Foreign Service Tradition: Political Ambassadors Have To Be Out By January 20

Posted: 4:36 pm PT
Updated: 6:02 pm PT
Updated: Jan 10, 2:29 am ET

 

The United States has 170 embassies and 11 missions other than an Embassy headed by a chief of mission (OSCE, UNVIE, USOAS, USOECD, USEU, USUN, USNATO, USUN Geneva, USAU, ASEAN, and US Mission to Somalia).  About 30 percent of these posts are encumbered by political/noncareer appointees (about 50 ambassadors), while the remaining 70 percent are filled by career diplomats.

The NYT coverage of Jan. 5 says that the Trump’s transition staff has issued a blanket edict requiring politically appointed ambassadors to leave their overseas posts by Inauguration Day, and that the mandate was issued “without exceptions.” The piece quotes Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann, the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, who tells NYT that it is reasonable to expect ambassadors to return at the end of a term, given that they are direct representatives of the president with broad grants of authority.

“But I don’t recollect there was ever a guillotine in January where it was just, ‘Everybody out of the pool immediately.’”

The article also quotes Ambassador Marc Grossman who cites former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell who reportedly offered particularly wide latitude to ambassadors facing family issues.  “This was something that was important to Secretary Powell because of his own experience living and serving all over the world, so when people asked him, ‘Could I stay another couple of weeks, couple of months; my kids are finishing school,’ he was very accommodating,” Mr. Grossman said, adding that his flexibility was an “exception” to the general practice.

Secretary Powell was an “exception” to the general practice of the wholesale departure of political appointees at the beginning of every administration.

 

By Tradition, All Political Ambassadors Are Expected to Leave By January 20

All political appointees, including ambassadors “serve at the pleasure of the president.” All appointees of the outgoing administration are expected to leave by the time a new president is sworn into office on January 20. We’ve heard that some chiefs of mission have made requests for extensions to their tenure overseas but until this week, no one reportedly received an official response. We understand that some folks were looking for the cable directive but could not locate it.   We’ve asked State about the cable requesting the COM resignations and the nonresponse to these requests last week but we were later directed to the Transition Team. To-date  we have not received a response to our inquiry.

To read more about this Foreign Service tradition, see FDR’s Request For the Formal Resignations of All Chiefs of U.S. Diplomatic Missions Overseas from 1940 and 1944.

 

Resignation Instructions

Political Ambassadors:  We understand that there was no general cable issued this year and that the resignation instructions to the ambassadors came by email. Individual cables were reportedly sent to political appointees who requested extensions telling them the requests were declined.  These cables directed to individual ambassadors would have been captioned personnel channel and would have had limited distribution. Political ambassadors who did not request extensions did not receive such a cable as it was understood they will depart by January 20.

Career Ambassadors:  The scuttlebutt in our inbox said that for the first time the new administration will actually ask some career ambassadors for their resignations as well. This rumor is not/not true.  We can confirm that career ambassadors were not/not required to submit resignation letters to the Trump Transition. Career ambassadors received this notification last month.  If we’re looking for a break in precedent, this might be it.  This year, there has been no directive, or expectation for career Foreign Service ambassadors to have to submit resignations at the end of the Obama term.

Here is State Department spokesman John Kirby:

kirby-precedent

 

The Hows and Whys of Ambassadorial Extensions

Political ambassadors are some of the president’s, shall we say, best friends. Just as the Bush political ambassadors were closely identified with President George W. Bush, the Obama political ambassadors are also closely identified with President Barack Obama.   All ambassadors are direct representatives of the president. However, political ambassadors are partisan operatives who received their appointments due to their political support of the president. There is therefore, no incentive for any incoming administration, whether Democratic or Republican, to extend the appointments of their political opponents.

Getting political ambassadors to leave is less urgent when the president is on his second term or if the president-elect is from the same party . For example, President Obama appointed Bruce J. Oreck as Ambassador to Finland in 2009. His tenure actually extended to the second Obama term and he did not leave until 2015.  President George W. Bush appointed his pal Roy L. Austin as Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, and his tenure spanned the full two Bush terms.

