@StateDept’s Blackhole of Pain Inside the Bureau of Medical Services (MED)

Posted: 12:46 am  PT

 

We previously blogged about the ongoing problems encountered by Foreign Service families with special needs children when dealing with the State Department’s Bureau of Medical Services (MED) (see @StateDept’s Mental Health Services Drive Employees with Special Needs #FSKids Nuts).  Note that as employees prepare for the summer job rotation, MED will be reviewing the medical clearances of employees and family members in preparation for their transfer.  Whatever is the number that is now stuck in MED’s labyrinth, expect that number to go up with the upcoming rotations as kids with special needs are snared in the system that is supposed to help but instead has caused so much disruption and pain.

We understand that medical clearance decisions can be appealed to a panel of three doctors. But we’ve been informed that one of the three in this review panel is the reviewing officer of the the other two. We’d like to know how many cases that come before this review panel are decided in complete agreement by all panel members, and how many cases are decided by the two panel members against the decision of the third panel member/rating official? Perhaps something for the congressional oversight panels to look into? Or something to FOIA if this is going the class action route.

Congress should also look into State’s Medical Services perspective on risk. Would it surprise us all if State/MED doesn’t want to take any? State/MED’s mission is “to safeguard and promote the health and well-being of America’s diplomatic community.”  Does that mean keep everyone with the slightest issue inside the United States instead of sending them on overseas assignments? Bad things can happen just the same in the United States – but of course, MED won’t be responsible when employees are on domestic assignments. It is responsible once employees/family members are overseas. So again, what is State/MED’s perspective on risk, and how much does this inform its decision on the medical clearances issued to FS employees, spouses and their kids?

FP’s Robbie Gramer recently had a lengthy piece on FS families in State’s medical labyrinth. It is quite a read, and don’t miss the quotes.

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Diplomacy: A Rusting Tool of American Statecraft

by Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Senior Fellow, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University, Washington, DC and Cambridge, Massachusetts, February, 2018 

Diplomacy: A Rusting Tool of American Statecraft
A Lecture to programs on Statecraft at American University, Harvard, and MIT [Republished with permission. The original text is available here]

I am here to talk about diplomacy.  This may seem an odd moment to broach the subject.  Our president has told us that it doesn’t matter that his administration is not staffed to do it, because “I’m the only one who matters.”  In other words, “l’état c’est moi.”

Now that it’s got that straight, the United States Department of State has set about dismantling itself.  Meanwhile, the Foreign Service of the United States is dejectedly withering away.  Our ever-flatulent media seem unconvinced that Americans will miss either institution.

I suspect they’re wrong about that.  Diplomacy is an instrument of statecraft that Americans have not been educated to understand and whose history they do not know.  It is not about “making nice.”  Nor is it just a delaying tactic before we send in the Marines.

Diplomacy is a political performing art that informs and determines the decisions of other states and peoples.  It shapes their perceptions and calculations so that they do what we want them to do because they come to see doing so as in their own best interest.  Diplomacy influences the policies and behavior of states and peoples through measures short of war, though it does not shrink from war as a diversion or last resort.  It is normally but not always overtly non-coercive.  It succeeds best when it embraces humility and respects and preserves the dignity of those to whom it is applied.  As the Chinese philosopher, Laozi put it:  “A leader is best when people barely know he exists.  When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves.”

Napoleon called diplomacy, “the police in grand costume” but it is usually not much to look at.  It seldom involves blowing things up, most of its action is unseen, and it is relatively inexpensive.  Diplomacy’s greatest triumphs tend to be preventing things from happening.  But it’s hard to prove they wouldn’t have occurred, absent diplomacy.  So diplomats are more often blamed for what did happen than credited for what didn’t.  Diplomats are even worse than sailors at marching.  Diplomacy stages no parades in which ambassadors and their political masters can strut among baton-twirling majorettes or wave to adoring crowds.   Nor, for the most part, does it justify expensive programs that generate the pork and patronage that nourish politics

All this makes diplomacy both obscure and of little or no direct interest to the central institutions in contemporary Washington’s foreign policy.  As any foreign embassy will tell you, the U.S. Department of Defense and other elements of the military-industrial-congressional complex now dominate the policy process.  Both are heavily invested in theories of coercive interaction between states.  Both favor strategic and tactical doctrines that justify expensive weapons systems and well-paid people to use them.  Activities that cost little and lack drama do not intrigue them.  They see diplomats as the clean-up squad to be deployed after they have demolished other societies, not as peers who can help impose our will without fighting.

