two things happen: either some other country tries to take our place, but probably not in a way that advances our interests or values. Or no one does, and then you get chaos. Either way, that does not serve the American people

Humility and confidence should be the flip sides of America’s leadership coin.

Humility because we have a great deal of work to do at home to enhance our standing abroad. And humility because most of the world’s problems are not about us, even as they affect us. Not one of the big challenges we face can be met by one country acting alone – even one as powerful as the U.S.

But we’ll also act with confidence that America at its best still has a greater ability than any country on earth to mobilize others for the greater good.

Guided by those principles, we can overcome the COVID crisis – the greatest shared challenge since World War II.

We can outcompete China – and remind the world that a government of the people, by the people, can deliver for its people.

We can take on the existential threat posed by climate change.

We can revitalize our core alliances – force multipliers of our influence around the world. Together, we are far better positioned to counter threats posed by Russia, Iran, and North Korea and to stand up for democracy and human rights.

And in everything we do around the world, we can and we must ensure that our foreign policy delivers for American working families here at home.

Let me conclude with a word about this institution, whose resilience and determination was on full display in the aftermath of senseless and searing violence in these halls. Both the President-elect and I believe we must restore Congress’s traditional role as a partner in our foreign policy making.

In recent years, across administrations of both parties, Congress’s voice in foreign policy has been diluted and diminished.

That doesn’t make the executive branch stronger – it makes our country weaker.

President-elect Biden believes – and I share his conviction – that no foreign policy can be sustained without the informed consent of the American people. You are the representatives of the American people. You provide that advice and consent. We can only tackle the most urgent problems our country faces if we work together, and I am dedicated to doing that.

If confirmed, I will work as a partner to each of you on behalf of all Americans.

 


 

 

Is it still okay to say, “Oh, you shameless flamingo?”

Last week, the outgoing secretary of state with just days left in his tenure tweeted to the Nobel Prize with a suggestive photograph that his boss get the award. Oh, yes, so very sad and embarrassing indeed.
We did not tweet back, we subtweeted. Twitter flagged it in a nanosecond for “violating” its rules against “abuse and harassment.” Twitter did not say which part they considered offensive.
Let’s see.
Sure @NobelPrize is really going to give one to a twice impeached president (impeached on December 18, 2019 and January 13, 2021)
who incited a mob (see text of trump speech inciting a mob)
that could have decapitated our legislative branch (“Yesterday they could have blown the building up, they could have killed us all, they could have destroyed the government”
hang mike pence, (see video of mob screaming “Hang Mike Pence“)
and put you first in line of succession (see line of succession)
#shamelessskunk (because the word “worst” is not enough for the occasion)
Oh, dear. We get the feeling that Twitter was really offended by the words “shameless” and “skunk” unless it was offended by the repetition of facts.  The two words put together seemed appropriate for a secretary of state whose tenure is an insult to the very old gal in Foggy Bottom. Yes, the same secretary of state whose upside down dictionary says swagger means humility.
Anyway, having allowed the soon to be former president to run amok on Twitter during his campaign and his entire tenure in office, the social media platform finally decided to lock him out of his account on his way out the door. And to show its great effort of cleaning up the barn after it has been filled with sh*t this past several years, Twitter had to show your blogger that a tweet blasted into its public sphere is now considered “abuse and harassment”.  Who would consider “shameless skunk” as fighting words, or as a threat or words that constitute incitement? Obviously, Twitter did and  locked us out of our account.
What else might they consider unacceptable words in the Twitter universe? “His Rotundity?” How about “most fervid lapdog?” “his blundering, maladroit, offensive self?” “selfishness at the expense of the national interest isn’t the mark of an honorable diplomat or a patriot“? No? Well, give it time or maybe its algorithm will learn fast. 
On the bright side — at least a social media company could not charge us as “a malicious and seditious person, and of a depraved mind and a wicked and diabolical disposition” as the government did with Matthew Lyon (1749–1822) when the then representative from Vermont was charge under the Sedition Act of 1798. Lyon was imprisoned under the Act after accusing President John Adams of having “an unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp.” Imagine that.
Of course, Twitter is a corporation with its own rules. No doubt locking up the chief inciter’s account has limited the dissemination of the big lie and helped avoid further incitement. But we need to decide as a society if we want big tech to be the arbiter of what is acceptable language in the public sphere. It could decide tomorrow that  “#badactor” or “#absolutelydisgraceful” are also harassing and inciting words and could block anyone who tweets them.   And by the way, if “skunk” is off limits, what other animals are also off limits? If somebody eats all the shrimp at an official reception, can you say, “oh, you shameless flamingo,” or would that be considered harassment, too?
Now, you got us wondering how long it would take to get locked out for tweeting dangerous words like #shamelessgangofelks, #hordeofhamsters, #troopofapes, #conspiracyoflemurs, and perhaps the most dangerous one out there,  #shamelessmurderofcrows.
In any case, we’ve been asked to remove our tweet before they would give us back access to our account. Since we are a guest on its platform, we have complied but we will from here on also limit our presence on Twitter until they can figure out what are they doing and how exactly are they cleaning up their house. We are not deleting the account at this time as we have multiple links to the blog that would leave orphan spaces here.  But we can choose not to use it as a regular stop, and it has now been disconnected from this blog.  You can still reach us through our contact page here.
We must admit that we’ve been wondering for awhile now how much of our news and social media diet actually contributed to the deleterious effects on our mental health, our family members, friends, or folks in our communities.  Not being on Twitter these last few days wasn’t bad; it brought us some clarity. Instead of scrolling and refreshing the screen, we took long walks, did some bird watching and worked in the garden. In a few months, the wildflowers will be in bloom. Like Thoreau said, all good things are wild and free. True, out there in the open fields. On Twitter, in a few months, there will be new trends to replace the old trends that will be just as wild. Wild but not really free.
We are relieved that a new day is nearly here. We pray for a safe and successful presidential inauguration on January 20. Still, we could not shake our despondence away.  Truth to tell, your blogger is mentally and emotionally exhausted. Blogging may be sporadic for awhile until we can figure out if this old girl still has fire for the next ride.
🖤-D

