Student journalist to Pompeo: Why you were doing this when you’ve provided cover for a president who has made light of violence against the press

Via The Bulletin:

Sarah Spoon, Emporia State University:  Mr. Secretary, I do think this is an important question and I was just wondering if you could explain to us why you’re reaching out specifically to student newspapers on college campuses. As Mr. Kuros (the office of press relations for the State Department) put it to me today, this is a historic move for the Secretary of State as this is not normal for the Secretary of State to reach out to college campuses, but I wanted to know why you were doing this when you’ve provided cover for a president who has made light of violence against the press, has mocked disabled reporters and has even offered to pay the legal fees of supporters who assault members of the media?

Pompeo: Yeah, President Trump and I both understand how the importance of press freedom and the importance for students like you to have the opportunity to say things. What we value is when you say things that are truthful and that you don’t engage in political rhetoric as a journalist that is not reflective of reality. What’s important is that we make sure that we have facts and data and that we report things, that reporters report things that are truthful and accurate and that they work hard to make sure they get those facts right or determined to do that. And, I couldn’t tell you, you suggested that it is unusual for Secretaries of State to engage with reporters at academic institutions across America. I think that’s unfortunate. I think that’s sad. I wish my predecessors had taken some of their time to do it. They were certainly all busy people, I certainly have a full agenda as well, but it’s an imperative that we get this right, that you all have every chance to hear from America’s senior leaders, to take your measure of them, to ask us difficult questions. We have responsibility to answer for our actions and to speak the truth to you as best we know and the best we can deliver and I hope I’ve done that with y’all today.

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Pompeo Announces Departure of All Remaining U.S. Embassy Caracas Diplomats From Venezuela

 

On March 14, Secretary Pompeo announced the “temporary” departure of all remaining US Embassy Caracas diplomats from Venezuela. He also said that “We look forward to resuming our presence once the transition to democracy begins. ”

Two days ago, the State Department reissued its Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory after the March 11, 2019 announcement of temporary suspension of operations of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas and withdrawal of diplomatic personnel in Venezuela. The advisory cautions American travelers to  “not travel to Venezuela due to crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, and arbitrary arrest and detention.”

Keep the local staffers in your thoughts, personnel withdrawal does not include the local employees. See CDA James Story video here with a message to the people of Venezuela.

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Pompeo on @StateDept: What They Needed Wasn’t More Money, What They Needed Was a Leader Who … Who’s That?

The Trump budget proposal for the FY2020 State Department funding is now out. HFAC already called the proposal which includes a 23% cut ‘dead on arrival” on Capitol Hill. Even if this request doesn’t pass, it clearly reflects the administration’s views on diplomacy and development. If a Foggy Bottom joker starts calling prior State Department funding levels unsustainable, we may fall off our chair and scream out loud. The Administration’s budget request for DOD was $686.1 billion in FY2019 and $750 billion in FY2020. And $750 billion is sustainable? Anyway, brief run-down of the budget requests in the last few years:

FY2017:  The FY2017 budget request under the Obama Administration amounted in $52.78 billion in new budget authority for the State Department, Foreign Operations, and Related Appropriations (SFOPS). When Congress passed the appropriations bill, the  total enacted SFOPS funding for FY2017 was $57.53 billion, an 8.8% increase over the FY2016 SFOPS funding level. According to the CRS, the increase is entirely due to a 40% total increase in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding.

FY2018: President Trump submitted his FY2018 budget request to Congress on May 23, 2017. The request sought $40.25 billion (-30% compared with FY2017 enacted) for SFOPS, including Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds. The 115th Congress enacted the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, which provided FY2018 funding for the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS). Division K of the act―State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS)― provided a total of $54.18 billion, including Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds and rescissions. This represented a decrease of 6.1% from the FY2017 actual funding level according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

FY2019: The Trump Administration submitted to Congress its FY2019 budget request on February 12, 2018. The State Department budget proposal under Rex Tillerson included $41.86 billion for the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS). CRS notes: Comparing the request with the FY2018-enacted funding levels, the FY2019 request represents a 22.7% decrease in SFOPS funding. The proposed State and related agency funding would be 18.2% below FY2018 enacted and the foreign operations funding would be reduced by 24.7%. Both the House and Senate appropriations committees have approved FY2019 SFOPS bills that include funding at higher levels than the Administration requested and equal to or greater than FY2018 enacted funding. Congress eventually appropriated $56.1 billion, ensuring that the agency has the resources it needs.

