Trump Exits From Syria, Cites “Historic Victories Against ISIS”

The President of the United States minus the “Mission Accomplished” banner, announcing the “historic victories against ISIS” and withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria:

The happy, thumbs-up people:

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Ambassadors Crocker, Ford, Jeffrey and Neumann: Why we need to keep our ambassador in Yemen

Posted: 01:10 EST

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Ryan Crocker was ambassador to Kuwait, Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Afghanistan.  Robert Ford was ambassador to Algeria and Syria.  James Jeffrey was ambassador to Albania, Turkey and Iraq and deputy National Security Advisor. Ronald Neumann was ambassador to Algeria, Bahrain and Afghanistan. The four former ambassadors who served in some of our most difficult posts overseas authored the following piece:

Why we need to keep our ambassador in Yemen

via The Hill, February 6, 2015:

Yemen’s increasing tumult recently led two members of Congress to call for the withdrawal of U.S. Ambassador Matthew Tueller.  We appreciate the concern for Matt Tueller, someone we all know and esteem.  Yet we disagree both that the decision should be made solely on the basis of danger and that it should be made primarily in Washington.

No group could take security more seriously than we do.  Each of us in our own diplomatic service has been shot at, rocketed, and mortared.  One survived a bombing and another missed a bomb by minutes.  We have all buried colleagues who were less lucky than we.  We know that even the best reasoned security decisions can be wrong.  And yet we disagree.

Yemen exemplifies why American diplomats need to take personal risks in our national interest.  Yemen teeters on the edge of civil war.  The fight there with Al-Qaeda is far from successful but is not yet lost.  At this critical time engagement and judgment on the ground are essential to try to stabilize the situation before Yemen slides into such complete chaos that outsiders are helpless to influence the situation.

The so-called Houthis (a name the group doesn’t use) who have seized power in Yemen’s capital have Iranian friends but the relationship is unclear and we should not jump to facile assumptions of a close Iranian alliance.  We need understanding of what the Houthis seek, whether we share interests and whether our financial and military assistance can help leverage political stabilization; the kind of judgments that can only be made on the ground in an evolving situation.

The Saudis have strong interests in Yemen and strong influence with some tribes. We should try to cooperate with the Saudis because of their strong influences, our broad relationship with them and the depth of their interest.  But we cannot rely on their or anyone else’s analysis.  Further we need to be aware of long developed Saudi views that sometimes prejudice their recommendations. In short, only if we are making our own analysis on the ground can we even begin to have a dialogue of equals with the Saudis.

We still provide critical support to the political transition despite the turmoil.  This aid needs close coordination with the UN mediator who is taking his own risks.

We are maintaining a military involvement in Yemen, both working with some Yemeni forces and periodically striking al-Qaeda elements.   At this politically sensitive time of interaction between multiple tribal and political groups in Yemen we must have up to the minute judgment on whether a given strike will influence or, potentially, ruin political negotiations to stabilize the country.  There is no one-size fits all judgment.  The call cannot be made from a distance or by relying only on technical intelligence because it is fundamentally a matter of political calculation.

The interaction with key players in Yemen can only be maintained by an ambassador.  Lower ranking officials, no matter how smart or how good their Arabic—Ambassador Tueller’s is among the best in the Foreign Service—cannot interact at the same senior levels as can the Ambassador.  For dealing with allies and local parties, coordinating our military and political instruments of influence, and providing Washington with judgments unattainable in any other way we need our ambassador on the ground as long as he can possibly function.

The issue must not be only one of risk but of whether the risks can be mitigated through intelligence and security precautions.  Mitigation does not mean one is secure but it lowers the level of risk and can include significant reduction of embassy personnel.  But the ambassador should be the last, not the first, out.

The time may come when Ambassador Tueller has to leave not withstanding all of the above.  The risks may become so high that they cannot be mitigated.  Or the situation may be so chaotic that he cannot function and we are painfully aware that civilian lives as well as those of possible military rescue elements are at stake in any such situation.

But even then the decision to evacuate, in Yemen as in cases that will arise in the future, should be driven by those directly responsible beginning and strongly influenced by the ambassador on the ground in consultation with the embassy security advisor.  The ambassador will have to calmly weigh risk against mission utility.

We have each been there and we know how difficult this is, how tempting it may be to stay just a little too long, or, on the other hand, and how hard it can be to resist Washington’s concerns    But the fact remains that no one is better placed to evaluate the local scene and make the decision than the Ambassador and no one else will pay the same price if the decision is wrong.  Washington should do everything it can to secure the embassy.  But it must understand the supreme value of keeping a highly qualified ambassador in Yemen if at all possible.

Ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller  (photo by US Embassy Yemen/FB)

Ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller
(photo by US Embassy Yemen/FB)

 

Last month, Senator Dianne Feinstein made news for wanting the embassy in Yemen evacuated ASAP.  On January 28, the Boston Herald also reported that Congressman Stephen Lynch had urged President Obama to pull Ambassador Matthew Tueller out of Yemen, amid fears of a terror attack similar to one that occurred in Libya in 2012.

