US Embassy Vietnam: Congressman Calls for Firing of Ambassador Shear ‘Cuz Embassy Not An Island of Freedom

On July 9th, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) who represents the 10th District  since 1981 (and is up for reelection) in northern Virginia, the home to many Vietnamese-Americans has called for the firing of the US Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear.  This is not the first time, he has done this, of course.  In May this year, Congressman Wolf had also called for Ambassador Shear’s sacking.

If we fire our diplomats every time a congressman is upset with a career diplomat, we won’t have anyone left to run our embassies.

According to Congressman Wolf’s office, Ambassador David Shear should be removed because he has “repeatedly failed to advocate for human rights and speak out for the voiceless in Vietnam.” Wolf recommended that Shear be replaced by a Vietnamese-American.

In his letter to President Obama, Congressman Wolf was particularly upset by 1) Ambassador Shear’s “failure to invite more dissidents and human rights activists” to the U.S. Embassy for a July 4 celebration after promising that he would; and 2) was disappointed in Ambassador Shear’s handling of the case of Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan, a Vietanmese-American democracy activist and U.S. citizen presently being held by the Vietnamese government.

Below is an excerpt from Congressman Wolf’s letter to the WH with some photos we’ve dug up online from the US Embassy Vietnam:

I have long believed that U.S. embassies should be islands of freedom – especially in repressive countries like Vietnam. Under Ambassador Shear’s leadership it didn’t appear that the U.S. embassy in Hanoi was embracing this important task. But even more troubling is the fact that Dr. Quan is an American citizen, and yet there appeared to be little urgency to securing his release.

In speaking by phone with Ambassador Shear following the hearing I expressed my concerns and urged him to host a July 4th celebration at the embassy, where the guest list was comprised of religious freedom and democracy activists in Vietnam. I stressed that he should fling open the doors of the embassy and invite Buddhist monks and nuns, Catholic priests and Protestant pastors, Internet bloggers and democracy activists. Such was the custom during the Reagan Administration, especially in the Soviet Union. This practice sent a strong message that America stood with those who stand for basic human rights. In many cases it afforded these individuals protection from future harassment and even imprisonment.

From left to right: Clara Davis-Long, DRL DAS Kathleen Fitzpatrick, AAL Suzan Johnson Cooks, Archbishop Nguyen Van Nhon, U.S. Ambassador David Shear, and Father Hung.
(Photo from US Embassy Hanoi/Flickr)

Ambassador Shear said that he intended to honor this request. Following my conversation with him I received the enclosed letter from the department indicating that, “Ambassador Shear continues to engage with civil society advocates, promoters of rule-of-law, and democracy activists and will welcome them to the Embassy’s July 4th celebration.” I took Ambassador Shear at his word and in fact shared this correspondence with members of the Vietnamese Diaspora community in the U.S., several of whom were greatly encouraged by this development.

Late last week it was brought to my attention that many of the most prominent democracy and human rights activists in Vietnam were not invited to the event. These reports seemed starkly at odds with the assurances I had personally received from Ambassador Shear. I called him directly this morning to find out if the embassy had invited the dissidents as had been agreed upon. His response was appalling. He said that he had invited a few civil society activists but then said that he needed to maintain a “balance.”

From left to righ: Clara Davis-Long, IRF Desk Officer, DRL DAS Kathleen Fitzpatrick, U.S. Ambassador David Shear, Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook and Dr. Nguyen Thanh Xuan, Vice Chair of the Committee for Religious Affairs
(Photo from US Embassy Hanoi/Flickr)

I wonder how many prominent democracy and human rights activists flooded the 4th of July celebrations at our embassies in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, or China? And is Congressman Wolf upset with those as well?

Who would have thought that the 4th of July could be such a perilous event? And how many is “more” really, that seems like an important number.

I can understand Ambassador Shear’s point about “balance” but also appreciate the mission discretion over these invitees. Vietnam is run by a repressive, communist regime. The embassy has to deal with the government in place, not the government it wished were in place. That said, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the democracy or human right activists who shows up at this function could be put in peril just by the perception that they are working with the Americans. Does Congressman Wolf really want this kind of showy camera moment outreach during our national day or should we not prefer that the embassy have a more substantial engagement beyond the bright lights?