U.S. foreign policy is heavily militarized in theory, practice, and staffing.  No one has bankrolled the development of professional diplomatic doctrine, meaning a body of interrelated operational concepts describing how to influence the behavior of other states and people by mostly non-violent means.  So there is no diplomatic equivalent of military doctrine, the pretensions of some scholars of international relations (IR) theory notwithstanding.  This is a very big gap in American statecraft that the growing literature on conflict management has yet to fill.  The absence of diplomatic doctrine to complement military science eliminates most options short of the raw pressure of sanctions or the use of force.  It thereby increases the probability of armed conflict, with all its unpredictable human and financial consequences.

Working out a diplomatic doctrine with which to train professional diplomats could have major advantages.  Diplomatic performance might then continually improve, as military performance does, as experience emended doctrine.   But developing diplomatic doctrine would require acceptance that our country has a need for someone other than dilettantes and amateurs to conduct its foreign relations.  Our politicians, who love the spoils system, seem firmly convinced that, between them, wealthy donors and campaign gerbils can meet most of our needs in foreign affairs, with the military meeting the rest.  The Department of State, which would be the logical government agency to fund an effort at the development of tradecraft and doctrine, is usually led by diplomatic novices.  It is also the perennial runt at the federal budgetary teat.

Leadership of foreign policy by untrained neophytes was to a great extent  the American norm even during the Cold War, when the United States led the world outside the Soviet camp and  deployed unmatched political attractiveness and economic clout.  Now retired and active duty military officers have been added to the diplomatic management mix.  They are experts in the application of violence, not peaceable statecraft, to foreign societies.  How is this likely to work out in the new world disorder?  As the late Deng Xiaoping said, “practice is the sole criterion of truth.”  So we’ll see.  But while we wait for the outcome, there is still time to consider the potential of diplomacy as an instrument of statecraft.

The basis of diplomacy is empathy for the views of others.  It is most effective when grounded in a sophisticated understanding of another’s language, culture, feelings, and intellectual habits. Empathy inhibits killing.  It is not a character trait we expect or desire our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to have.

Language and area training plus practical experience are what enable diplomats to imagine the viewpoint of foreign leaders, to see the world as they do, to analyze trends and events as they would, and to evaluate the pros and cons of actions as they might.  A competent diplomat can use such insights to make arguments that foreign leaders find persuasive.  A diplomat schooled in strategy can determine what circumstances are required to persuade foreign leaders that doing what the diplomat wants them to do is not yielding to superior power but deciding on their own to do what is in their nation’s best interest.

Empathy does not, of course, imply alignment or agreement with the viewpoints of others, just understanding of them.  It is not the same as sympathy, which identifies with others’ perspectives.  Sometimes the aim of diplomacy is to persuade a foreign country to continue to adhere to established policies, because they are beneficial.  But more commonly, it is to change the policies, behavior, and practices of other countries or individuals, not to affirm or endorse them.  To succeed, diplomats must cleave to their own side’s interests, convictions, and policy positions even as they grasp the motivations and reasoning processes of those whose positions they seek to change.  But they must also be able to see their country and its actions as others see them and accept these views as an operational reality to be acknowledged and dealt with rather than denounced as irrational or duplicitous.

