@StateDept: “…We’ll wait and see what the House and the Senate do for FY18”

Posted: 3:49 am ET

 

Via state.gov:

QUESTION: Hi, I – yeah, just an arithmetic question, really. When the OCO money, the 12 billion, is brought under the caps, does that effectively expand the 39.3 up to 50 billion? Or will that be rolled into the 39.3?

MR PITKIN: It’s all part of the 39.3. So previous to this adjustment, if you look at the printed materials that are going to come out today from both our initial budget and OMB, that 12 billion will be separate. So it’ll be 30 – about 27 in the base budget, and then 12 billion —

QUESTION: So that 12 billion is just being renamed.

MR PITKIN: It’s being renamed or —

QUESTION: It’s not disappearing or —

MR PITKIN: Right. Right, right.

QUESTION: — being added onto anything?

MR PITKIN: It’s still the same topline amount. The advantage is it’s now all now under the same spending caps that all the other agencies have to operate under as well.
[…]
QUESTION: That is relative to a decrease, as Josh pointed out, of something like 30 percent from 2017, though. So —

MR PITKIN: That’s true. But again, I think, the – as the Secretary has said that we did not think that the $55 billion that was provided last year, including a supplemental, was sustainable over the long term. So I think even the House and the Senate – we’ll wait and see what the House and the Senate do for FY18. I think until we have to – it’s hard to compare what we’re requesting now versus ’18 because the House and the Senate still have to act on FY18 appropriations, take into consideration these caps. But we would note that the levels that the committees marked up back several months ago did not even there reach the $55 billion level. But again, we have to wait and see what Congress says for ’18 before we can make a true apples-apples comparison. But even they were not at the FY17 level; they were down as well.

Doug Pitkin
Director of the Bureau of Budget and Planning/State
Briefing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of State and USAID
Feb 12, 2018

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VPOTUS Swears-in Sam Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large, Also Kansas Refuses to Fast

Posted: 3:03 am ET

 

AND NOW THIS — the comments though are extraordinarily … um blunt. We have no particular favorite but  ‘irony committed suicide in the Potomac” is memorable.

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Nambia Bites Back: Come Visit “Sh*thole Namibia” With Over 300 Days of Sunshine

Posted: 2:49 am ET

 

VPOTUS is on overseas travel, and during his interview with The Associated Press, the poor man defended President Trump over his recent comments “disparaging immigration from Africa and Haiti, telling the AP that the president’s “heart” is aimed at a merit-based system that is blind to immigrants’ “race or creed.”

In Haiti, Reuters reported that about a couple thousand people took to the streets of Port-Au-Prince, the capital and most populous city in the country to protest comments attributed to the U.S. President about the nation being a “shithole” country. Early Monday morning, the US Embassy in Haiti announced that it was expecting a large protests outside the embassy. “Please limit your coming and going to/from the Embassy during this time. If the protest is large and/or violent, U.S. Embassy employees will be expected to shelter in place. No one will be able to enter or depart during this time and anyone outside of the Embassy will be directed to shelter in place at an offsite location.”

Meanwhile, a tour agency in Namibia has turned Donald Trump’s slur into a sales pitch.

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‘Very Stable Genius’ Finds Alibi Not to Cut Ribbon at Opening of New Embassy Castle With Moat

Posted: 3:57 am ET

 

The Financial Times calls it London’s first new moated building since the medieval era. After project planning and construction that spanned about a decade, the New London Embassy is set to open shortly.  The new compound is reportedly buffered by an 8 ft-deep, crescent-shaped moat, and set back from surrounding roads by 100 ft per security requirements. The Guardian says its “concrete bulwarks come disguised as earthworks, and its anti-truck bollards are fig-leafed with hedges.”

The New London Embassy project was announced on October 2, 2008 by Bush appointee, Ambassador Robert Tuttle:

Meeting the challenge of providing a modern, open and secure American diplomatic facility in London, the U.S. State Department today signed a conditional agreement with the real estate developer Ballymore to acquire a site in the Nine Elms Opportunity Area in Wandsworth for the construction of a new Embassy.

“This has been a long and careful process,” said Ambassador Robert Tuttle, who has led the search for a new site. “We looked at all our options, including renovation of our current building on Grosvenor Square. In the end, we realized that the goal of a modern, secure and environmentally sustainable Embassy could best be met by constructing a new facility. I’m excited about America playing a role in the regeneration of the South Bank of London.”