 

 

Biden to Nominate Wendy Sherman as State/D, Toria Nuland as State/P

 

 

 


 

World Watches With Shock as Trump Mob Storms United States Capitol

 

We wished we could say that we were shocked with the insurrection that happened at the U.S. capital city today.  Given the last four years of  the president and his enablers living in world based in an alternate reality, this was the unavoidable conclusion. It is not a coincidence that a U.S. president who gave a speech about the American carnage during his inauguration now ends his administration this way. We kept hearing from TV people that they have never seen anything like this before. That’s true but if you have lived overseas in developing countries, you have seen something like this happened before, others have seen this many times before. It almost always never ends well for the country.
We as a country cannot let this stand. If there are no consequences for these actions, this is bound to happen again. How easy was it again for the mob to breach the U.S. capitol? How long did it take for reinforcement to come? Four hours? What’s going to happen next time, take lawmakers hostages so they cannot continue with the election certification?  For the elected officials who sheltered in place today inside the capitol, this guy sure learned his lesson!  Where is your red line?
Below, the world watched with shock and disbelief.

GERMANY

AUSTRIA

UNITED KINGDOM

SPAIN

ITALY

FRANCE

EUROPEAN UNION

OSCE

NATO

UKRAINE

LITHUANIA

ESTONIA

COLOMBIA

IRELAND

NORWAY

CROATIA

CANADA

AUSTRALIA

Goodbye 2020, a Most Cruel Year!

 

This has been a difficult year for us but harder for those who are facing empty chairs across their tables this year and harder still for those who will never get to hug their loved ones again. We have been lucky that while a few loved ones contracted coronavirus earlier this year, they all mercifully recovered from the illness.
However, the dark clouds hovering us all as we watch the deaths continue to set gruesome records have been inescapable. Of course, it is not just the coronavirus though, and it’s not just just one thing happening, but many things happening all at once. And none of them any good.  How did we get to become a full candidate for the Banana Republic Pageant? We try not to blog while angry, and holy moly macaroni, it turns out that’s really hard!
Thank you to everyone who took the time to check how we’re holding up and for helping keep our spirits up.  We are grateful for your kind thoughts even if we have not been the best of correspondents the last several months. Frankly, we don’t know yet what to do next year.  In about another three months, we would have been blogging for 13 years. We are wondering if we can still make a difference or if we have reached the end of the line here.
For readers sending us stuff even for the Burn Bag, please do not send us attachments unless we have agreed in advance to accept them. We regret that unsolicited attachments will not be opened for prudent reasons.
For readers looking for jobs with the incoming Biden Administration, please direct your inquiries to the Biden Transition website. This blog has no official connection to the Transition and we are not able to respond to every query.

Also the Consular Affairs Saga Continues

Meanwhile, at the State Department, a CA-EX-Special-Assistant announced that Mora Namdar “will serve as Acting Assistant Secretary for the bureau until a new Assistant Secretary has been appointed.” Career FSO Ian Brownlee apparently will continue to serve as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary. So with just 20 days to go to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Pompeo’s State Department had to bring in someone from the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) to become Acting Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs! Makes you turn your head sideways and asks, why, the why is this even happening? (Also see Whistleblower Reprisal Complaint, Sept 29, 2020 PDF).
The less-than 50 word announcement was actually missing a crucial part. The acting assistant secretary is a political appointee and will be required to step down by January 20 when the Biden administration takes office. Somebody please correct this asap before folks get the wrong impression (Also see CA’s Carl Risch Reportedly Quit Over the Weekend, Decamps to DOJ).

