Nine Latin American Countries Request Review of U.S. “Wet Foot/Dry Foot” Policy For Cuban Migrants

Posted: 3:14 am ET

 

WaPo has a quick explainer on the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy,  the informal name given to a 1995 agreement under which Cuban migrants seeking passage to the United States who are intercepted at sea (“wet feet”) are sent back to Cuba or to a third country, while those who make it to U.S. soil (“dry feet”) are allowed to remain in the United States. The policy, formally known as the U.S.-Cuba Immigration Accord, has been written into law as an amendment to the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act. Read more here. Last year, the Miami Herald reported that in FY2015 (Oct. 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2015), the U.S. Coast Guard stopped 4,462 Cubans who attempted to illegally enter the United States by sea.  In FY2014 (before normalization) , 2,059 Cubans were apparently caught at sea, according to WaPo citing Coast Guard data. The traffic has more than doubled probably due to fears that with normalization, the policy will soon end.  An ongoing petition to Congress to End Wet foot, Dry Foot Policy currently has 1,682 letters sent to-date.  

Yesterday, the Ecuadoran Embassy in Washington, D.C. delivered a letter signed by nine Latin American countries “expressing their deep concern about the negative effects of U.S. immigration policy across the region.”  The letter sent to Secretary John Kerry was signed by Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru.  The joint letter also ends with the Foreign Ministers calling on Secretary Kerry to attend a High Level meeting to review this issue.

Below is from the Ecuadoran Embassy’s statement online:

The 1966 U.S. Public Law 89-732, known as the “Cuban Adjustment Act”, and the policy commonly known as “wet foot, dry foot” have encouraged a disorderly, irregular and unsafe flow of Cubans who, risking their lives, pass through our countries in order to reach the US.” 

They add that this is creating a serious humanitarian crisis for Cuban citizens, with the nine Foreign ministers stating that:

“Cuban citizens risk their lives, on a daily basis, seeking to reach the United States. These people, often facing situations of extreme vulnerability, fall victim to mafias dedicated to people trafficking, sexual exploitation and collective assaults. This situation has generated a migratory crisis that is affecting our countries.”

The signatories believe that to reduce the threats faced by Cuban migrants, it is necessary to address “the main cause of the current situation”. Revising the Cuban Adjustment Act and the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy “would be a first step to stop the worsening of this complex situation and would form part of a final agreement to ensure orderly and regular migration in our region.”

Addressing the initiative, the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, Guillaume Long, said:

“The fact that nine foreign ministers have signed this letter shows the strength of feeling in Latin America about how US policy is creating an immigration crisis in our region.

Encouraged by the US “wet foot, dry foot” policy, Cuban migrants often become victims of trafficking, sexual exploitation and violence. It is time for the United States to change its outdated policy for Cuban migrants, which is undermining regular and safe migration in our continent.

This policy is also discriminatory. Ecuadorian migrants often have to live for decades with the threat of deportation, whereas Cuban citizens arriving in the US have the opportunity of residency after living there for a year and after five-years of residency they can apply for obtain citizenship. 

This injustice must end for everyone’s benefit.”

The State Department’s spokesperson was asked about this in Tuesday’s Daily Press Briefing, and here is the unexciting response:

QUESTION: Cuba. Nine Latin American countries have sent a letter to the Administration saying that U.S. policy, its wet foot/dry foot policy which guarantees citizenship to Cubans who make it to U.S. soil, is creating an immigration crisis for those countries through which they pass, and asked the Administration to review that policy. Do you have a response to that, and is there any review likely to be made?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll tell you a couple things. So we did receive the letter that you’re referring to signed by nine foreign ministers from Latin America about what is known as the Cuban Adjustment Act. Obviously, we are concerned for the safety of all migrants throughout the region, including migrants seeking to journey northward through South and Central America and Mexico. Irregular migration often involves dangerous journeys that illustrate the inherent risks and uncertainties of involvement with organized crime, including human smugglers and trafficklers – traffickers, excuse me, in attempts to reach the United States.