On February 23, 2010, Obama Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Louis B. Susman, and Acting Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, Adam Namm, announced that KieranTimberlake of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania won the design competition for the New London Embassy.

The ground breaking for the New London Embassy did not occur until November 2013 under second term Obama Ambassador to the United Kingdom Matthew Barzun.

President Trump’s new political ambassador to London, Ambassador Woody Johnson said that the new embassy represented “a signal to the world that this special relationship that we have is stronger and is going to grow and get better.”  The Telegraph also quoted Ambassador Johnson, who owns the New York Jets, saying that the price tag was a “bargain” compared to the $1.6B stadium built for his team in New Jersey.

President Trump has now tweeted that he will not be doing the ribbon cutting because in his words it’s a “bad deal.” For those curious about the necessity and the funding of this new compound, see  US Embassy London: Don’t Worry, Be Happy — New Digs Not Funded By Appropriated Funds and our related posts below:

New Billion Dollar U.S. Embassy London to Open to the Public on January 16, 2018

New London Embassy: Design Passed the Full Mockup Blast, So Why the “Augmentation Option” For $2 Million?

Photo of the Day: New Embassy London Topping Out Ceremony

Congress to State Dept: We Want All Your Stuff on New London Embassy Except Paperclips (July 2014)

New Embassy Construction Hearing: Witnesses Not Invited, and What About the Blast-Proof Glass? (diplopundit.net)

US Embassy London: Don’t Worry, Be Happy — New Digs Not Funded By Appropriated Funds

A New Embassy for the Future. In London. For $1 Billion

US Embassy London Celebrates 10,750 Visitors to Winfield House With a Time-Lapse Video

State Department’s Embassy “Design Excellence” Initiative: Year in Review (Video)

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USUN Ambassador Haley Hosts Reception For “Friends” With US Against UN Jerusalem Resolution

Posted: 3:11  am ET

 

The eight countries who voted with the United States include Guatemala and Honduras, countries with significant interest in migration policies and have large number of nationals on DACA status. Guatemala has already announced that it will follow the United States in moving its embassy to Jerusalem. We’re watching how soon Honduras will follow this move. Last November, DHS extended the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Honduras until July 5, 2018. We’ll have to see what happens next; state actions are in the country’s national interest, intentional, and never coincidental.

USUN Ambassador Niki Haley’s shit list includes the top recipients of American foreign aid for years like Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and a host of other countries. How this will end? (see Snapshot: @StateDept Aid Allocation by Region and Top Recipients, FY2016 RequestSnapshot: Top 10 Recipients of US Foreign Aid in FY2012 and FY2013 RequestSnapshot: Top 10 Recipients of US Foreign Aid in FY2010, FY 2011 RQSnapshot: Top 10 Recipients of US Foreign Aid).

On January 4, the United States announced that it is suspending at least $900 million in security assistance to Pakistan according to Reuters “until it takes action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network militant groups.”

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Amb. Designate Hoekstra Issues an “Apology,” Gets Roasted on Twitter

Posted: 1:16 am ET

 

Last week, we blogged about Ambassador-Designate Peter Hoekstra’s double whoppers during an interview with a Dutch journalist (see New U.S. Ambassador Peter Hoekstra Makes Splash With Whoppers on Dutch TV). On December 23, the newest representative of the United States Government to the Netherlands issued a non apology-apology.  It is not exactly clear what it is he is apologizing for — he “regret the exchange” but did not apologize for the remarks he made in 2015, or for lying about it? He regret participating in an interview that went off the rails on video? In any case, he did issue an apology for something, but Twitter folks were not at all happy about it.

AND THE WINNER IS –TA-DA! Our eyes are leaking badly, help ….

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Amb. Callista Gingrich Presents Her Credentials to Pope Francis

Posted: 12:35 am ET

 

On December 22, the Pope finally received Callista L. Gingrich for the presentation of her credential letters as Ambassador of the United States of America to the Holy See (see The Credential Letters of the Ambassador of the United States of America to the Holy See; also Amb-Designate Callista Gingrich Still Waiting to Present Credentials Six Weeks On?).

