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Trump Bombs Syria While Hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russia Demands UNSC Meeting

Posted: 4:23 am ET

 

Meanwhile in Mar-a-Lago, where President Trump is hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping:

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Tillerson Responds to North Korean Missile Launch With a 23-Word Statement 👀

Posted: 12:49 am ET

 

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Talking to the Press, Congress, and the Path to Blowing the Whistle

Posted: 12:30 am ET

 

The Foreign Policy Project produced a podcast in partnership with the Women’s Foreign Policy Network on the do’s and don’ts of talking to the press, congress, and the path to blowing the whistle. The discussion includes an overview of protections available – do you want to disclose openly or anonymously?  What does the process of going to the Project on Government Oversight look like? What tools can you use to encrypt your communications? What should you consider before going to the press? POGO’s Danielle Brian is in the podcast. Check it out.

Check out the rest of the podcasts here: http://theforeignpolicyproject.org/women-in-diplomacy-podcast/.

 

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Tillerson Finally Issues Condemnation of Syria Chemical Attack

Posted: 12:19 am ET

 

Shortly after 1:00 pm, the State Department finally released a statement from Secretary Tillerson. One wonders if the folks in Foggy Bottom had to get clearance for this statement all the way to the White House.

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Hopeless But Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in #Afghanistan (Excerpt)

Posted: 2:24 am ET

 

Douglas Wissing previously wrote a book entitled, Funding the Enemy: How US Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban.  He’s back with a new book, Hopeless but Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in Afghanistan. Kirkus Review calls it “a scathing dispatch” with “pungent, embittered, eye-opening observations of a conflict involving lessons still unlearned.”

As he gets into Kabul to embed with the military, the author notes “a USAID (United States Agency for International Development) billboard proclaiming women’s rights in English and Dari that few Afghan females can read, because almost 90 percent of them are still illiterate after more than a decade and $100 billion spent on grotesquely mismanaged US aid programs.”

That Ring Road?  Wissing writes, “During his frantic reelection push after the botched Iraq invasion, President George W. Bush decided that refurbishing the Ring Road on a yeehaw schedule in 2003 would show Afghans how things were done the American way. Well, it did. The highway is infamous for its poor construction and extravagant price.”

It’s that kind of book. It reminds us of Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well book on Iraq.

A couple of notes, Chapter 35 titled Embassy includes a nugget about Embassy Kabul refusing to allow the author to meet with SIGAR John Sopko who was also at post, without a minder. Sopko, according to Wissing was furious, demanding a private meeting without embassy handlers but “the diplomats won’t budge.”

Chapter 36 talks about Loss.  A cynical USAID financial officer earlier told the author that “given the amount of money the United States was pushing on the Afghan insiders who were “bankers,” he didn’t blame them for stealing it.” This is in relation to the Bank of Kabul scandal that involved an almost $900 million Ponzi scheme of fraudulent loans. The chapter also talks about Anne Smedinghoff and four other Americans, including three soldiers and an interpreter lost during a suicide attack in Qalat. The author previously meet Smedinghoff during a visit to the embassy compound in Kabul where the latter acted as his minder, assigned to escort him for an interview with a Justice Department official who was working the Afghan Threat Finance Cell (ATFC).

The author told us that he find audiences in the U.S. are often surprised to learn that Afghanistan remains our largest foreign military engagement–$44 billion requested for FY 2017 (vs $5 billion for Syria) “to add to the trillion dollars already wasted.” He also notes that around 10,000 US troops are still there, along with up to 26,000 defense contractors.

We’re posting an excerpt of the book courtesy of Amazon Kindle/Preview:

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Tillerson Visits Turkey, Gets Complaints Here, and There

Posted: 12:48 am ET

 

Below is the transcript of Secretary Tillerson’s ‘meet and greet’ remarks at US Mission Turkey, his first one since his appointment as secretary of state. No photos of the embassy ‘meet and greet’ available so far.