We continue to encourage all countries to respect the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers, and to ensure that they are treated humanely. And we’re going to continue to, obviously, engage governments in the region on this issue going forward. So we did receive the letter. I’d refer you to the authors of the letter for any more specific information on its content. I have no meetings to announce at this time, and the Cuban Adjustment Act remains in place and wet foot/dry foot remains U.S. policy regarding Cuban migration.

 

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Trump’s Wild Talk About America’s NATO Treaty Obligations — Not/Not a Misquote

Posted: 12:19 pm ET

 

SANGER: But I guess the question is, If we can’t, do you think that your presidency, let’s assume for a moment that they contribute what they are contributing today, or what they have contributed historically, your presidency would be one of pulling back and saying, “You know, we’re not going to invest in these alliances with NATO, we are not going to invest as much as we have in Asia since the end of the Korean War because we can’t afford it and it’s really not in our interest to do so.”

TRUMP: If we cannot be properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost of our military protecting other countries, and in many cases the countries I’m talking about are extremely rich. Then if we cannot make a deal, which I believe we will be able to, and which I would prefer being able to, but if we cannot make a deal, I would like you to say, I would prefer being able to, some people, the one thing they took out of your last story, you know, some people, the fools and the haters, they said, “Oh, Trump doesn’t want to protect you.” I would prefer that we be able to continue, but if we are not going to be reasonably reimbursed for the tremendous cost of protecting these massive nations with tremendous wealth — you have the tape going on?

SANGER: We do.

HABERMAN: We both do.

TRUMP: With massive wealth. Massive wealth. We’re talking about countries that are doing very well. Then yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, “Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.”

[…]

SANGER: I was just in the Baltic States. They are very concerned obviously about this new Russian activism, they are seeing submarines off their coasts, they are seeing airplanes they haven’t seen since the Cold War coming, bombers doing test runs. If Russia came over the border into Estonia or Latvia, Lithuania, places that Americans don’t think about all that often, would you come to their immediate military aid?

TRUMP: I don’t want to tell you what I’d do because I don’t want Putin to know what I’d do. I have a serious chance of becoming president and I’m not like Obama, that every time they send some troops into Iraq or anyplace else, he has a news conference to announce it.

SANGER: They are NATO members, and we are treaty-obligated ——

TRUMP: We have many NATO members that aren’t paying their bills.

[…]

TRUMP: I’m a fan of the Kurds, you understand.

SANGER: But Erdogan is not. Tell us how you would deal with that?

TRUMP: Well, it would be ideal if we could get them all together. And that would be a possibility. But I’m a big fan of the Kurdish forces. At the same time, I think we have a potentially — we could have a potentially very successful relationship with Turkey. And it would be really wonderful if we could put them somehow both together.

SANGER: And what’s your diplomatic plan for doing that?

TRUMP: Meetings. If I ever have the opportunity to do it, meaning if I win, we will have meetings, we will have meetings very early on.

There’s mooooore, oh, dear.

Meanwhile — in Russia, Trump is apparently “inspiring a new generation of optimism.”

Here’s the NATO reaction:

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Suicide Attack at Istanbul Airport Kills 36, Wounds Many More

Posted: 2:04 am ET

The State Department has created a Crisis in Istanbul page to provide updates to American citizens for the terrorist attack at the Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul. Excerpt below:

Turkish media is reporting that possibly two or more explosive devices detonated at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport at approximately 10:15pm local time June 28, 2016. Police and anti-terror teams are currently at the scene and there is no official announcement on the reason of the explosion(s) or the exact number of wounded.  Entrance to and exit ‎from the Airport have been prohibited.  Flights have been suspended.  All direct flights from Istanbul to the United States had departed prior to the attack at the airport.  U.S. citizens are urged to avoid the area around the airport and to avoid any police action that may be taking place throughout the city.  Please check local media for the latest updates.  We strongly urge U.S. citizens in Turkey to directly contact concerned family members in the United States to advise them of your safety.