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The Middle East in the New World Disorder

By Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)

Not so long ago, Americans thought we understood the Middle East, that region where the African, Asian, and European worlds collide.  When the Ottoman Empire disintegrated in World War I, the area  became a European sphere of influence with imperial British, French, and Italian subdivisions.  The Cold War split it into American and Soviet client states.  Americans categorized countries as with us or against us, democratic or authoritarian, and endowed with oil and gas or not.  We acted accordingly.

In 1991, the Soviet Union defaulted on the Cold War and left the United States the only superpower still standing.  With the disappearance of Soviet power, the Middle East became an exclusively American sphere of influence.  But a series of U.S. policy blunders and regional reactions to them have since helped thrust the region into chaos, while progressively erasing American dominance

In the new world disorder, there are many regional sub-orders.  The Middle East is one of them.  It is entering the final stages of a process of post-imperial, national self-determination that began with Kemal Atatürk’s formation of modern Turkey from the rubble of the Ottoman Empire in 1923.  This process is entrenching the originally Western concept of the nation state in the region.  It led to Gamal Abdel Nasser’s repudiation of British overlordship and overthrow of the monarchy in Egypt in 1952, Ayatollah Khomeini’s rejection of American tutelage and replacement of the Shah with the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, and the misnamed “Arab Spring” in 2011.  Its latest iteration is unfolding in Saudi Arabia.

In the Middle East, as elsewhere, regional rather than global politics now drives events.  The world is reentering a diplomatic environment that would have been familiar to Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, who served nineteenth century Britain as secretary of war, foreign affairs, and prime minister.  In his time, the core skill of statecraft was manipulation of regional balances of power to protect national interests and exercise influence through measures short of war.

Palmerston famously observed that in international relations, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests.  In the new world disorder, with its narcissistic nationalism, shifting alignments, and wobbling partnerships, this sounds right, even if national interests are also visibly evolving to reflect fundamental shifts in their international context.  Palmerston’s aphorism is a reminder that the flexibility and agility implicit in the hedged obligations of entente – limited commitments for limited contingencies – impart advantages that the inertia of alliance – broad obligations of mutual aid – does not.  One way or another, it is in our interest to aggregate the power of others to our own while minimizing the risks to us of doing so.

To cope with the world after the Pax Americana and to put “America first,” we Americans are going to have relearn the classic vocabulary of diplomacy or some new, equally reality-based version of it.  If we do, we will discover that, in the classic sense of the word, we now have no “allies” in the Middle East.  The only country with which we had a de jure alliance based on mutual obligations, Turkey, has de facto departed it.

Today, Ankara and Washington are seriously estranged.  Turkey is no longer aligned with the United States on any of our major diplomatic objectives in the region, which have been: securing Israel, excluding Russian influence; opposing Iran; and sustaining strategic partnerships with Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.  Americans can no longer count on Turkey to support or acquiesce in our policies toward the Israel-Palestine issue; Syria; Iraq; Iran; Russia; the Caucasus; the Balkans; Greece; Cyprus; Egypt, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries; the members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; NATO; or the EU.

Having been rebuffed by Europe, Turkey has abandoned its two-century-long drive to redefine its identify as European.  It is pursuing an independent, if erratic, course in the former Ottoman space and with Russia and China.  The deterioration in EU and US-Turkish relations represents a very significant weakening of Western influence in the Middle East and adjacent regions.  As the list of countries Turkey affects suggests, this has potentially far-reaching consequences.

Meanwhile, U.S. relations with Iran remain antagonistic.  American policy blunders like the destabilization of Iraq and Syria have facilitated Iran’s establishment of a sphere of influence in the Fertile Crescent.  Our lack of a working relationship with Tehran leaves the United States unable to bring our influence to bear in the region by measures short of war.  U.S. policy is thus all military, all the time.  The White House echoes decisions made in Jerusalem, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi.  It no longer sets its own objectives and marshals others behind them.

For our own reasons, which differ from country to country, Americans have unilaterally taken under our wing a variety of client states, some of which are each other’s historic antagonists.  Our commitments have not changed despite the fact that the regional context of our relationships with our client states and their orientations and activities are all in rapid evolution.  Other than Turkey, the United States has never had a Middle Eastern partner that has seen itself as obliged to come to our aid or, indeed, to do anything at all for us except what might serve  its own immediate, selfish interests.  The obligations all run the other way – from us to them.