FY2020: Trump’s FY2020 budget request for the State Department, the first under Pompeo, proposes $40 billion for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). State’s Bureau of Budget and Planning guy Doug Pitkin said, “the last two budgets, for example, included reductions to State and AID personnel. This budget does not propose that.” He also argued that despite the almost 25% cut, this  budget request apparently “does support diplomacy and development”.

All that to highlight what Secretary Pompeo said in an interview recently. Secretary Pompeo  (who we imagine is known …er fondly in Foggy Bottom as Swagger Mike) gave an interview to McClatchy’s Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle on March 11. We must admit that since this was an interview, we certainly could not blame his speechwriters for the gems here. Neither the video nor the transcript of this interview appears on state.gov, as of this writing but the reporters have a short video clip which we embedded below, and you can read the report with the quotes here.

“I’ll testify on Capitol Hill in a week or two on our budget and I’m very confident that the State Department will have the resources it needs,” Pompeo said. “It always has. President Trump has ensured that it has. And we’ll get to where we’ll need to be.”

 

 

“The people at the State department understand what’s going on,” Pompeo said.

 

“What they needed wasn’t more money,” he said. “What they needed was a leader who was prepared to empower them, was prepared to let them go out and do their job.”

“When I talked about swagger it was about going out in the world and having the confidence that as an American diplomat you represent the greatest nation in the history of civilization,” he said.

“That’s what the people of the State Department want and need. We’re giving it to them in spades. They’re responding to it wonderfully. We’re doing wonderful work all around the world.”

@SecPompeo Announces Withdrawal of All US Personnel From Venezuela, Also Who Needs the Next Curveball?

 

In a most worrisome development, Secretary Pompeo announced the withdrawal of all remaining  personnel from US Embassy Caracas in Venezuela. The announcement cites  the “deteriorating situation” and the staff’s presence becoming “a constraint on U.S. policy” as the reasons for the withdrawal.

When the secretary of state calls his own diplomats’ presence “a constraint” — as in a limitation, a hindrance, an impediment — on U.S. policy specific to a particular country, what does that tell you? That the talking is done? What comes after all talks are done, or in this case, after all tweets were sent?

And when the secretary of state announces the evacuation of all remaining personnel from the embassy, what signal is he sending Maduro? How will Maduro respond? We don’t know about you, but we’re worried; why announce this evacuation prior to it actually happening? What arrangements are being made for private Americans still in Venezuela?

Then there’s this, of course, which shows a willingness to assign blame because it was convenient and easy. This was also the week when #miltaryintervention was briefly trending on Twitter. It looks like that’s about to get loud again.

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At the @StateDept’s International Women of Courage Awards, a Regrettable Lack of Courage

Published 12:15 am EDT

 

Secretary Pompeo (Mar. 7  – Excerpt):

Women of courage exist everywhere. Most will never be honored. They face different challenges, but challenges that still matters. I’ve personally, of course, had this experience as well. I’ve witnessed women service in my time in the military and have been inspired by them in my personal life. My mother, too, was a woman of courage. She was born in rural Kansas. She helped make ends meet while raising three kids. She never managed to get to college, but made sure that each of us had enormous opportunity. You all know women like this. They’re strong. She was dedicated to providing opportunity for me and my siblings, and we didn’t appreciate the sacrifices that she had endured. And she also raised me to be really smart; I met another courageous woman, Susan, my wife, who’s here with me today. (Laughter and applause.)

We all know – I know – from a lifetime of experience that women of courage exist everywhere and they’re needed everywhere. That’s one reason I’ve appointed women to dozens of senior leadership roles here at the place I am privileged to work. From under secretaries to assistant secretaries to non-career ambassadorships, we know here we can’t succeed without empowering women worldwide, and that means we need to make sure that we have women empowered at our department worldwide.