Thank you, thank you. And it is, indeed, a pleasure to be in Ankara and to have the opportunity to visit the embassy here and get a chance to speak to all of you. And what a great way to be greeted, with a great-looking bunch of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and I’m well familiar with both of those organizations and a lifelong scouter myself, and I want to express my appreciation to the adult leadership that it takes to make those opportunities available to these young people. And to the parents that support them as they move down that advancement pathway to earn their way to higher achievement, I’d like to thank all of you as well.

This – and I don’t have to tell you how important this particular mission is to us in terms of its strategic value, its place in the region, but certainly the complexities of what we’re dealing with as a nation and as a world with what’s happening just on the borders here to the south of Turkey. I know it’s a high-stress posting, I know it’s been a difficult couple of years for everyone in terms of status changes in this mission, as well as the other three locations. And so we appreciate your dedication and your commitment throughout all of that, staying the course, keeping up and out in front of you what you know is important, and what’s very important to our nation back home. So I thank all of you for your commitment throughout that period of time.

I also want to talk about three values that I’ve been trying to talk everywhere I go within the State Department. I expressed these on day one when I made my first-day appearance at the Department, and that’s that I have three key values that I think will be useful to all of us as we go about our daily work in terms of how we interact with each other and in terms of how we interact externally as well.

And the first of those is accountability, that I think it’s really important with the work we do, because it is so vital and important that as we produce that work, we’re holding ourselves accountable to the results, and that’s the only way we can hold our partners accountable. We intend to hold other nations accountable in our alliances for commitments they’ve made, but that starts with us holding ourselves accountable, first as individuals, then collectively as an organization. So we ask that everyone really devote themselves to that, recognize that we’re not going to be right all the time. We may make some mistakes and that’s okay. We hold ourselves accountable to those and we’ll learn from those and we’ll move forward, but that it’s important that we always own what we do – that it’s ours and we’re proud to own it.

The second value I’m talking a lot about is honesty. That starts with being honest with each other, first in terms of our concerns, in terms of our differences, and we invite and want to hear about those. That’s how we come to a better decision in all that we do. And only if we do that can we then be honest with all of our partners and allies around the world as well. And still, I mean, we’re going to have our differences, but we’re going to be very honest and open about those, so at least we understand them.

And then lastly is just treating everyone with respect. I know each of us wants to be treated with respect. You earn that by treating others with respect. And again, regardless of someone’s stature in the organization or regardless of what their work assignment may be, or regardless of how they may want to express their view, at all times we’re going to treat each other with respect. And in doing that, you’ll earn the respect of others. So we ask that everyone devote themselves to accountability, honesty, and respect.

And starting with the scout promises and laws, that’s not a bad place either. If you haven’t looked at those, you ought to take a look at them. They’re a pretty good playbook for life, I can tell you that. They’ve been a great playbook in my life throughout all of my professional career prior to coming to this position, and they continue to guide me every day in terms of how I want to hold myself accountable is against those principles.

So again, I appreciate what all of you are doing on behalf of the State Department, in particular what you’re doing on behalf of our country, both those of you that are here on posting as well as those of you who are part of our national workforce as well. So I thank all of you for your dedication and commitment. I appreciate you coming out today. It is a rather nice, beautiful day, so I knew I’d come out too. (Laughter.) But again, thank you all for what you’re doing. It’s just a real delight to see you. Thank you. (Applause.)

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Dear SecState Tillerson: Congrats on 737 Cost Savings, But Don’t Ditch Your Press Corps on #Turkey Trip

Posted: 3:01 am ET

 

On March 23, the State Department reiterated during the Daily Press Briefing Secretary Tillerson’s excuse for ditching his traveling press:

[H]e was clear and he’s spoken about this in his interviews – is that he is committed to a smaller footprint. That’s not to say – let me be clear – that we’re not going to look at taking any press in future trips. I’m not saying that at all. But he is committed to a smaller footprint. And with respect to the trip to Asia, the space constraints on the plane did not allow, frankly, for a press contingent. So we worked with — [snip] So we work with our embassies. I think it is. And I can get into this. I don’t – we don’t need to have this out here, but I’m happily – happy to talk to you about this offline. But there’s a significant cost savings to taking the smaller plane, but that smaller plane requires – or has minimal seating.