Politico’s Michael Crowley did an excellent piece on our man in Yemen here. Ambassador Crocker who served with Ambassador Tueller in Kuwait and Iraq quipped, “He personifies one of my mantras for service in the Middle East: Don’t panic.”

Learn more about U.S.interest in Yemen via CRS — Yemen: Background and U.S. Relations | Jan 21, 2015.

 

 

 

US Mission Iraq: Shrinking to 5,500 Personnel by End of Year, Never Mind the Missing Details

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, we were greeted with news about a wave of bombings in Iraq which killed 65 people and wounded over 200.

Then CNN came out with this piece on Iraq war for oil.

And retired FSO Peter Van Buren went on Fox News to talk about $15 million a day spent on  projects in Iraq (did you think he was going away?).  We heard from a nosy source that a former US ambassador to Iraq was reportedly on the phone to offer a, what do you call it — a counter-point, during the segment but the line went dead as a door nail when informed that Mr. Van Buren was the guest. Them phone signals can get occasionally wacky, must be that dry western climate.

Oh, and Mr. Rumsfeld made a serious tweet (can you hear Tehran celebrating the 10th anniversary with a roar?).

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He got grandly pummeled over in Twitterland. Except that if he did not care what people think ten years ago, would he really care what folks think today? Of course, he is now an octogenarian on Twitter. Hopefully, he’s occupied enough not to plan on liberating any more countries between now and going forward.

Another news doing the rounds is the reported shrinking of US Mission Iraq – from a Gigantosaurus of embassies (projected at 17,000 in 2011 by Ambassador Jeffrey during a SFRC hearing) to hopefully something like a smaller, more agile Postosuchus.

Via the Middle East Online

The US mission in Iraq — the biggest in the world — will slash its numbers by two-thirds by the end of this year from its peak figure of over 16,000, the American ambassador to Baghdad said.

Overall staffing levels at the US’s embassy in Baghdad and its consulates in the southern port city of Basra, the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil and the disputed northern city of Kirkuk, will drop to around 5,500, including contractors, by the end of the year.

“A year ago, we were well above 16,000, now we’re at 10,500,” Ambassador Stephen Beecroft told reporters. “By the end of this year, we’ll be at 5,500, including contractors.”

As a prospective 5,500-person mission, it would probably still be one of the largest embassies in the world, if not still the largest (anyone knows what is the personnel-complement of US Mission Afghanistan?).

We’ve asked the Press Office of the US Embassy in Baghdad how many career Foreign Service personnel will be expected in Baghdad and constituent posts by end of year and what they are planning to do with all that space that will soon be vacated. We forgot to ask but we also are curious on what they’ll do with the Air Embassy planes (and pilots) and district embassy hospitals and equipment (embassy auction?).  Or how many ambassadorial rank senior officers they will have by end of the year.

Unfortunately, we haven’t got any response to our inquiry. Obviously the folks at the embassy’s Public Affairs shop are professionals who always respond to inquiries from the public even from the pajama-wearing sector who wants to know what’s going on.  Unless, of course, they are overwhelmed with drafting their performance evaluations (we understand it’s EER time).  It is also  entirely possible they were not read in on what they actually are doing by end of this year.  That is, besides the simple math announced on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the invasion.  Poor sods.

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Obama Nominates Robert Stephen Beecroft as Next Ambassador to Iraq

The NYT is reporting that President Obama announced today his intent to nominate Ambassador Robert Stephen Beecroft as the next US Ambassador to Iraq following the withdrawal of his first choice, Brett McGurk in June 2012.

Ambassador Beecroft has been Chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Baghdad since the departure of Ambassador James Jeffrey on June 1, 2012.

Below is a quick bio from US Embassy Baghdad:

Robert Stephen Beecroft, a career member of the Foreign Service, joined Embassy Baghdad as Deputy Chief of Mission on July 14, 2011.  Prior to that, Mr. Beecroft served as Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  He became Chargé d’affaires upon the departure of Ambassador James Jeffrey on June 1, 2012.

Mr. Beecroft’s previous assignments include service in Washington as Executive Assistant to two Secretaries of State and Special Assistant to a Deputy Secretary of State.  He has also held assignments in Department of State’s Executive Secretariat and Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.  Overseas he has served at the U.S. embassies in Amman, Riyadh, and Damascus.  He is a recipient of the Department of State’s Meritorious, Superior, and Distinguished Honor Awards.

Before joining the Foreign Service, Mr. Beecroft practiced law in the San Francisco office of an international law firm.  He holds a B.A. from Brigham Young University and a J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

Ambassador Beecroft graduated from BYU in 1983 and the University of California at Berkeley Law School in 1988. He practiced law in San Francisco for several years before joining the Foreign Service in 1994.

The August 2008 coverage of his appointment as US Ambassador to Jordan by Church News of the Church of Latter-Day Saints has additional personal details here.  The Church News also covered Ambassador Beecroft’s Diplomacy for Human Rights Award on April 21, 2011 at the State Department here.