When there is a change of administration from one political party to the other, as we currently have, the departures become more imperative.  Did some Bush ambassadors asked for extensions when President Obama came to office? Yes. Did the Obama Transition Team agree? In one case we could find, yes.  We don’t have all the names of those given extensions but the AP’s Matt Lee (@APDiplowriter) tweeted that according to officials, in the past two inter-party transitions (Clinton-Bush, Bush-Obama) only about 10 political ambassadors have gotten extensions.  That one example we found is noncareer Ambassador Peter Cianchette who was appointed to Costa Rica by President George W. Bush in May 2008. He stayed in office until June 19, 2009, five months after President Obama’s inauguration.  One of our readers alerted us that Ambassador Dick Morningstar was appointed to the European Union by President Bill Clinton on July 7, 1999. He was allowed to remain at post by Powell/Armitage up to September 21, 2001, eight months into President George W. Bush’s first term.  A blog pal also reminded us that noncareer Ambassador Ford M. Fraker was appointed by President George W. Bush as US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia in May 2007, and departed post in February 8, 2009, a few weeks into President Obama’s tenure.

 

So it happens, though not often, but …

There is nothing that prevents the Trump Transition from granting some of these requests on a case by case basis.  We should note that President-elect Trump has announced his nominees for the United Nations, China and Israel. While there are rumors of nominees for certain posts, the president elect needs to appoint about 50 ambassadorships as he assume office in two weeks. Based on time required to vet nominees, process security clearance, training, and Senate confirmation, we estimate that the firsts of the new ambassadors may not get even to post until late spring or summer.  Also, the Trump Landing Team at the State Department includes two former political ambassadors from the George W. Bush years and one former career diplomat (see Trump Transition: Agency Landing Team For @StateDept Includes Old Familiar Names). They should know what this is like, right?

That said, we have to acknowledge that it is the incoming administration’s prerogative whether to accept or decline extension requests. The new administration holds all the keys.

In a perfect world, Secretary Powell’s “exception” to general practice ought to be the rule. Folks with kids in school would then be able to depart posts without too much disruption for school and the family. But we do not live in a perfect world.  We are sympathetic about not pulling kids out of school in the middle of the school year. Nothing to do with political ambassadorships (kids don’t get to vote what their parents do) just the recognition, from personal experience that moving kids in the middle of a school year is hard and challenging.  While most kids in the Foreign Service are indeed resilient and adaptable, not everyone has that gift.

A side note — even in the career Foreign Service,  the “needs of the service” does not really consider “family issues” even when it should.  Just part and parcel of the job.  At other times, of course, it simply couldn’t.  The risks of diplomatic assignments range from coup d’etats and civil unrests to natural disasters which means that career diplomatic employees and family members have “go-bags” and must always be ready for evacuation orders to  leave homes, schools, friends, even pets, at a moment’s notice (See Children of diplomats displaced by strife often caught between two worlds). A sad reality of the Foreign Service, and a reflection of the ongoing disruptions in various parts of the world.

Embassies Won’t go “Empty”

Finally, as the NYT reported, some of our largest, and most desirable diplomatic posts like France, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Sweden, Belgium, etc. will leave our embassies without Senate-confirmed ambassadors.  While this is true, this does not mean that posts will go “empty”.  At these ambassadors departures, their deputy ambassadors who are career diplomats would step up as chargé d’affaires (CDAs) until the new appointees get to posts.  Maybe it will take six months, maybe eight, we don’t know at this point  how fast the Senate can get them confirmed, though it would be a shorter wait if the new nominees are from the career service.

Note: We remain interested in the resignation instruction to COMs sent via cable so we can compare it to FDR’s. Nerdy request. If you have a copy of the 2008 cable, please drop us a line.

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Some hot and cold reactions from here and there:

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@StateDept Launches Inaugural Leadership Day — Who’s Missing? (Updated)

Posted: 1:07 am ET
Updated: 8:44 pm PT

 

In 2014, we saw a FAM update on Leadership and Management Principles for State Department Employees. Long, long, before that, there was Secretary Colin Powell and leadership. In 2000, FSI launched a new Leadership and Management School. Twelve years later, State/OIG still talked leadership (see State Dept’s Leadership and Management School Needs Some Leadership, And It’s Not Alone). For the longest time after Powell exited the State Department, the one part of the State Department that actively pursued leadership as part of it staff development is the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA). CA developed the Consular Leadership Tenets  in 2006 after receiving input from 87 overseas consular sections. In 2007, somebody even got the then Under Secretary for Management Henrietta Fore to “talked” (PDF) about promoting leadership development, specifically citing the consular leadership tenets and what the bureau “is doing to cultivate a culture of leadership and results-oriented professional development.”