Secretary Tillerson cited “cost savings” in using a smaller aircraft ( a 737), which apparently also “flies faster”; presumably in comparison to the 757 previously used by his predecessors?

We don’t know much about airplanes, so you know we’ve got to take a look, right?

Here is the current secstate’s 737 | C-40 B/C via af.mil:

The C-40 B/C is based upon the commercial Boeing 737-700 Business Jet. The body of the C-40 is identical to that of the Boeing 737-700, but has winglets. Both models have state of the art avionics equipment, integrated GPS and flight management system/electronic flight instrument system and a heads up display. Heading the safety equipment list is the traffic collision avoidance system and enhanced weather radar. The aircraft is a variant of the Boeing next generation 737-700, and combines the 737-700 fuselage with the wings and landing gear from the larger and heavier 737-800. The basic aircraft has auxiliary fuel tanks, a specialized interior with self-sustainment features and managed passenger communications. The cabin area is equipped with a crew rest area, distinguished visitor compartment with sleep accommodations, two galleys and business class seating with worktables.

The C-40B is designed to be an “office in the sky” for senior military and government leaders. Communications are paramount aboard the C-40B which provides broadband data/video transmit and receive capability as well as clear and secure voice and data communication. It gives combatant commanders the ability to conduct business anywhere around the world using on-board Internet and local area network connections, improved telephones, satellites, television monitors, and facsimile and copy machines. The C-40B also has a computer-based passenger data system.  The C-40C is not equipped with the advanced communications capability of the C-40B. Unique to the C-40C is the capability to change its configuration to accommodate from 42 to 111 passengers.

The C-40 B/C is based upon the commercial Boeing 737-700 Business Jet. The C-40 B/C provides safe, comfortable and reliable transportation for U.S. leaders to locations around the world. The C-40B’s primary customers are the combatant commanders and C-40C customers include members of the Cabinet and Congress.  (Courtesy photo)

Previously, the secretary of state’s airplane was a C-32, a specially configured version of the Boeing 757-200 commercial intercontinental airliner.  This is the aircraft used by Secretary Kerry.  757 | C-32  via af.mil:

The C-32 provides safe, comfortable and reliable transportation for our nation’s leaders to locations around the world. The primary customers are the vice president, using the distinctive call sign “Air Force Two,” the first lady, and members of the Cabinet and Congress. The C-32 body is identical to that of the Boeing 757-200, but has different interior furnishings and 21st century avionics. The passenger cabin is divided into four sections: A) The forward area has a communications center, galley, lavatory and 10 business class seats; B) The second section is a fully-enclosed stateroom for the use of the primary passenger. It includes a changing area, private lavatory, separate entertainment system, two first-class swivel seats and a convertible divan that seats three and folds out to a bed. C) The third section contains the conference and staff facility with eight business class seats. D) The rear section of the cabin contains general seating with 32 business-class seats, galley, two lavatories and closets.

The USAF C-32 fact sheet also says that this aircraft is more fuel efficient and has improved capabilities over its C-137 predecessor. “It can travel twice the distance on the same amount of fuel, and operate on shorter runways down to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) in length. Its 92,000-pound (41,731 kilogram) fuel capacity allows the aircraft to travel 5,500 nautical miles unrefueled.”

Here is the side-by-side comparison of the two planes, the 757 that former Secretary Kerry used and the 737 that Secretary Tillerson is currently using.