To help policy-makers formulate policies and actions that have a real chance of influencing a particular foreign country’s decisions, diplomats habitually find themselves called upon to explain how and why that country’s history and circumstances make it see things and act the way it does.  In the United States, most men and women in senior foreign policy positions did not work their way up the ranks.  They are much more familiar with domestic interest groups and their views than with foreign societies and how they work.  Explanation of foreign positions is easily mistaken for advocacy of them, especially by people inclined to dismiss outlandish views that contradict their prejudices as inherently irrational or malicious.

It’s good domestic politics to pound the policy table in support of popular narratives and nationalist postures and to reject foreign positions on issues as irrational, disingenuous, or malevolent.  But diplomats can’t do that if they are to remain true to their calling.  In a policy process driven more by how things will look to potential domestic critics than by a determination actually to change the behavior of foreigners, diplomats are easily marginalized.  But when they are backed by strong-minded leaders who want results abroad, they can accomplish a great deal that military intervention cannot.

Let me give a couple of examples of how U.S. diplomacy has rearranged other states’ and people’s appraisals of their strategic circumstances and caused them to decide to adopt courses of action favored by the United States.  These examples show both the complexities with which diplomacy must deal and its limitations in terms of its ability to secure assured outcomes.

 

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Russia Expels U.S. Diplomats, Closes Consulate General @USinStPete

Posted: 12:53 pm PT

 

On March 26, the United States expelled 60 Russian diplomats and closed a Russian Consulate in Seattle over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain (see U.S. and 20+ Countries Expel Russian Diplomats Over UK Nerve Agent Attack).

On March 29, in an expected tit for tat move, Russia announced the expulsion of 60 American diplomats and the closure of the U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg. AP citing the Russian Foreign Ministry reports that “the U.S. diplomats, including 58 from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and two from the U.S. consulate in Yekaterinburg, must leave Russia by April 5. It added that the U.S. must leave the consulate in St. Petersburg no later than Saturday.”

If Russia is not expelling U.S. diplomats from St. Petersburg, but closing the consulate there, this could mean that diplomats assigned to St. Pete potentially could move to Moscow, but 60 diplomats (and family members) will still be sent home.  We figured this was coming, some realities of diplomatic life: pack up with as little as 48 hours notice, for those with kids, pull children out of school, find new schools, arrange for shipment of pets, leave your household effects, move into transitional housing for an undetermined duration, etc.

Keep them in your thoughts. It will be a rough time for a while. For Foggy Bottom readers,  please check with AAFSW or the FLO, they may need volunteers to assist with the arrivals.

Here is a brief post history of @USinStPete:

St. Petersburg was the site of the original U.S. Mission to Russia, established in 1780, with Frances Dana as the Minister-designate. Dana spent three years in St. Petersburg, but his credentials were never accepted by the Russian Court. Thus the first Minister Plenipotentiary (Ambassador) of the United States in Russia, was John Quincy Adams, who presented his credentials to Tsar Alexander I on the 5th of November, 1809.

Adams served almost five years in St. Petersburg during the Napoleonic Wars. He finally left St. Petersburg because, as he wrote to President James Madison, he could not afford the expenses related to being Ambassador at Court. John Quincy Adams later became the Sixth President of the United States.

Another future President of the United States, James Buchanan, served in St. Petersburg as “Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary” from 1832-1833.

During the turbulence of the revolution and civil war, Ambassador David R. Francis departed Russia on November 7, 1918, leaving Felix Cole to serve as Charge d’Affaires ad interim until the U.S. Embassy in Russia closed on September 14, 1919. By then, the ruling Bolsheviks had moved the country’s capital from Petrograd (the city’s name since the outbreak of the First World War) to Moscow, and the U.S. diplomatic presence in Peter’s City disappeared for over half a century.

The U.S. Mission was not restored until 1933, when the U.S. Embassy was opened in Moscow, the capital of the USSR.

The U.S. diplomatic presence was reestablished in Leningrad (as St. Petersburg was then called) in 1972, with the opening of a U.S. Consulate General.

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All Promotions Into/Within the Senior Foreign Service Must be Vetted by White House?