And now it’s my honor to welcome our distinguished guest speaker today, a woman of incredible power and courage, a woman who has been a powerful advocate in her own right. Since becoming First Lady, she’s been increasingly outspoken against the enslavement of human trafficking and sexual abuse of women and girls all around the globe. I know she will continue to be an influential leader, an influential voice who inspires future women leaders like herself all around the world. Please join me in welcoming the First Lady of the United States of America, Melania Trump. (Applause.)  Full Text»

Wow, okay, can somebody please tell the secretary of state that he needs better speechwriters, pronto?!

Also you’ve probably seen the news already about the rescinded award for Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro.  FP reported:

“…the State Department spokesperson said in an email that Aro was “incorrectly notified” that she had been chosen for the award and that it was a mistake that resulted from “a lack of coordination in communications with candidates and our embassies.” “We regret this error. We admire Ms. Aro’s achievements as a journalist, which were the basis of U.S. Embassy Helsinki’s nomination,” the spokesperson said.
[…]
To U.S. officials who spoke to FP, the incident underscores how skittish some officials—career and political alike—have become over government dealings with vocal critics of a notoriously thin-skinned president.
[…]
In the minds of some diplomats, this has created an atmosphere where lower-level officials self-censor dealings with critics of the administration abroad, even without senior officials weighing in.

Our understanding is that posts who submit  nominations for this award are typically required to affirm that they had thoroughly vetted their candidates,  including social media.  The nominations do not happen in secret. Posts actually have to tell their candidates that they’re being nominated otherwise they may not be available when the award is handed out. Posts also have to tell their candidates when they are not selected.

It is likely that we won’t now exactly what happened here until we get to the oral history part many years down the road.

For now, we’re just watching out on who will throw those unnamed lower level officials under the bus, then run them over some more until you see the tire tracks on their souls?

@StateDept’s Chief Diplomatic Recruiter Seeks Diversity, Heads to a State With 91.1 Percent White Population

Posted: 4:01 am EDT

 

We’ve been ill, so we’re just catching up on this news.  One of the purported reasons for the secretary of state’s recent trip to Iowa is to recruit flesh blood to add to his “75,000 great warriors out around the world” doing, as best we could tell, diplomatic and consular work. We don’t know how the secretary and his smart people on the 7th Floor missed the fact that Iowa is actually overwhelmingly white. Like 91.1 percent white. Also, in January 2019, WalletHub notes that Iowa is not doing really great in bridging racial disparities –the state ranks 48th in racial integration, and number 50 on its racial progress ranking (Maine took the 51st spot, by the way).  WalletHub said it measured the gaps between blacks and whites across 22 key indicators of equality and integration in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  See link below.

We’d like to helpfully note that as of September 2018, at least 81 percent of the State Department’s career foreign service officers are white, at least 75 percent of the career foreign service specialists are white, and 60 percent of career civil service employees are white (see Snapshot: @StateDept Permanent Workforce by Ethnicity, Race, Gender, and Disability).  The agency has  0.10 percent Native Hawaiian representation, and 0.40 percent American Indian representation. Those numbers disappear at the senior ranks. Don’t mind us, but that trip to Iowa would have made more sense if it were a trip to Puerto Rico, Hawaii, or the areas with the largest American Indian and Alaska Native population.

During his trip, Secretary Pompeo told the Iowa Farm Bureau he wants to ensure “people from the heartland” serve within the Foreign Service. Okay, but if it’s important enough to warrant a trip, why have they not created a hashtag to go with it, hey?

So geographic diversity is more important than diversity of thoughts? Yes? No?

Or it it that this time, for this specific trip, geographic diversity is kinda important?

A recent Miles With Mike blog/newsletter/scrapbook rolled into one alerted everyone that “In the next few weeks” he will be  “traveling around our country to meet and speak with Americans in numerous cities, to hear how we can best advance their interests.”

Very confusing. First, it was visit the farmers and the heartland, then also recruit for the State Department, and now it looks like he will be on a listening tour in numerous cities to um, hear how he can “best advance their interests.”

Anyway, this should be interesting. How is he going to ensure geographic diversity remains to be seen. Candidates still have to take the exam. Is the Foreign Service Board of Examiners going to start awarding points to Foreign Service candidates based on their states of birth, or states of residence? Or voter registration? We suspect that Congress would be interested on any potential changes specific to Foreign Service recruitment. Also, with our society being prone to litigation, if this geographic diversity selection ever becomes policy, how soon before the non-heartland people sign up for class action?