Now, we understand that there were a few folks at CA/EX who made possible the leadership initiative there, including Don Jacobson, the founder of GovLeaders.org. He was previously consular boss for Mission Brazil and received the Raphel Memorial Award for  “outstanding leadership and direction” of the consular team.  He once said:

My best assignments have been those that involved “crucible” experiences–intense experiences rich in learning. For example, in Bogota we had a huge spike in workload and nowhere near the resources we needed to get the job done. We implemented some terrific innovations, but I also wound up burning out some of my officers. I learned a lot from that and have tried to take a much more balanced approach since then. At another post, I had some great opportunities to develop a stronger backbone. I terminated two employees and also had to protect my staff from a difficult senior boss. I used to avoid conflict as much as I could, but that is not helpful in a manager. Managers need to have a backbone in order to be effective—to speak truth to power, to protect their staff from abuse, and to deal with poor performance and unacceptable behavior. These things get easier with practice because, as I have found, difficult problems go away if you actually deal with them. 

Unfortunately, it does not look like he has a speaking part in the State Department’s big leadership powwow. Perhaps all those annual leadership awardees at State should be talking about leadership in practice?

Today, the State Department launched its first Leadership Day.  According to AFSA, the inaugural Leadership Day is organized by the State Department’s Culture of Leadership Initiative (iLead), a voluntary group of employees “working to strengthen leadership skills and practice throughout the State Department.” iLead originated with the 2014 release of the LMPs. The iLead forum is currently co-chaired by Carmen Cantor, HR/CSHRM Office Director; Michael Murphy, Associate Dean at FSI’s Leadership and Management School; and Julie Schechter-Torres, Acting Deputy Director of M/PRI.

As outlined in the 2015 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), the success of the State Department rests on its ability to recruit, train, deploy, and retain talented and dedicated professionals. We must prepare people not only to react quickly to crises, but also to proactively advance our interests – all the while caring for the wellbeing and development of themselves and colleagues. To celebrate recent achievements and to foster continuous commitment to the Department’s Leadership and Management Principles, iLead is organizing a Leadership Day to showcase leadership in practice. The event is scheduled to take place on December 13, 2016 with a plenary session in the Dean Acheson Auditorium and a Leadership Expo in the Exhibit Hall at the Harry S Truman building. The event will feature presentations, panel discussions, and short talks on leadership and professional development by Department staff at all levels and from various disciplines.

The preliminary agenda is as follows:

11:00 AM – 1:00 PM Leadership Expo in the Exhibit Hall, HST

1:00 PM – 4:00 PM Plenary Session in the Dean Acheson Auditorium

The Leadership Day plenary session will be comprised of two segments: a senior leadership panel discussion and a series of short talks on the Leadership and Management Principles. The senior panel will highlight reflections on leadership and bureau best practices as championed by the following participants:

Catherine Novelli, U/S for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment;
Michele Thoren Bond, A/S for Consular Affairs;
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, A/S for African Affairs;
William Brownfield, A/S for Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Interested employees may send questions for the panel to ilead@state.gov.

We noticed the names absent from the above line-up.  The Deputy Secretary of Management and Resources (D/MR) is missing. The Under Secretary for Management (M) is not listed as a speaker. The Director General of the Foreign Service (DGHR) who by the way, has been running a podcast on leadership on iTunes and SoundCloud is also not in the line-up. Of course, they are busy with other stuff but these senior officials have a larger impact on the institution and its people. Wouldn’t you want to hear their thoughts about leadership and management in practice during the inaugural Leadership Day? No?

Update: It looks like the AFSA notice we saw about this event was outdated.  We’ve since learned that Secretary Kerry gave a keynote speech on leadership, and DGHR Arnold Chacon had a speaking role as well. Don Jacobson also did a presentation during the “Leaders Speak” part of this program.  Our source told us that “Leadership Day was organized by an amazing team of volunteers who are passionate about growing leaders for State. They are among the many members of the iLead group that consistently put their discretionary energy into promoting effective leadership at all levels of the State Department.”