Posted: 1:23 am  ET

 

State/HR recently sent a Frequently Asked Questions to newly promoted OCs concerning the differences between being an FS-01, the highest rank in the regular Foreign Service, and as OC, the starter rank in the Senior Foreign Service. The FAQ talks about pay, bidding, EERs, benefits, and of course, promotions. And then there’s this question, and apparent answer:

Q: When are promotions from FS-01 to OC effective?
Answer: Promotion boards issue a list in the fall of officers “recommended” for promotion from FS-01 to OC, OC to MC and MC to CM. However, all promotions into and within the Senior Foreign Service must be vetted by the White House, confirmed by the Senate and attested by the President. This process can take several months. Promotions into and within the SFS are effective the first pay period following Presidential attestation. However, you may start bidding as an OC as soon as the promotion list is released by the board.

Yo! You know this is nuts, right? The White House can barely vet its own staffers, and it will now vet all promotions of FSOs into and within the Senior Foreign Service? With one exception that we are aware of (and we’ll write about that case separately), this WH vetting requirement is new, and yes, we remember the “improved” vetting required by the SFRC back in 2015 (SFRC Bullies Diplomats Up For Promotion to Self-Certify They Have Not Been Convicted of Any Crime).  Is the WH also vetting all senior promotions out of the Pentagon? Who’s going to be doing this and what does this vetting includes? Also whose great idea was this, pray tell?  Will State/HR and A/DGHR soon say that this vetting has always been done by the White House since the beginning of whatevs?

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New U.S. Embassy The Hague Officially Opens With Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony

Posted: 12:10 am  ET

 

On March 26, the U.S. Embassy in The Hague officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony and lots of scissors.  The officials listed below helped cut the ribbon according to the embassy website.

  • Minister of Social Affairs and Employment Wouter Koolmees
  • Mayor Frank Koen of the city of Wassenaar
  • Mayor Pauline Krikke of the city of The Hague
  • Ambassador Peter Hoekstra
  • Ambassador Kenneth D. Ward, United States Permanent Representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)
  • Ambassador William Moser, the Principal Deputy Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations
  • Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Chairman, U.S. House Committee on Appropriations
  • Representative Bill Huizenga (R-MI), Co-Chair, Congressional Caucus on the Netherlands
  • Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Ranking Member, U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats
  • Representative John Carter (R-TX), Chairman, U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security
  • Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Ranking Member, U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Tax Policy
  • Executive Director of the EUR-IO/EX Director Robert S. Needham

One person missing is Nicole Nason, the Assistant Secretary for Administration (A), and as of last week, the person apparently also now in charge of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO). See her one-line official bio here as “A” overseeing twelve offices and OBO (currently unlisted).

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U.S. and 20+ Countries Expel Russian Diplomats Over UK Nerve Agent Attack

Posted: 4:08 am  ET

 

 

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Congress Seeks Documents/Transcribed Interviews in @StateDept “House Cleaning”

Posted: 4:32 am  ET

 

On March 15, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the Ranking Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, sent a letter to the White House and State Department releasing new documents obtained by a whistleblower showing high level political appointees targeting career civil servant employees they believed did not adequately support President Donald Trump’s agenda.

We have obtained extremely disturbing new documents from a whistleblower indicating that high-level officials at the White House and State Department worked with a network of conservative activists to conduct a “cleaning” of employees they believed were not sufficiently “supportive” of President Trump’s agenda. They appear to have targeted these staffers despite being fully aware that they were career civil service employees and despite the career employees expressing willingness to support the policy priorities of the Trump Administration.

Over the past year, we have heard many reports of political attacks on career employees at the State Department, but we had not seen evidence of how extensive, blunt, and inappropriate these attacks were until now. In light of this new information, we now request that you produce additional documents regarding these staffing decisions and make several officials available for transcribed interviews with Committee staff.

The congressional representatives say that the documents they have show that political appointees characterized career State Department employees in derogatory terms, including as “a leaker and troublemaker”; “Turncoat , associated with previous policy”; and “Obama/Clinton loyalists not at all supportive of President Trump’s foreign policy agenda.”