Earlier —

 

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Snapshot: Top Recipients of U.S. Assistance — FY1995, FY2005, FY2015

Posted: 1:35 am ET

Via CRS:

In FY2015, the United States provided some form of bilateral foreign assistance to about 144 countries. The following identifies the top 15 recipients of U.S. foreign assistance for FY1995, FY2005 and FY2015. Assistance, although provided to many nations, is concentrated heavily in certain countries, reflecting the priorities and interests of United States foreign policy at the time (via – PDF)

Screen Shot

 

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More on the Syria Dissent Channel Memo, and Chasing Down Concerning Rumors

Posted: 4:21 pm ET

 

According to Tuesday’s Daily Press Briefing, Secretary Kerry met yesterday with a small number, approximately 10 of the 51 signers of the Syria Dissent Channel memo for about a half an hour. The official spox said that “as you can imagine, the group is sizeable, so it wasn’t possible to meet with everybody. But he did have a collegial discussion with them this morning.” 

MR KIRBY: I’m – because the dissent channel memo and the contents of it are meant to be privately conveyed, so too I’m afraid are going to have to be the discussions around it. So I’m not going to be able to characterize the content of the Secretary’s conversation with them, because we want to respect the confidentiality of the process. It was, however – it was – I believe the Secretary came away feeling that it was a good discussion, it was worth having. He appreciated their views and just as critically their firm belief in their – in the opportunity that they have to express those views. And so they had a good 30-minute or more conversation.
[…]
MR KIRBY: Look, let me do this. So I can tell you a couple of things. He thanked them for expressing their views and for using the dissent channel. And he reaffirmed his strong belief in the value of the dissent channel, which we’ve talked about quite a bit here. So he thanked them for expressing their views, for using the dissent channel to do that. He made clear that he takes the dissent channel seriously and he took their views seriously, and also made clear that he read their message with sincerity. And, again, without talking about the specific detail of it, the Secretary also walked them through his own thought process with respect to this particular issue and the efforts that he’s been expending on this particular issue.
[…]
MR KIRBY:
 I didn’t say and I won’t speculate as to discussions going forward with respect to what we’re doing in Syria or decisions that may or may not get made, either as a result of this message or as a result of ongoing routine discussions that have been had and continue to be had on alternatives. So I’m not going to speculate about the role that this message might play one way or the other.

But if you’re asking me, was this just a show for the Secretary, the answer is absolutely not. I mean, it – certainly he wanted to thank them and pay respect to the process because this is an important issue. But he also didn’t waste time in terms of hearing them out and asking questions and listening to their views and asking them to expound on them further. I mean, that’s the way this Secretary likes to conduct meetings and discussions and to inform himself. And again, I think he found the meeting useful in that regard. But I wouldn’t begin to speculate one way or another what this conversation today or that message did last week in terms of altering, changing any of the thinking going forward.  As I said last week, nobody is content with the status quo on the ground and the Administration has been looking at other options with respect to Syria for quite some time. This is not new. And yes, some of those options have included the potential for military initiatives. Again, that’s nothing new. So all these things —

The full DPB transcript is here.

Meanwhile, we had to chase down a couple of concerning rumors related to the dissent memo. We heard an allegation about Congressional pressure for a) the memo and b) the names of the signers.  Apparently, “word on the street” is that the Front Office of a certain geographical bureau is “providing names to the Hill in exchange for unblocking some nominations.” We must note that this bureau’s two chief of mission nominees had their confirmation hearing on Tuesday, June 21. There were no indications previously or at this time that these two nominations are subject to a Senate hold.

A State Department spokesperson, on background responded to our inquiry with the following:

“The dissent channel message has been provided to the Hill, but we did not include — nor will we — the names of the authors.”

We do not even want to imagine what a Congressional committee can do with the names or hearings in a partisan fight, in an election year.  So that’s one rumor debunked.

We also heard that the subject of this uproar, which appears to have SBU marking (“sensitive but unclassified”) has now been “retroactively classified.”