The talk, the talk, Throwback Tuesday:

From State Magazine, 2001: “Investment in human capital is critical to maintaining State’s expertise in the 21st century. As Director General Marc Grossman told a Georgetown University audience recently, “I tell everyone who will listen that training and professional development will be key to meeting the challenges of our new world and key to our ability to fashion a diplomacy for the 21st century.”

From AFSA, 2015 – DGHR Arnold Chacon: “We are partnering with AFSA to develop and implement a professional code of ethics for the Foreign Service, based on our core values of accountability, character, community, diversity, loyalty and service. Bringing these values into sharper relief—and tying them to who we are and to what we do that is unique and consequential for our nation—is essential for our conversations with Congress and the American people. We not only want to forge a more capable FS 2025 workforce, but also communicate our accomplishments strategically and well.”

Also, hey, whatever happened to AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics?

 

Related posts:

 

 

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Top Diplomats Oppose Lateral Entry Program to the MidLevels in the Foreign Service

Posted: 1:28 am ET

Last month,  the American Academy of Diplomacy (AAD) sent a letter to SFRC Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn) to register its strong opposition to the provision in the draft FY 2017 State Department Authorization Bill (Section 207) mandating a program for lateral entry into the Foreign Service at the middle and higher ranks. Below is an excerpt:

— The provision will damage American security interests by undermining the professional nature of the U.S. Foreign Service. Professionalism is as necessary for diplomacy as for the military.

— The provision will subject the Foreign Service to unprecedented politicization to the detriment of our nation’s security.

— At a time when we ask Foreign Services Officers to risk life and limb in assignments from Afghanistan to Africa, the provision would allow entry into the Service at ranks equivalent to Major, Lt. Colonel and Colonel without earning that distinction by actual service and without accumulating the experience to support their status.
[….]
The Academy’s mission is to promote a strong American diplomacy, which today is needed more than ever to support and protect America’s interests. Our most recent report, American Diplomacy at Risk, called for an effective American diplomacy based on a strong State Department founded on strong Foreign and Civil Services. We called for robust funding of diplomacy and we highlighted the need to enhance a professional Foreign Service, not diminish it as this proposed provision will do. The need for a professional Service has been affirmed repeatedly in legislation for nearly 100 years. It will be even more needed in the global world of tomorrow.

The letter signed by AAD Chairman Thomas Pickering, Vice Chairman Marc Grossman, and President Ronald Neumann, was also sent to Senators Cardin and McCain and Representatives Engel and Royce.

The Academy of American Diplomacy founded in 1983 is a non-profit organization whose active membership is limited to men and women who have held positions of high responsibility in crafting and implementing American foreign policy. Last year, it issued the report, American Diplomacy at Risk available to read here (PDF).

Read the letter in full below:

 

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1915 Armenian Genocide — The “G” Word as a Huge Landmine, and Diplomatic Equities

Posted: 4:29 pm EDT

 

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The internal debate is not new.  A good reading would probably be the oral history interview with Ambassador John M. Evans who was ambassador to Armenia from 2004-2006. He lost his job during the Bush II administration after calling the Armenian killings a genocide.  See Country Reader Armenia via ADST. Excerpt below on how the “g” word has become a bureaucratic landmine.

Q: Did you, while you were getting ready, did you touch into the Turkish desk?

EVANS: No, I did not. I had, during my Cox Fellowship, done a lot of reading on Ottoman history. I knew people who had been involved in Turkish affairs, of course; I’d known people all along but at that point I did not make a formal appointment at the Turkish desk.

Q: Well then, did-

EVANS: I should add to that, though, that my old friend Eric Edelman, who had succeeded me as DCM in Prague, was then ambassador in Turkey, and in a very casual encounter we had in the lobby of the State Department he said “John, don’t forget our position on the Genocide is that it was the chaos and fog of war.”

Q: So- Because the genocide or the “g” word was a huge landmine; anybody dealing-

EVANS: It was, first of all, taboo. It was not something we were to discuss. We just learned that; we weren’t told it precisely. I knew from my previous study of Ottoman history that there was a problem around this question. I didn’t know much about the facts of it and I didn’t know much about the definition of genocide, either. But I did start reading about it in the weeks leading up to my departure for Yerevan and I read more about it when I got to Yerevan. I also, before leaving, made a point of calling on the expert in our legal advisor’s office who has the unenviable job of thinking about genocide full time, and I asked him point blank, I said “had it been the case that the Genocide Convention of 1948 was in effect in 1915 would not the events of 1915 have been characterized as genocide?” And he said, “yes, of course. It’s a matter of policy, not fact; it’s a matter of policy that we do not refer to it as genocide.”