The congressional letter requests the following documents and information including transcribed interviews by March 29, 2018:

(1) all documents and communications referring or relating to any reassignment or proposed reassignment that was considered or ordered since January 20, 2017, of career or civil service employees at the Department;

(2) all documents and communications referring or relating to any proposed or actual reassignment or removal of career or civil service employees at the Department since January 20, 2017, based on alleged personal political beliefs, prior service with previous Administrations, or work on prior Administrations’ foreign policy priorities, including any documents authored by, copying, involving, or referring to:

(a) Christine Ciccone;

(b) Makan Delrahim;

(c) Sean Doocey;

(d) Julia Haller;

(e) Brian Hook;

(f) Edward Lacey;

(g) Matthew Mowers; or

(h) Margaret Peterlin; and

(3) all documents and communications referring or relating to proposed or actual personnel actions since January 20, 2017, against Sahar Nowrouzzadch, including the curtailment of her detail to the Policy Planning staff.

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They’re Making a List, and Checking It Twice #ManOhManOhMan

When you hear that lists sent to DCM Committees have been adjusted by gender for those appointees who are insisting on a man (!) as their Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) or Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS). And you’re still waiting for anyone at DGHR to inform everyone that no committee will entertain any list that promotes, assists, or enables sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.

via giphy

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@StateDept INL Bureau Seeks Contractor as Foreign Service Assignments Officer

Posted: 2:42 am  ET
Update: 12:03 pm PT

 

According to a recent fedbiz announcement, the Office of Resource Management at the Bureau of International Narcotics, and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL/RM) is seeking a Personal Services Contractor who will be the bureau’s “Foreign Service Assignments Officer.” The contract is for one year with four option years.

So State is going to use contractors for assignments officers now?

We can’t recall Foreign Service Assignments Officer as contractors before. Is it far fetched to think of this as a glimpse of the future in Foggy Bottom?  CRS report from 2014 notes that OMB Circular A-76 distinguishes between the exercise of discretion per se, which it says does not make a function inherently governmental, and the exercise of “substantial discretion,” which it says makes a function inherently governmental.

And if the Foreign Service Assignments Officer position is deemed a commercial activity, that is, an activity not so intimately related to the public interest as to mandate performance by government personnel” (see CRS link to inherently government function below) how long before all bureau assignments officer are converted to PSC positions with one year contracts and four year options?

Update: We just got a note telling us that the INL Foreign Service Assignments officer has been a PSC since at least 2010. And that this position “serves in an advisory capacity, ensuring that INL’s program offices and front office understand HR rules and processes,and assists with how the offices conduct the FS assignments process within INL.” This position reportedly “makes no decisions, sets no policy, very non-governmental.”  Also that most bureaus do not have the PSC hiring authority, “so it’s quite unlikely that the function in other bureaus will be moving to contractors any time soon.” 

About INL: The Bureau has overall responsibility for the development, supervision, and implementation of international narcotics control assistance activities and for international criminal justice issues for the Department of State. The Foreign Service Assignments Officer (FSAO) will perform duties related to both domestic and foreign assignments, and will supplement existing staff during times of heavy workload, when staff shortages occur, or when expertise is required for specific projects.

About FSAO: The FSAO receives administrative direction from the Administrative Officer, but acts with a high degree of independence in planning, scheduling, and completing work, within the framework of delegated authority. Many assignments are self-initiated based on the FSAO’s assessment of post requirements and the means to meet them. As the primary liaison with post personnel, regional bureau staff, and office of Career Development and Assignments (HR/CDA) in the Bureau of Human Resources (HR), the FSAO has broad latitude in coordinating work efforts, and plays a key role in ensuring that posts operate effectively and in compliance with relevant regulations.

The FSAO uses a high degree of expertise and independent judgment in developing, consulting, coordinating, and executing programs to achieve compliance with legal and regulatory requirements and organizational goals and objectives, and resolves all but the most complex and sensitive issues. Recommendations and decisions are assumed to be technically accurate, and work is reviewed in terms of the overall effectiveness of the efforts by management within INL/RM as well as by program office staff, post officials, and others who rely on the FSAO’s advice and support.