A State Department spokesperson, on background also told us that the cable was transmitted on the highside, and was classified confidential by the authors.”

Thanks X for debunking this other rumor.

The draft version published by the New York Times contains the SBU marking. It appears that the final version went out as “confidential” and was transmitted via the classified system.  What we still don’t know and may never know is how wide was the distribution of this “Dissent Channel” message and who purposely let this piglet out of the pen. We are still at a loss as to the leaker or leakers’ motive/s and perplexed at the calculation of sending a public message to a President with less than six months left in office.

Here are more links to read:

Here’s an early summer bonus for the “security diplomats”!

 

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Burn Bag: Dissenting on Dissent

Via Burn Bag:

“Am I the only one who was appalled to see 51 FSOs, aka diplomats, aka the folks paid to figure out how to solve problems via negotiation and within the confines of international law, advocating a solution to the Syria crisis that does neither?  It seems the militarization of U.S. foreign policy is now complete.  Run, don’t walk to the nearest exit.”

Via reactiongifs.com

Via reactiongifs.com

 

 

Related posts:

 

 

 

When Policy Battles Break Out in Public — Holy Dissent, What a Mess!

Posted: 8:26 pm ET

 

Also see “Dissent Channel” Message on Syria Policy Signed by 51 @StateDept Officers Leaks NYT Publishes Draft Version of @StateDept Dissent Memo on Syria Without the Names of Signers from 

 

Here is the DPB for today, June 20 with the State Department spox answering questions about the “it’s good” response from Secretary Kerry — apparently, he wasn’t referring to the punctuation:

QUESTION: All right, let’s start with Syria. Earlier today, in one of the events that you just mentioned, the Secretary told our colleague Abigail that he had read the dissent channel memo —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — and that he – that it looked good to him, or he said something like, “It’s good,” and that he would —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — he was going to meet them. Can you elaborate at all?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know how much more I can —

QUESTION: Well, what does he mean when he said it’s good?

MR KIRBY: I think – I think —

QUESTION: I mean, does that mean he agrees?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m – again, I’m limited in what I can talk about in terms of the content of a dissent channel message. I think what the Secretary was referring to was the – that he did read it and that I – that he found it to be a well-written argument. But I’m not going to talk about the content. And as for meeting with the authors, he has expressed an interest in meeting with at least some of them. I mean, there’s a lot of them, so I don’t know that we’ll be able to pull off a single meeting with each and every one of them there, but he has expressed an interest in talking to them, and we’ll do that in due course.

QUESTION: So when you say it was a – what did you say, it was a well-presented argument?

MR KIRBY: What I – what I —

QUESTION: Well-written argument?

MR KIRBY: What I think the Secretary was referring to was that he read the paper and thought that it was – thought that it was well written, that it was good in that regard. I won’t talk to the content or his views of the content.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, without talking about what the actual content was, when you say it was well written or the argument is a good one, does that mean that he is prepared to – whatever it says, I’m not asking you about content – that he is prepared to make the case for those – for the positions that are articulated in this cable —

MR KIRBY: Well, two – two thoughts there. First —

QUESTION: — within the Administration?

MR KIRBY: Two thoughts there. First, as you know, the policy planning staff will be preparing a response, as is required. That response is not yet finished, and we don’t publicize – any more than we publicize the contents of dissent channel messages, we don’t publicize the response. But the response is being prepared. As for any espousal of the ideas before, during or after the fact of them being proffered in a dissent channel message, the Secretary very much keeps private his advice and counsel to the President on policy matters, and we’re going to – obviously, we’re going to respect that.

QUESTION: Well, since this became public last week, you will have noticed numerous articles, numerous – or numerous reports saying outright and suggesting strongly that, in fact, the Secretary agrees with many if not all of the points made in this cable. Are you not – are his comments today not indicative of that?