@StateDept Gets Yin and Yang on China

And while the outgoing secretary of state has been talking China, China, China on social media, we understand that the State Department has been fairly quiet about the treatment of U.S. diplomats and family members returning to their assignments in China. U.S. diplomats are apparently not allowed to home quarantine. We understand that all returning staff must spend 2 weeks in a Chinese government owned hotel, with families separated with men put in one room and women and children in another — “one dirty hotel room for two weeks” with apparently, no kitchenette, or laundry. This is just one more test to show how USG employees can make the best of a bad situation? Excuse me, even small children and babies must learn to make the best of a bad situation, too? 
State Department employees and family members going to China are reportedly required to get both a nasal swab and antibody blood test within 48 hours of leaving the United States. They are tested again upon arrival at the airport by the host government;  then tested again on the 13th day of their quarantine. The question then becomes — why are our diplomats not allowed home quarantine? Is the United States placing Chinese diplomats on USG quarantine upon arrival here for their diplomatic assignments?  
OFM’s Diplomatic Note 20-162 notes that the United States suspended entry of individuals from China but “Notably, the entry suspension is not applicable to individual foreign mission members seeking entry into or who are transiting the United States on A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3 (as a foreign government official or immediate family member of an official), G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through NATO-4, or NATO-6 visas. However, even with respect to exempted individuals such as the visa holders listed above, such individuals may be medically screened, and where appropriate quarantined for up to a 14-day period to prevent the spread of the virus.”
CDC guidance for international travelers as of today says that “CDC does not require that international travelers undergo mandatory federal quarantine, but does recommend travelers do the following after an international flight-Get tested with a viral test 3-5 days after travel AND stay home for 7 days after travel; Even if you test negative, stay home for the full 7 days; If your test is positive or you have symptoms of COVID-19, isolate yourself to protect others from getting infected and follow public health recommendations; If you don’t get tested, it’s safest to stay home for 10 days after travel.”
So why is the State Department fine with subjecting our diplomats to Chinese quarantine? Is somebody just filing this under the “needs of the service” folder? Psst! Wake up!

The New Kid in the Block Is Still Happening? 

Did we hear correctly that there is a congressional hold for the creation of a new bureau of Crisis and Contingency Response (CCR) at the State Department? Oh, but alas, the State Department hasn’t really paid that much attention to Congress, has it?  So just nah, apparently, they went ahead with the creation of this new bureau in the waning days of Pompeo’s Foggy Bottom tenure? What the what? Real oversight in the Senate has been almost non-existent the last few years. Do not be shocked if the GOP somehow keeps the majority, and the good senators suddenly find their jello spines miraculously strengthened in the new season. There may even be righteous orations from those exercising their vocal cords and flexing their secret/not so secret ambitions. (Also see New @StateDept Bureau to Take $26 Million, Plus 98 Staffers From the Medical Services  Bureau).

Pray Tell, Who/What Lighted the Damn Fire Under State/OBO?

Well, the sale of the ambassador’s residence made news back in summer. But why was State/OBO in a hurry to sell this property? We were told recently, “We do not have a new residence to replace it.  We are paying for a splendid suite at the King David in the meantime.” Oh, golly, something else for State/OIG to look into, hey?  Wait, the THIRD acting inspector general had also left? How many inspectors general and acting inspectors general have now been lost in the span of just 12 months? This is a record to beat, yes?
It’s a good thing we just have a few more days to go. We can’t stand any more darn records to break!
This was a close call, wasn’t it?  Let’s hope 2021 will be a kinder year, and will not make our lives any shorter than it already it.  Stay well. Sending air hugs to all who needs it!
–DS

 

 

 

Around the U.S. Diplomatic Service: Holiday Greetings 2020

US EMBASSY OSLO, NORWAY

US EMBASSY MANILA, PHILIPPINES

US EMBASSY WARSAW, POLAND

US CONSULATE GENERAL LAHORE, PAKISTAN

US EMBASSY BELGRADE, SERBIA

US EMBASSY CHIȘINĂU, MOLDOVA

 

US EMBASSY QUITO, ECUADOR

US CONSULATE GENERAL BARCELONA, SPAIN

US EMBASSY BAGOTA, COLOMBIA

 

 

CA’s Carl Risch Reportedly Quit Over the Weekend, Decamps to DOJ

 

Carl Risch, the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs reportedly resigned over the weekend with December 21 as the effective date. A source told us that Risch called into a meeting and announced it to CA leadership, then left the meeting. He has reportedly gone to the Justice Department. A second source confirmed the resignation. 
What the what?
Wait, it looks like he is now the Deputy Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review.  The description of the office is here. Click here for the CFR on the OIR.  Is this a position he can keep after President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration? (Prior to his CA appointment, Risch previously served as Acting Chief of Staff in the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services. He was also the Field Office Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, at the American Embassy in Seoul, South Korea).
We understand that Consular Affairs, the most public facing arm of the State Department, often trotted out by senior leaders of the Department when they needed a good story is “penniless as visa demand has all basically all but ceased.”
“Systems are in danger of failing,” we were warned. There are concerns on how a fee-funded bureau could to stay afloat without help from Congress.
Last week, CA reportedly sent out a cable to its overseas posts reminding people that “despite the dire financial situation”, consular officials must still  conduct prison visits and provide emergency services.
Folks are anxious on what’s coming.  

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