SON LA, Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Nov. 15, 2011) – Dr. Joshua Peck, center, a forensic anthropologist from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, briefs Ambassador David Shear, right, at a remote recovery site. Five recovery teams are searching in the Thai Nguyen, Bac Giang, Lang Son, Son La, and Thanh Hoa provinces at aircraft crash and burial sites for six Americans unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. The ultimate goal of JPAC, and of the agencies involved in returning America’s heroes home, is to achieve the fullest possible accounting of Americans lost during the nation’s past conflicts. (DoD photo by Mr. Jason Kaye, U.S. Navy/Released)

Just a side note here — the 2012 IG report tells us that the Government of Vietnam requires advance permission to conduct programs outside U.S. Government premises, controls the print and electronic media, and sometimes limits access to Internet sites. The US Embassy in Vietnam has been creative in using Vietnamese alumni of U.S. exchange programs as they are able to operate outside the restrictions placed on American speakers.  These alumni can more easily engage with wider audiences as credible, informed communicators about their American experience, something the USG speakers are unable to do. That’s how restrictive is the operating environment. Heck, even acquiring land for a much-needed, new embassy compound there have stalled because the GOV is unwilling to grant a lease term that is acceptable to the State Department.

As to his gripe about the practice and custom during the Reagan Administration of sending a strong message that “America stood with those who stand for basic human rights,” it seems like the congressman has a rather selective memory. We may have been doing that in the Soviet Union, but didn’t we embraced an infamous human rights offender in Asia?  While visiting Ferdinand Marcos, the Filipino dictator, didn’t Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush, toasted Marcos’ “adherence to democratic principles?” How quickly we forget our best moments in diplomacy.

As to Congressman Wolf’s complaint about the handling of the case of Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan, a Vietanmese-American democracy activist and U.S. citizen who is presently being held by the Vietnamese government — for an elected official it shows a limited understanding of what our embassy can and cannot do for Americans in jail.

Dual nationals owe allegiance to both the United States and the foreign country. They are required to obey the laws of both countries. Either country has the right to enforce its laws, particularly if the person later travels there. The United States may view Dr. Quan as a dual national U.S. citizen, not prohibited under our laws, but the country of Vietnam may make no distinction about his dual nationality.

Dr Quan was reportedly arrested in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam on a trip on November 17, 2007 for preparing pro-democracy flyers. According to his Wikipedia entry, he brought in a Vietnamese translation of the book From Dictatorship to Democracy about nonviolent resistance. He stood trial in Vietnam on May 13, 2008 on charges of “terrorism” (those commies are creative) and was sentenced to 6 months in prison. He was eventually released on May 17, 2008 and returned to his home in California.

And in April 2012, Dr. Quan was again arrested at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City. Government officials did not confirm his arrest until five days later. He is reportedly once more, detained on charges of terrorism and for planning to “instigate a demonstration” during the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon.

News report in April indicate that the U.S. consulate in Vietnam has confirmed his arrest but that no formal charges have been filed and he has not been granted a lawyer.  Since his arrest, the US consulate was apparently able to visit him only once.

According to a 1994 agreement, U.S. citizens, even dual citizens, have the right to consular access if they were admitted into Vietnam as a U.S. citizen with their U.S. passport. If detained or arrested, travel.state.gov advised that “U.S. citizens should insist upon contact with the U.S. Embassy or the U.S. Consulate General.”

The problem is the Government of Vietnam is generally slow to notify the embassy about arrests or to grant access to U.S. citizen prisoners, and it requires diplomatic notes to schedule prison visits. It also does not permit visits without a Vietnamese official being present and insists that all verbal exchanges take place in Vietnamese.

Since the immediate release of Dr. Quan after each arrest is really what the congressman is looking for, nothing that the US mission in Vietnam do will ever be good enough.  Perhaps it would be helpful if the State Department offers basic, no perks, no salary fellowship for our congressional representatives to work the visa line and the American Citizens Services units in the hell holes of the world.  Surely that would be an instructive experience.

Domani Spero

Dancing With The Stars: The Foreign Service Edition

U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul and his wife, Donna Norton made news last week when they tore up the floor of Spaso House in Moscow with their polka steps.