Cost savings? Yes, but …

There are fixed costs associated with operating an aircraft that do not vary according to aircraft usage (crew, maintenance, labor, parts, operations overhead, administrative overhead, etc) so we requested from the State Department the cost savings identified with the Tillerson trip to Asia. Its official response was to direct us to the DOD comptroller for the travel per hour cost. According to the DOD Comptroller’s FY2017 hourly rates for fixed wing aircraft effective October 1, 2016 (used when the applicable aircraft are provided on a reimbursable basis), Secretary Tillerson’s 737/C-40C aircraft costs about a third of the previous secretary’s 757 cost per hour.

But, because there’s always a but …the 737/C-40C model used by members of the Cabinet and Congress can change its configuration to accommodate from 42 to 111 passengers. Let’s just say that Secretary Tillerson is using the 737/C-40B model primary used by combatant commanders; this model still has seats for 26-32 passengers.

Secretary Tillerson traveling party to Asia was small, so he basically flew with a half empty plane but the State Department officially cited “space constraints” as the reason for not having a traveling press.  In any case, if Secretary Tillerson is saving money by using a smaller but mostly empty plane, he surely can save more money by using a smaller plane with paying passengers (press pay for their rides in USG planes) instead of empty seats, won’t he?  He does not have to take the whole village, but he has to take more than one, and they ought not be preselected for obvious reasons.

To Turkey, to Turkey

On Friday, the State Department announced that Secretary Tillerson will travel to Ankara, Turkey, on March 30, to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior Turkish government officials, then travel to Brussels, Belgium on March 31 to visit NATO.

The Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world, rates Turkey’s press freedom status as “not free.” Its report on Turkey states: “Media outlets are sometimes denied access to events and information for political reasons. Critical outlets are regularly denied access to the AKP’s party congress and meetings, and the government prevents certain journalists from attending press conferences or accompanying officials on foreign visits.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) notes that Turkey jails more journalists than any other country in 2016 and closes some 178 news outlets and publishing houses by decree in the space of five months.

This is one trip where the Secretary of State absolutely cannot afford to ditch his traveling press.

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US to Implement Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications

Posted: 4:08 am ET

 

Read the cables via Reuters:

1) CABLE 23338 – Guidance to Visa-Issuing Posts; March 10, 2017

2) CABLE 24324 – Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications; March 15, 2017

3) CABLE 24800 – Halt Implementation; March 16, 2017

4) CABLE 25814 – Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications; March 17, 2017

 

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“America First” Budget Targets @StateDept Funding ( Just 1% of Total Federal Budget)

Posted: 3:13 am  ET

 

We recently posted about the Trump budget for FY2018 that will reportedly proposed funding cuts of up to 30% for the State Department (see  With @StateDept Facing a 30% Funding Cut, 121 Generals Urge Congress to Fully Fund Diplomacy and Foreign Aid@StateDept Budget Could Be Cut By As Much as 30% in Trump’s First Budget Proposal?@StateDeptbudge Special Envoy Positions Could Be in Trump’s Chopping Block — Which Ones?). We understand that this number could actually be closer to 40%, which is simply bananas, by the way.  It would be ‘must-see’ teevee if Secretary Tillerson appears before the House and Senate committees to justify the deep cuts in programs, foreign aid, diplomatic/consular posts, embassy security, staffing, training, or why we’re keeping just half the kitchen sink. Just a backgrounder, below is the budget request composition for FY2016:

fy2016-sfops-budget-request

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Previous posts on FS funding:

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On February 27, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney showed up at the WH Press Briefing to talk about President Trump’s budget.  Before you are all up in arms, he said that what we’re talking about right now is “not a full-blown budget” which apparently will not come until May.  So this “blueprint” does not include mandatory spending, entitlement reforms, tax policies, revenue projections, or the infrastructure plan and he called this a “topline number only.” Agencies are given 48 hours to respond to OMB (holy camarba!). Excerpt below from his talk at the James S. Brady Briefing Room:

As for what it is, these are the President’s policies, as reflected in topline discretionary spending.  To that end, it is a true America-first budget.  It will show the President is keeping his promises and doing exactly what he said he was going to do when he ran for office.  It prioritizes rebuilding the military, including restoring our nuclear capabilities; protecting the nation and securing the border; enforcing the laws currently on the books; taking care of vets; and increasing school choice.  And it does all of that without adding to the currently projected FY 2018 deficit.