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Tillerson’s Staff Reduction Plan Threatens Gains in Bridging @StateDept Language Gaps

Posted: 4:03 am ET
Follow @Diplopundit

 

The ability to speak and read foreign languages is a key Foreign Service competency. All FS Officers (Generalists) and some FS Specialists are required to reach general professional (3/3) proficiency in at least one foreign language during their careers. In 2016, the State Department said that its  success in staffing positions with officers with the required language proficiency was due, in great part, to the increased resources received in the Diplomacy 3.0 initiative.

Last year, the agency developed a plan to continue to bridge its language gaps — to “continue to expand the training complement, as resources are made available to enhance foreign language skills.” The Department said that it’s language requirements “are much greater today than before 9/11″ but it also noted that the budget environment threatens to reduce the significant progress the Department has made. Even before Rex Tillerson happened to the State Department, the agency already warned last year that “without funds to hire staff above attrition, the Department is not likely to make significant progress in increasing the number of LDPs [language designated positions] filled with fully qualified officers.”

A good number of our readers already know about language training in the State Department, but we also have readers who are not familiar with it, so this part is an explainer. The State Department’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI) grouped languages into four broad categories based on their difficulty to learn:

Category I Languages include the most English-like or the easiest languages for native speakers of English to learn. Included in this category are the Romance languages, such as Spanish and Portuguese, as well as other Western European languages, such as Swedish and Dutch. On average, these languages require 24 to 30 weeks of full-time study to achieve the 3/3 proficiency level.

Category II Languages generally take 36 weeks of full-time study to achieve the 3/3 proficiency level. Included in this category are Indonesian, Swahili, and German, among others.

Category III Languages generally require 44 weeks of full-time study to achieve a 3/3. These languages are substantially harder to learn because they are less like English. Among the Category III languages are Hindi, Dari, Persian, Russian, and Urdu.

Category IV Languages are the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn. This category includes Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, which require training for roughly 88 weeks, including a ten-month language immersion in country, to obtain the general professional (3/3) proficiency level.

The general professional (3/3) proficiency level means being able to use the language with sufficient ability participate in most formal and informal discussion on practical, social, and professional topics. It means being able to conceptualize and hypothesize. An 0/0 in speaking/reading indicates only a cursory level knowledge of the language while a 5/5 proficiency means highly articulate, well-educated, native-speaker proficiency. If you want to send a diplomat to a radio station to better explain U.S. foreign policy to host country nationals, you don’t send somebody with “basic” language skills. If you send a DSS agent to a high threat post without appropriate language training, it can limit not just his/her communication with the local guard force but also situational awareness and his/her ability to protect the mission.

The State Department defines priority languages as languages that are of critical importance to U.S. foreign policy, languages that are experiencing severe shortages or staffing gaps, or present specific challenges in recruiting and training.  So for example, Mandarin Chinese, Dari, Farsi, Pashto, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, and Arabic—all are languages spoken in China, Iran, India, Korea, and throughout the Near East—and are considered priority languages.

It took the State Department 12 years to get from 303 to 475 Chinese Mandarin speakers. Persian-Iranian speakers increased from 14 in FY2003 to 44 in FY2015, an increase of 214.3%. Persian-Afghan speakers went from 12 in 2003 to 85 in 2015, a 608% increase. Hindi speakers went from 12 to 75 or a 525% increase. The State Department’s Arabic speakers increased 47% between 2003-2015, from 232 to 341. Let’s not forget Korean speakers, where State had 76 3/3 speakers in 2003 and 102 in 2015.

In 2013, State/OIG estimated training students to the 3/3 level in easier world languages such as Spanish can cost $105,000 while training students in hard languages such as Russian can cost $180,000. Training in super hard languages such as Chinese and Arabic can cost up to $480,000 per student.  Students learning super hard languages to the 3/3 level generally spend one year domestically at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and then a second year at an overseas training facility.  The OIG’s estimates were reportedly developed based on the FSI weekly tuition rate, the standard number of weeks for 3/3 raining, the salary of a midlevel FSO, benefits based on Congressional Budget Office  figures, and per diem based on 14FAM 575.3 and Federal Travel Regulations. Cost estimates for super-hard languages were developed using the above methodology for the  domestic portion of training and data provided byEmbassy Beijing and NEA and data in State’s standard overseas support cost model for the overseas  portion of language training.