MR KIRBY: His comments today – I would not characterize his comments today as being indicative of a full-throated endorsement of the views in this particular dissent channel message. Again, I can’t speak to content. What I can tell you is a couple of things. One, obviously, whatever views, advice and counsel he presents to the President need to remain private, and they will. And so I won’t get into that. But then also, as I said Friday, he has made no bones about the fact that he is not content with the status quo in Syria. We are not content with the status quo in Syria. Too many people are dying, too many people are being denied basic life-sustaining material – food, water, medicine – and there’s been too little progress on the political track.

QUESTION: Yeah, but —

MR KIRBY: But if you also look – but if you also look at what else he said this morning – I mean, I know that Abigail shouted out a question, but if you look at the transcript of what else he had to say to those college students, he talked about how important it is that we continue to work through a transitional governing process in Syria, and that that is the best way forward – a political solution is still the preferred path forward.

QUESTION: Right, but when you talk about how no one – you’re not, he’s not, no one is satisfied with the status quo – this is a bit of what is actually going on on the ground in Syria – clearly, no one is. But this isn’t a question about the status quo on the situation in Syria. This is a question about the status quo of the policy. So are you not in a position to be able to say that the Secretary is not – that he doesn’t like the status quo, the policy status quo, the U.S. policy status quo?

MR KIRBY: Nobody’s happy with the status quo of events on the ground, and that is why —

QUESTION: Yeah, but what about the policy?

MR KIRBY: — but – I’m getting there.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: That is why, as – and I mentioned this Friday – that is why we do consider – we are considering, we are discussing other alternatives, other options that may be applied, mindful that we are, that the current approach is, without question, struggling. But as the President said himself, none of those other options – be they military or not in nature – are better than – in terms of the long-term outcome, are going to be better than the political solution we’re trying to pursue.

QUESTION: Okay. This will be my last one. I – because I’m just a – the – so you – you’re – what you’re saying is that his comment, “It’s good,” refers —

QUESTION: Very good.

QUESTION: Sorry?

QUESTION: Very good.

QUESTION: It’s very good – sorry, it’s very good – that refers to how it was put together, like the grammar and the sentence structure, and not the actual content? Because that strikes me as being a bit —

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not saying he was talking about punctuation. I mean, I —

QUESTION: Oh, okay, so —

MR KIRBY: Obviously – obviously, he read the memo and found it to be a well-crafted argument, well enough that he feels it’s worth meeting with the authors. Now, what exactly did he find in Abigail’s shouted-out – quote, “Very good,” I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him about every element of it. And again, I’m not going to talk about the content of it from here.

QUESTION: Well, so you can’t – you’re not in a position to say that the “It’s very good” means that he is prepared to make those same arguments within the – as the Administration deliberates?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not prepared to – I’m not prepared to say that.

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“Dissent Channel” Message on Syria Policy Signed by 51 @StateDept Officers Leaks

Posted: 2:52 am ET
Updated: 3:55 pm ET

 

The State Department’s Dissent Channel was created “to allow its users the opportunity to bring dissenting or alternative views on substantive foreign policy issues, when such views cannot be communicated in a full and timely manner through regular operating channels or procedures, to the attention of the Secretary of State and other senior State Department officials in a manner which protects the author from any penalty, reprisal, or recrimination.”  Note that management, administrative, or personnel issues that are not significantly related to matters of substantive foreign policy may not be communicated through the Dissent Channel according to the Foreign Affairs Manual.

There is a reason we don’t hear often about the messages sent through the “dissent channel”:

Freedom from reprisal for Dissent Channel users is strictly enforced; officers or employees found to have engaged in retaliation or reprisal against Dissent Channel users, or to have divulged to unauthorized personnel the source or contents of Dissent Channel messages, will be subject to disciplinary action.  Dissent Channel messages, including the identity of the authors, are a most sensitive element in the internal deliberative process and are to be protected accordingly.

Neither the identity of a Dissent Channel user nor the contents of any Dissent Channel message may be shared with anyone outside of the procedures as outlined in 2 FAM 074.1paragraph (b)

We understand that in 1977, the Executive Secretariat logged in some 32 Dissent Channel messages. By contrast, in 2005, you apparently could count by the fingers of one hand the number of Foreign Service professionals who used the Dissent Channel.