Ambassador and Mrs. McFaul at Spaso House
Photo from US Embassy Moscow/FB

But before Ambassador McFaul, we had our original dancing ambassador in the Philippines, Kristie Kenney.  Not to be confused with Raymond Bonner’s “Waltzing With a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy” because KK’s tenure in the Philippines occurred during the post-Marcos Era.

Here is Ambassador Kenney, then US Ambassador to the Philippines in the Shall We Dance Christmas Episode from December 2009:

Of course, the Philippines with its fondness for TV variety shows was ga-ga over Ambassador Kenney. One show even had a Double K (Kristie Kenney) dance step. And here she is doing the papaya dance with Edu Manzano, Filipino-American actor and politician. A hard act to follow.  It would not be a surprising if her successor at the US Embassy in Manila is forced to issue a secret plea not to put on his dancing shoes.

From the US Embassy in Laos, we have Ambassador Karen Stewart who danced the traditional “Lam Vong” at the Lao-American Heritage Foundation performance at the Lao National Cultural Hall.

On Saturday, July 16, 2011, I went to the Lao-American Heritage Foundation performance at the Lao National Cultural Hall. It was a wonderful evening, and all of the performers were very talented. I even had the chance to take the stage and lead a traditional “Lam Vong” dance. It was quite an honor!
(Photo from Ambassador Stewart's blog)

From the US Embassy in Bangladesh, we have these two gentlemen. What are you doing in the back, ahhh, SCA/AS Robert Blake … you should be dancing yeah, Ambassador Dan Mozena!

On February 16, 2012, Assistant Secretary of State for South & Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake visited Grameen borrowers’ group meeting, borrower’s homes and businesses, and attended a cultural program arranged by the villagers at Narayanganj, along with Ambassador Dan Mozena.
(Photo from US Embassy Bangladesh/FB)

From the US Embassy in Uzbekistan, we have Ambassador Krol in a shake your groove thing — with the dictator, but please don’t blame the guy.

Via RFERL:
March 22 marked Uzbekistan’s observance of Norouz, the Persian New Year, a holiday kept not just in Iran but all over Central Asia. For the occasion, Uzbek President Islam Karimov threw a big party in a Tashkent arena, replete with choreographed performances, giant balloons, and spontaneous dancing from officials who normally keep a tight lid on their public personas.

A festive spirit also took hold of the U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan, George Krol, who could be seen dancing at various points during the celebration. Krol has been on the job in Tashkent since June 2011, and previously served as America’s ambassador to Belarus.

Ambassador George Krol during a dance off in Uzbekistan
(click on the image to view the video)

The blog, Different Stans is asking“Should you dance with the dictator — literally? That was the question some people had in mind when they saw the video clip discovered by Radio Ozodlik, the Uzbek language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, showing our own American envoy to Tashkent, Ambassador George Krol, dancing in the stadium audience at the official Novrouz celebration.”

The writer points out that Karimov has been president since 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, and head of state since 1989 and that kind of important point that we “really badly need Uzbekistan as a transit route for NATO troops and equipment because the route through Pakistan is blocked.”

Should you dance with the dictator? But what a silly question. Haven’t we seen Nancy danced with Ferdie and Ronnie danced with Meldy, she of a thousand shoes? Or Meldy with Lyndon? How easily we forget. Then it was about our bases and those commies in Asia. Now, it’s about our logistic route and those terrorists nearby; we have seen this genre before.

Since Raymond Bonner had just released his book, Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong, last February, perhaps he can be persuaded to write “Waltzing With a Dictator: The Karimov Edition.” Oops, we don’t like calling him a dictator?  Fine …. as long as we don’t say silly things like, “*We love your adherence to democratic principles and to the democratic process, and we will not leave you in isolation.

Meanwhile, our original dancing ambassador is kept busy in Thailand but has made time for parachute jumping (see Ambassador Kinney here during a jump in Lopburi). We look forward to doing a round up of chief of mission parachute jumping in a year or two.

Domani Spero

*U.S. Vice-President George H. W. Bush during Ferdinand Marcos inauguration, June 1981.