Q: Okay, why don’t we take it why? I mean, at the time, we’re talking about 2004, was it? Why was this, I mean, what was the rationale for having a policy not to call it genocide?

EVANS: I was never given a point-by-point rationale for why we did not refer to it as genocide. What I clearly understood, and I think most other people understood, was that it was Turkish official policy to deny that there had been a genocide. Turkey was our good ally, our faithful ally in NATO, had fought with us side by side in the Korean War and so on and so forth. We had big — enormous — strategic interests in Turkey and therefore in deference to Turkish policy we simply did not talk about those times or events.

Q: Did you- still talking about the early days when you were getting ready to go out there- did you chat with anybody else of your colleagues in various positions; did they bring this up or was this sort of-? You know, when you say “Armenia” it sort of- it’s hard almost not to think about the…

EVANS: Well, I did not discuss it with very many people but I did discuss the question with a couple. One was a State Department employee of the Historian’s Office, a man of Armenian background. We had a furtive lunch one day in which he told me what he knew about the question. He told me about Rafael Lemkin, the Polish legal scholar who lost 49 members of his own family in World War II in the Holocaust but who had been led to the study of atrocities and mass crimes by his hearing of the Armenian massacres in his law school days in Krakow and who had asked his professor at that time why was it that if a man commits murder and he is sent to jail whereas if a government murders a million men, women and children there’s no retribution? And his law professor had no answer and so Rafael Lemkin went out to try to find a way to make a crime of these things.

The other person I spoke to before going was, of course, Elizabeth Jones, the assistant secretary. I called on her along with the Armenia desk officer, Eugenia Sidereas. I had noticed that the Background Notes that the State Department furnishes for the use of mostly schools about each country that we have diplomatic relations with said nothing whatsoever about the events of 1915 or massacres of Armenians or anything of the sort, not to mention using the “g” word, but there was absolutely no mention of that period of history, no mention of the fact that millions of Armenians had — or at least some number of Armenians had — fled Ottoman territory and ended up in what was then Russian Armenia. There was no mention of it, whereas our President,  several presidents, had made veiled and euphemistic mentions that went quite far. President Bush had talked about “massacres,” “forced deportations” and used quite…and there was even… the word “murder” had been used in a presidential statement. But the State Department’s Background Notes glossed over it entirely. And I pointed this out to Beth Jones, who’s a very smart and sensible person, and I said “don’t you think that we ought to revise the Background Notes so they at least convey as much knowledge and sympathy as the White House statements that have been made do?” And she said, “yes, I think any issue that’s of interest to our clients,” — meaning the people who read the Background Notes — “ought to be addressed.” At that point the telephone rang and we weren’t able to continue our discussion and we had worked so much together that I felt I had a very good understanding of what she wanted and how she expected her ambassadors to conduct themselves.

Q: Well in a way, when you’re looking at it, you’re trying to have relations with an important country and what’s the point in pulling the scab off, you know? Now, there are reasons for it but you know, we kind of let the Japanese get almost a free ride on World War II, on the rape of Nanking and its behavior in China.

EVANS: Yes. No, I am fully aware of the dilemma that this issue poses and you’ve put your finger on it; it is a dilemma. The dilemma is between the truth of the issue, which is now virtually unassailable when you look at what has been done in the last 20 years by historians and not all of them Armenian-American or Armenian. There are some very distinguished historians, such as Donald Bloxham in the UK (United Kingdom) and others who have made it clear that yes, what happened in 1915 did fit the definition of genocide, whatever the…I mean, it was done against the background of World War I, yes, there had been rebellions by some Armenian armed groups, yes, but if you look at that definition, the shoe fits. The dilemma for us is precisely as you said; we have a loyal NATO ally, a good ally, although in 2003 Turkey’s parliament did vote against our troops going into Iraq through Turkey and that enraged a lot of people on Capital Hill as well as in the Executive Branch. But still, the dilemma here is between historical truth, which is still disputed by Turkey but by no one else, and our diplomatic equities.

Q: First place, with Armenia, how close is- is Armenia really the- sort of the center of Armenians or is this sort of an offshoot or what? Because you’ve got Armenians in Lebanon and Syria and other parts of Turkey and all.