In 2009, USA TODAY (October 12, 2009) publicly reported the use of the dissent channel on a USAID program in Pakistan (see Dissent Channel: USAID/Pakistan Program.

Probably, one of the more famous use of the dissent channel was one signed by 20 diplomats on the U.S. policy toward East Pakistan, also known as the Blood Telegram, the subject of the book by Gary Bass.  Archer Blood was our top diplomat in Bangladesh.  He was the Consul General to Dhaka, East Pakistan and was famous for sending the strongly-worded dissent telegram protesting against the atrocities committed in the Bangladesh Liberation War. [See cable: Dissent From U.S. Policy Toward East Pakistan Cable (PDF); Also see Wanted: Patron Saint for Dissenting Diplomats).

On June 16,  NYT’s Mark Lander reports that dozens of diplomats have signed a dissent memo over the administration’s Syria policy, and that a State Department official provided a draft of the dissent memo to the newspaper:

More than 50 State Department diplomats have signed an internal memo sharply critical of the Obama administration’s policy in Syria, urging the United States to carry out military strikes against the government of President Bashar al-Assad to stop its persistent violations of a cease-fire in the country’s five-year-old civil war.

The memo, a draft of which was provided to The New York Times by a State Department official, says American policy has been “overwhelmed” by the unrelenting violence in Syria. It calls for “a judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.”

So, what happens next?

According to the regs, the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff (S/P) is responsible for management of the Dissent Channel, including receipt, storage, distribution, and acknowledgment of all Dissent Channel messages received, and drafting, clearance, and timely transmission of all Dissent Channel responses.  Note that Jon Finer, is Secretary Kerry’s Chief of Staff and also the Director of Policy Planning

Immediately upon receipt of all incoming Dissent Channel messages, S/P distributes copies to the Secretary, the Deputy Secretary (Blinken), the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (Higginbottom), the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (Shannon), the Executive Secretary, and the Chair of the Secretary’s Open Forum (who is not identified on the state.gov website). The director of S/P may distribute the dissent message to other senior officials in the Department, both for information purposes and for help in drafting a response.  No additional distribution may be made without the authorization of the S/P director.

The Director of Policy Planning is also responsible for acknowledging receipt of a Dissent message within 2 working days and for providing a substantive reply, normally within 30-60 working days.  At the discretion of the Director of the Policy Planning, S/P may also clear replies with other senior Department of State officials.

Will this change the policy on Syria? Don’t count on it.

According to Kal Bird in Dissent in the Foreign Service, the first dissent cable was filed by Jack Perry, protesting the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam in 1972, on the eve of the Nixon-Brezhnev summit. Perry’s arguments had no impact on the Nixon-Kissinger Vietnam policy. Also this:

The first major test of the dissent channel as a means of not only venting views, but changing policy, came in Cyprus in 1974. In that year of the CIA-sponsored coup d’etat in Nicosia, Thomas Boyatt filed a dissent cable protesting Kissinger’s interventionist policy. Within days Boyatt was fired from his position as director of the Office of Cypriot Affairs. His dissent cable was not answered for five months, and even then, the response was merely an acknowledgment of receipt.

(Note: The Blood telegram is dated April 6, 1971, so while we do not have a date for the Perry cable protesting the 1972 bombing of North Vietnam, the Blood dissent appears to predates the Perry dissent).

Mr. Bird’s article notes that “precisely because few dissent cables have ever changed policy, use of the dissent channel is considered a desperate last resort.”

A “desperate last resort” and might just be the reason why this dissent channel memo was leaked to the New York Times.

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What a dissent cable looks like — read Dissent From U.S. Policy Toward East Pakistan Cable via National Security Archive/GWU:

 

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Secretary Kerry Visits Ny-Alesund, Norway — Northernmost Civilian Settlement in the World

Posted: 1:34 am ET

Secretary Kerry is traveling to the Dominican Republic, Norway, Denmark & Greenland from June 13-17, 2016. On July 16, he was on the research vessel “Teisten,” with Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, on the Kongsfjorden in Ny-Alesund, Norway, the northernmost civilian settlement in the world.