The top line defense discretionary number is $603 billion.  That’s a $54-billion increase — it’s one of the largest increases in history.  It’s also the number that allows the President to keep his promise to undo the military sequester.  The topline nondefense number will be $462 billion.  That’s a $54-billion savings.  It’s the largest-proposed reduction since the early years of the Reagan administration.

The reductions in nondefense spending follow the same model — it’s the President keeping his promises and doing exactly what he said he was going to do.  It reduces money that we give to other nations, it reduces duplicative programs, and it eliminates programs that simply don’t work.

The bottom line is this:  The President is going to protect the country and do so in exactly the same way that every American family has had to do over the last couple years, and that’s prioritize spending.

The schedule from here — these numbers will go out to the agencies today in a process that we describe as passback.  Review from agencies are due back to OMB over the course of the next couple days, and we’ll spend the next week or so working on a final budget blueprint.  We expect to have that number to Congress by March 16th.  That puts us on schedule for a full budget — including all the things I mentioned, this one does not include — with all the larger policy issues in the first part of May.

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Q    But we’re not talking about 2 or 3 percent — we’re talking about double-digit reductions, and that’s a lot.

DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  There’s going to be a lot of programs that — again, you can expect to see exactly what the President said he was going to do.  Foreign aid, for example — the President said we’re going to spend less money overseas and spend more of it here.  That’s going to be reflected in the number we send to the State Department.

Q    Thank you very much.  One quick follow on foreign aid.  That accounts for less than 1 percent of overall spending.  And I just spoke with an analyst who said even if you zero that out, it wouldn’t pay for one year of the budget increases that are being proposed right now.  So how do you square that amount?  So why not tackle entitlements, which are the biggest driver, especially when a lot of Republicans over the years have said that they need to be taxed?

DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  Sure.  On your foreign aid, it’s the same answer I just gave, which is, yes, it’s a fairly part of the discretionary budget, but it’s still consistent with what the President said.  When you see these reductions, you’ll be able to tie it back to a speech the President gave or something the President has said previously.  He’s simply going to — we are taking his words and turning them into policies and dollars.  So we will be spending less overseas and spending more back home.

 

See three separate threads on Twitter with some discussion of the proposed cuts.

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Snapshot: @StateDept Aid Allocation by Region and Top Recipients, FY2016 Request

Posted: 3:06 am  ET

 

Via CRS

Under the FY2016 request, top foreign assistance recipients would not differ significantly from FY2014 (FY2015 country data are not yet available). Israel would continue to be the top recipient, with a requested $3.1 billion (level with FY2014) in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funds, followed by Afghanistan, for which $1.5 billion was requested (a 28% increase from FY2014). Egypt would receive $1.5 billion (-3% from FY2014), largely in FMF to support shared security interests, and Jordan would get $1.0 billion (-1% from FY2014) to promote security and stability in the region as well as address economic and security strains related to the crisis in Syria. Pakistan would get $804 million (a 10% cut from FY2014), to continue ongoing efforts to increase stability and prosperity in the region. Other top recipients include Kenya ($630 million), Nigeria ($608 million), Tanzania ($591 million), and other African nations that are focus countries for HIV/AIDS programs. A new addition to the top recipient list under the request would be Ukraine, for which $514 million was requested (snip).

Below is the proposed FY2016 foreign operations budget allocations by region and country.

top-recipients-fy2016-request

Funding allocation among regions would change slightly under the FY2016 request compared with FY2014 (FY2015 regional data are not yet available), with Europe/Eurasia and the Western Hemisphere increasing their share by 2% each as a result of proposed funding for Ukraine and Central America. Africa’s share of aid funding would decline by about 5% from FY2014 estimates.

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