EVANS: Of course the Armenians as a group go way back for thousands of years, probably 3,000 or more years. They’re mentioned in the Bible, they consider themselves to be descendants of Noah’s — one of Noah’s sons — and the real…they were all over the Middle East; in various times they had had their own kingdoms but by the 19th and early 20th century the largest number of Armenians were in the Ottoman realms. The historic dividing line was between those who were in the Persian world, and that included most of the Caucasus and those that were in the Ottoman domains. So when one talks about today’s Armenia it is really on the land that way back in the 18th century was under the Persian shah, but then when the Russians moved into the Caucasus it became Russian Armenia. The genocide struck at the community of the Ottoman Empire but about 60 percent of today’s population of Armenia is descended from, or related to, those Ottoman Armenians who either fell victim to the genocide or escaped it. So in today’s worldwide Armenian community, which is about 10 million, most of those people are descendants of the Ottoman community that was so decimated: they fled to France and the United States and other places.

Q: Did you have a city full of visitors from Armenian communities in the States or elsewhere, like, you know, in France there’s a big Armenian community.

EVANS: We did have visitors from America, not from France, but we…I remember one of the big Armenian community groups, the Armenian Assembly, sent a large contingent through Armenia, through Yerevan, in the fall, it would have been in October or November of 2004, and I addressed them. And I might mention that that was the only time, in all the time I was in Armenia, that the question of the Armenian genocide arose. It never…I was never asked by an Armenian journalist about the genocide but I was asked a question by a member of this traveling group from the Armenian-American Assembly. The man got up and said, “I know what the State Department position is, that there was no genocide, but then how can you explain to me that I had no aunts, no uncles and never knew any grandparents?” And I explained to him that the United States Government had never denied the facts of what had happened in 1915, and to my knowledge we have not denied the facts, but what is at issue is the characterization of those events. And I probably at that time said that there was a question of whether there was “intent” on the part of the Ottoman officials.

Now, I should say a word about the Genocide Convention, if I may, because it was during this time that I became better educated on what the Genocide Convention really says. And what I discovered is that most of us Foreign Service officers are woefully ignorant about what the Genocide Convention says is genocide. There are basically four conditions that have to be met. First of all, “one or more persons” needs to have been killed. Now, that’s not very many: “one or more.” The group must be a “national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” It says nothing about political groups. There must be “intent” on the part of the perpetrators to do away with the group “as such,” to eliminate the group “in whole or in part”; that’s the terminology: “in whole or in part.” And the fourth condition is that these actions must take place in the context of a “manifest pattern of such actions in the past,” of discrimination against the group in the past. So all those conditions need to be met for it to be considered genocide and what had seemed to be missing was the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part” members of the group.

Now, we have never found and probably nobody ever will find, a firman signed by the sultan or orders in cabinet saying, “destroy the Armenians.” In the case of the Holocaust we still have no written order by Hitler to destroy the Jews and we probably never will find that, although we do have Hitler’s signature on the Nuremburg Laws. That’s not the way these things happen. The word gets out there what’s to be done but it’s not…there’s no good paper trail because in the case of such a crime one would be a fool to leave such a paper trail.

But in 2003 and 2004, under the leadership of Marc Grossman, who had been Under Secretary of state for political affairs, there was organized something called the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission, and that group was an independent, track-two kind of group composed of some well-known Turks and Armenians and it was called the TARC. David Phillips was the executive director of if and this Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission looked at the events of 1915, looked at the Genocide Convention, and came to the conclusion that at least some of the perpetrators of those events did know that their actions would lead to the destruction of the Armenians of Anatolia and therefore to refer to those events as genocide was fully justified, and that journalists and historians and others would be fully justified to continue to use that term. But, at the same time, the Genocide Convention could not be invoked ex post facto to — in a legal sense — bring anyone to justice. So, in short, what this commission basically decided was that historically it was a genocide but in legal terms to press that claim against the government of Turkey would be unsuccessful. And I think that was a fairly wise way of splitting the difference. All the perpetrators of those events are now, by definition, gone, most of the victims are gone. There are only…there are fewer than a hundred very old people now who were small children in 1915 and so it seems to me that’s a fair way of splitting the difference, to let the Armenians call it genocide in a historical sense but not to try to pin that crime on the Turkish state or the Turkish people today. And I was…I made myself familiar with those findings, they were brought to my attention; I met with one of the people who had worked on that and I must say I thought this was a very reasonable way forward.