The announcement says that the purposes of the work “are to collaborate with management in the Department in providing prompt and effective administrative support of the assignment of FS personnel domestically and at INL positions at posts; support INL missions at posts in engaging their administrative and personnel resources as effectively as possible; liaise with relevant Bureaus and USG agencies to ensure that INL’s best interests are protected; and ensure that administrative and substantive policies are mutually compatible.”

  1. SOLICITATION NUMBER: PSC-18-016-INL
  2. ISSUANCE DATE: 03/13/2018
  3. CLOSING DATE: 03/27/2018
  4. TIME SPECIFIED FOR RECEIPT OF APPLICATIONS: 3:00 PM, EST
  5. POSITION TITLE: INL Foreign Service Assignments Officer
  6. MARKET VALUE: $114,590 – $148,967 (GS-14 Equivalent)
  7. PERIOD OF PERFORMANCE: One year from date of award, with four optional years
  8. PLACE OF PERFORMANCE: Washington, DC

Duties and Responsibilities:

  •   Manages the Foreign Service Assignments process, providing expert advice and guidance to senior Bureau managers on all aspects of Foreign Service position management, recruitment, assignment, and evaluation.
  •   Counsels Foreign Service staff on all assignment related questions and provides support and guidance to those individuals who have been offered positions within the Bureau.
  •   Coordinates all FS issues with the appropriate offices within the Bureau of Human Resources, e.g., HR/CDA and HR/PE, resolving issues pertaining to FS assignments and performance, and recommends ways to improve or streamline the process.
  •   Oversees suggestion and award, quality, and or productivity programs related to these activities. Analyzes and evaluates, on a quantitative or qualitative basis, the effectiveness of programs or operations in meeting established goals and objectives.
  •   Liaises with colleagues and professional contacts in other bureaus whose work and role are relevant to supporting INL, including but not limited to Diplomatic Security, the Office of Medical Services, HR/CDA, the Family Liaison Office, the Office of Foreign Missions, Office of Allowances, and others as required.
  •   Analyzes administrative processes and/or agency programs for the Executive Director, with particular emphasis on management and implementation of an effective program in meeting Foreign Service human resources goals and objectives for the Bureau and its worldwide operations.
  •   Identifies problem areas and opportunities for improvement and provides fully staffed recommendations to management, including the Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretaries. This encompasses issues such as streamlining processes, assessing the feasibility of automated systems for meeting the Bureau’s HR responsibilities, standardizing operations, or collaborating with other organizations on mutual responsibilities, improved management practices or the impact of new or proposed legislation or regulations on HR programs.
  •  Communicates with colleagues, agency management, and other contacts outside the agency to gather and analyze information about these agency processes and programs.

 

Related item:

Definitions of “Inherently Governmental Function” in Federal Procurement Law and Guidance PDF | 2014

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Former Ambassador John Feeley’s Parting Shot: Why I could no longer serve this president

Posted: 4:25 am ET

 

Via WaPo:

I never meant for my decision to resign to be a public political statement. Sadly, it became one.

The details of how that happened are less important than the demoralizing take-away: When career public servants take an oath to communicate dissent only in protected channels, Trump administration officials do not protect that promise of privacy.

Leaking is not new in Washington. But leaking a sitting ambassador’s personal resignation letter to the president, as mine was, is something else. This was a painful indication that the current administration has little respect for those who have served the nation apolitically for decades. […] A part of my resignation letter that has not been quoted publicly reads: “I now return home, with no rank or title other than citizen, to continue my American journey.” What this means for me is still evolving.

As the grandson of migrant stock from New York City, an Eagle Scout, a Marine Corps veteran and someone who has spent his diplomatic career in Latin America, I am convinced that the president’s policies regarding migration are not only foolish and delusional but also anti-American.

Read in full below:

Here are a couple of goodbye videos from Panama:

 

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