Is we use the OIG cost estimate of $480K to train a student in super hard language, it means U.S. taxpayers already spent $48M to train 102 diplomats to speak Korean.  We don’t know who are planning to take the buyouts, but let’s say for the sake of argument that all 102 Korean speakers take Tillerson’s buyouts. That’s $48M down the drain. How about the $163M taxpayers already spent on 341 Arabic speakers? Or the $228M spent to train 475 Chinese Mandarin speakers? Or $84M already expended the last twelve years to train 175 Japanese speakers?

What happens when they leave? Does the State Department then hire contractors on an “as needed” basis to track and report the goings on in the Korean peninsula and everywhere else where the U.S is planning to shrink its presence?

It is important to underscore that these gains in the Foreign Service’s language capacity did not happen overnight. And when people leave, as projected in Mr. Tillerson’s reported plan, replenishing their ranks, skills and experience will not happen overnight. Congress can appropriate new funds in the future, of course, but there is no currency that can buy the U.S. time.

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@StateDept Redesign Briefing Presents Five “Guiding Beliefs” and Five “Key Outcomes” #OMG

Posted: 2:24 am ET
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The State Department is still in the midst of its redesign exercise. We understand that a couple of weeks ago, a State Department top official did a redesign presentation to ranking officials of the agency. This must be part of Phase 3 of the redesign efforts to communicate the plan to the employees and external stakeholders. This phase also includes the implementation of “functional projects” that reportedly supports the “Comprehensive Redesign” (we don’t yet know what are those projects, but we’ve been hearing about purported “quick wins”). Further, this phase reportedly includes the “development of an atmosphere of culture change.” We’re still waiting to learn how they’re gonna do cultural change in Foggy Bottom.

(See Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable)

The presentation notes first that “Diplomacy and development will become even more important as global power dynamics continue to change.” (Wait — a newbie at the State Department told diplomats and development professionals with decades of experience that diplomacy and development will become even more important even as the agency is planning to slash its funding and staff?).

Did anyone laugh out loud during the presentation?

The presentation then explains the State Department and USAID’s “Guiding Beliefs” for the Tillerson redesign.  There are reportedly five of these beliefs:

➨ 1. We will each need to communicate directly and continually engage with our domestic and global stakeholders regarding our purposes, missions, ambitions, and achievements.

➨ 2. We will each need the agility to adopt state-of-the-art information technologies and to adapt to rapidly changing technological advancements that are driving broader changes in the world.

➨ 3. We will each need to modernize our workforce systems (including recruitment, training, and performance management to maintain passionate, top-quality, and more agile workforces).

➨ 4. Our respective decision-making will need to take advantage of advancements in knowledge management and in data collection, analytics, and visualization.

➨ 5. We will need to focus on our respective comparative advantages as we address threats and leverage opportunities posed by the growing power and influence of emerging states, non-state actors, civil society, the private sector, and individuals.

All nice words. And 1) they can start communicating with their employees starting with S, the chief sponsor of this change; 2) money, money, money ; 3) uh-oh; 4) darnit, darnit, science! and 5) boo!

The second presentation point notes that “global competition for economic, financial, natural, human, and technological resources, and changes in society and social structures (brought on by migration, climate change, large scale unemployment, social isolation, wealth disparities, and similar shifts) will create opportunities for inter- and intra-state conflict and/or cooperation.”

No. Kidding. Is this Foggy Bottom’s kindergarten class?

And third, that “growing reliance on data and technology will increase vulnerabilities at the micro and macro levels, requiring new approaches to risk mitigation at all levels of government and among all elements of society both in the United States and abroad.”

Who. Knew?

The presentation also talks about the five key outcomes namely:

  • effective and strategic global leadership
  • maximizing the impact of foreign assistance
  • mission-driven, high performing, agile workforce
  • nimble and data informed decision making
  • mission enabling, world-class infrastructure support

Given that the State Department has now communicated the U.S. intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, our most favorite part in this list of outcomes gotta be “data informed decision making.”

The presentation also talks about “tranche goals” and “five outcome goals” — oops! Don’t look now! We’ve gone mighty dizzy.

But holy moly guacamole! Which intern should be sent to the Republic of Nambia for this BS?

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