Q: Well then, was sort of the bureau pushing on all this or was this something that you all thought should be done?

EVANS: Well, neither. I mean, the EUR Bureau was just carrying on its daily business as it does every day, driven by the news on the front page primarily. There was no desire to unearth old history. But it was around this time that I was asked to make a speaking tour through the United States, particularly to communities where there was a dense population of Armenian-Americans. So I was scheduled to make a tour, a speaking tour, in February 2005, starting in New York, moving up to Boston and then going to the West Coast to Los Angeles, which is the biggest concentration of Armenians in the United States, and then to San Francisco. And it was right about this time in the beginning of late January of 2005 that my wife flew back to the United States to be with our daughter, who had discovered that she needed to get a divorce from her then-husband and she was emotionally a wreck. So my wife came back to the United States, leaving me in Yerevan with a lot of books to read, and one of those books was the very fine Pulitzer Prize winning book called “Genocide: A Problem from”– no, it’s called “A Problem from Hell: America and Genocide” by Samantha Power. And so I had time to read that. And I also read a compendium of essays edited by Jay Winter of Yale University; I think it’s called “America in the Age of Genocide.” In the same period I read Peter Balakian’s prize winning book called “The Burning Tigris,” which was also about America’s response to the Armenian genocide. So whereas most ambassadors don’t have much time to read, the absence of my wife and a fairly quiet winter social season left me in my library consuming these books and becoming more and more disturbed about the dissonance between established historical fact about what happened in 1915 and U.S. policy, which seemed to me to be very much propping up the Turkish official denial of what had happened in 1915. So I became more and more, as the date for beginning my speaking tour in America came closer and closer, I realized that I was facing a huge dilemma here. I knew that I was expected to repeat the tired old message that we didn’t take a position on the genocide, that we questioned whether there had been “intent” and so on, and yet I had read enough by this time to realize that the great preponderance of historical opinion was that indeed, there was no question about it, yes, there was a genocide of the Armenians that took place 1915 through ’18. So I set off for the United States not knowing how I was in the end going to respond to questions about the Armenian Genocide.

There’s something else I ought to add at this point, Stu, about the period we were living in, and that is that our Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who I had huge admiration for, had in September of 2004, after a State Department study of the matter, Colin Powell had come out and said that he thought that what was happening in Darfur in the Sudan did constitute genocide. That was a very brave thing for him to have done. I agreed with him from what I knew of that situation and his action emboldened me to endeavor not simply to be a bystander on a question of genocide but to stand up and say something about it. Even though it was 90 years in the past I felt that someone needed to take a stand on this issue and call it what it was. I knew that this would cause difficulty for me, I knew that it was contrary to the policy of the State Department and yet I felt that I was caught in a terrible dilemma between knowingly distorting the facts of history or coming clean and trying to deal with the facts while explaining the reasons for our policy, and that was the trap that I — or those were the horns of the dilemma — that I faced. And I must say that I really didn’t know when I set out on that speaking trip which course I would take.

We will post separately the lead up to Ambassador Evan’s dismissal and eventual retirement after he used the word “genocide” during a speaking tour in California.

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Secretary Kerry Hosts Swearing-in Ceremony for EUR A/S Victoria Nuland

— By Domani Spero

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a swearing-in ceremony for Victoria Nuland as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC on September 18, 2013. A text transcript can be found at http://www.state.gov/secretary/remark….

During his remarks, Secretary Kerry noted that “Toria has served our country her entire adult life. And as the most prominent member of the unique – some might even say improbable – member of the Dick Cheney–Hillary Clinton Alumni Association – (laughter) – she has earned the trust and confidence of Democrats and Republicans alike, without party affiliation.”  

Among the guests:  Senator John McCain, Representative Keating, and former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, and former Secretary General of the NATO Javier Solana as well as members of the EUR alumni club: former “P” Marc Grossman, Acting NEA A/S Elizabeth Jones, former Special Envoy to Guantanamo Daniel Fried, and EUR A/S predecessor Philip Gordon.

-09/18/13  Swearing-in Ceremony for Victoria Nuland as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs;  Secretary of State John Kerry; Benjamin Franklin Room; Washington, DC.

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