[O]ne of the greatest challenges of our times besides the fight against extremism is to deal with the enormous battle of climate change. That’s why I’m going to Greenland tomorrow, because if we were to lose the ice sheet of Greenland, we would see a sea level rise of some 22 feet over the course of this century. Everybody knows that what is happening now is a – is a huge transformation in weather patterns, in the melt of glaciers – which I saw in Svalbard today, and I will see again tomorrow – and we have to make smarter decisions about the kind of energy that we’re going to provide ourselves with. (Via)

 

The research vessel "Teisten," carrying U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, floats on the Kongsfjorden in Ny-Alesund, Norway, the northernmost civilian settlement in the world, as the two leaders inspect the Blomstrand Glacier to see the effects of global warming on the Arctic environment on June 16, 2016. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

The research vessel “Teisten,” carrying U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, floats on the Kongsfjorden in Ny-Alesund, Norway, the northernmost civilian settlement in the world, as the two leaders inspect the Blomstrand Glacier to see the effects of global warming on the Arctic environment on June 16, 2016. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

A glacier appears outside the window of a transport plane on June 16, 2016, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flies from the Svalbard Airport in Svalbard, Norway, to an Arctic research station in Ny-Alesund, Norway, and tour the nearby Blomstrand Glacier. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

A glacier appears outside the window of a transport plane on June 16, 2016, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flies from the Svalbard Airport in Svalbard, Norway, to an Arctic research station in Ny-Alesund, Norway, and tour the nearby Blomstrand Glacier. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Two reindeer graze against a glacial backdrop on June 16, 2016, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende visit an Arctic research station in Ny-Alesund, Norway, the northernmost civilian settlement in the world, and before tour the nearby Blomstrand Glacier. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Two reindeer graze against a glacial backdrop on June 16, 2016, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende visit an Arctic research station in Ny-Alesund, Norway, the northernmost civilian settlement in the world, and before tour the nearby Blomstrand Glacier. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 

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#MemorialDay2016: “If you forget my death, then I died in vain.”

Posted:7:18 pm ET

 

J. Kael Weston, the author of “The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan,” was a State Department official in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 to 2010.  Newsweek writes that he spent more time in Iraq and Afghanistan than any other State Department officer, including two and a half years in the Iraqi hellhole of Fallujah. He wrote The Graves of the Marines I Lost for the New York Times. Excerpt below:

While in Iraq and Afghanistan, I witnessed military officers and enlisted soldiers, at all ranks, being held accountable for their decisions. I have yet to see that happen with Washington policy makers who, far removed from the battlefields, benefit from our collective amnesia about past military and foreign policy failures.

The commander in chief and the senior military brass should leave the manicured grounds of Arlington and visit some of those places where most of America’s war dead are buried: farm towns, immigrant neighborhoods and working-class suburbs. At a time when fewer and fewer of us have any real ties to the military, how better to remind the nation that our troops are not just faceless volunteers, but people who live next door?

Over the last four years, I have visited a dozen such cemeteries. One was in Newcastle, Wyo. (population 3,532, according to the last census), where Staff Sgt. Brian Bland was laid to rest on a hill overlooking an oil refinery and a Pizza Hut. His granite headstone is shaped like a mountain peak.

Outside Cherokee, Iowa (population 5,253), at the Galva Veterans Memorial, I stood at Cpl. Nathan Schubert’s grave, next to his father’s, surrounded by green cornfields and grain silos. Etched on his headstone are pine trees and pheasants in flight.

In Menard, Tex. (population 1,471), I located Capt. Paul Christopher Alaniz, buried alongside his mother. Colorful ceramic tiles adorned his grave’s concrete plot, hand painted by his wife and children with the words “Love” and “Papa, Happy Father’s Day” and “A classy tie for a classy guy.”

I visited each one because I was directly involved in the decision that led to their deaths.

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