Source: WalletHub

 

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SoS: Look, he did not say what he said. I know precisely what he said and you don’t — even if you saw his tweet

Posted: 4:24 am EST

 

Here is the 70th Secretary of State acting as the President of the United States’ universal translator. Transcript is available here. People say that a few more performances like this and they might have to start giving him a new nickname.

Coz, you know what that Orwell fella wrote: “In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense.”

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Nauert Withdraws, UN Ambassador Post Available Again, Hurry!

Posted: 12:30 am EST

 

We’re late on this but apparently, Heather Nauert who was publicly announced as nominee to be the next U.N. Ambassador has withdrawn herself from consideration citing “the past two months” as “grueling” for her family. Her statement released with the State Department announcement on February 16 says that “it is in the best interest” of her family to withdraw.

Bloomberg News says “Trump’s pick for UN ambassador had employed a nanny who was in US legally but didn’t have a US work permit.”

Wait. When was this nanny hired? The spokesperson job does not require senate confirmation but like almost all jobs at the State Department, it requires a security clearance. So are they saying that the nanny issue, if that was the issue, did not come up during her initial vetting when she first came to State two years ago?

MSM is also reporting that Ms. Nauert is not expected to return to her State Department jobs. Until her announced nomination, she was the department spokesperson, and for a while, she was also the Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, after the Senate-confirmed “R” Steve Goldstein was fired with Rex Tillerson.  In August 2018, the State Department appointed career FSO Robert Palladino as deputy spokesperson. But to-date, no one has been announced to succeed her as spokesperson, and there’s not even an acting spokesperson.

In any case, the post of UN Ambassador is up for grabs again, and some names we’ve heard before, we are hearing once more.  The Apprentice UN Edition is now on, people! So exciting dammit, I nearly micturated!

A side note —

At times, though not always, the State spokesperson is also dual-hatted as the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. The assistant secretary position used to be Senate-confirmed but P.L. 112-116, the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011 (signed into law August 10, 2012), removed the requirement for Senate confirmation of Assistant Secretaries of State for Public Affairs.

Anyone remember why this was done?

You should know that on February 5, Secretary Pompeo delegated to Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michelle Giuda the authorities of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R). Her official title is “Senior Official for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs.

It appears that the State Department is just going with “senior official” now and no longer even make use of the “acting” title for officials.  It also appears that the State Department no longer adhere to the previous practice of only appointing Senate-confirmed officials in “acting” capacity (don’t remember senior officials as responsible for their bureaus prior to this administration). We should note that only one official at the “R” bureau has been confirmed by the Senate, that’s the Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce (and spouse of former HFAC chair Ed Royce).

Is this Pompeo’s version of Trump’s “I like acting. It gives me more flexibility.”

 

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US Embassy Haiti Now on Mandatory Evacuation For All Non-Emergency Staff and Family Members

Posted: 7:06 pm PST
Updated: 8:23 pm PST

 

After about a week of protests in Haiti, the State Department issued a mandatory and voluntary departure orders for some family members of non-emergency staff at the US Embassy in Haiti. See U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on Mandatory Evacuation For Diplomatic Family Members Under the Age of 18, “Authorized Departure” Also On.

On February 14, the US Embassy issued a Security Alert noting about “reports of armed men in the area near U.S. Embassy personnel housing compounds.” Post instructed embassy personnel “to remain indoors.”

We understand that post had requested the full “ordered departure” for non-emergency staff within the last 24 hours.  An official statement on the status of non-emergency personnel in country has now gone out. The mandatory evacuation is for all non-essential staff, and for all family members. As of this writing, the Haiti Travel Advisory is still dated February 12, and has not been updated to reflect the updated “ordered departure” status for non-essential personnel.

Updated: When we look at travel.state.gov again at 8:23 pm PST, the February 14 updated Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory for Haiti  is up. The Advisory notes the crime and civil unrest in the country, the mandatory evacuation of non-emergency staff and family members, and the U.S. government’s  limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Haiti.