Sharon Weinberger: The Imagineers of War (Excerpt)

Posted: 12:25 am ET
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We mentioned Sharon Wienberger’s book a couple days ago in 16 USG Employees in “Sonic Attack” and More on The Secret History of Diplomats and Invisible Weapons.  For readers who may be interested, below is an excerpt courtesy of Kindle Preview:

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From Creeping to Warp-Speed? Militarization of American Foreign Policy

Posted: 4:42 pm EDT
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Via NYT, December 10, 2015

WASHINGTON — As American intelligence agencies grapple with the expansion of the Islamic State beyond its headquarters in Syria, the Pentagon has proposed a new plan to the White House to build up a string of military bases in Africa, Southwest Asia and the Middle East.

The bases could be used for collecting intelligence and carrying out strikes against the terrorist group’s far-flung affiliates.
[…]
The plan has met with some resistance from State Department officials concerned about a more permanent military presence across Africa and the Middle East, according to American officials familiar with the discussion. Career diplomats have long warned about the creeping militarization of American foreign policy as the Pentagon has forged new relationships with foreign governments eager for military aid.

Officials said the proposal has been under discussion for some time, including this week during a White House meeting with some members of President Obama’s cabinet. Shortly after General Dempsey retired in September, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter referred to the plan in a little-noticed speech in Washington. “Because we cannot predict the future, these regional nodes — from Morón, Spain, to Jalalabad, Afghanistan — will provide forward presence to respond to a range of crises, terrorist and other kinds,” Mr. Carter said. “These will enable unilateral crisis response, counterterror operations, or strikes on high-value targets.”

Pentagon planners do not see the new approach as particularly costly by military standards. One official estimated it could be in the “low millions of dollars,” mainly to pay for military personnel, equipment and some base improvements.
[…]
For the approach to have any chance of success, analysts said, regional American commanders, diplomats and spies will have to work closely together and with Washington — something that does not always happen now — to combat threats that honor no borders.

Continue reading, Pentagon Seeks to Knit Foreign Bases Into ISIS-Foiling Network.

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Related items:

These are all the countries where the US has a military presence

Mapping the growth of bases worldwide (August 2015)

Overseas Basing An Assessment of Relative Costs and Strategic Benefits (Rand, 2013)

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The State Dept’s 360 Degree Feedback as Placement Tool, and Probably, a Lawsuit Waiting to Happen

Posted: 2:05 am EDT
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We have originally written about the 360 degree feedback in 2008 as it started gaining popularity within the State Department. (see Sexing up the 360-Degree Feedback, Revisited). We thought then, and we still think now, that using the 360° feedback for evaluative purposes, (instead of using it primarily for development), especially when a candidate’s next job is on the line can easily transform this useful learning tool into an inflated, useless material with real consequences for operational effectiveness. We understand from comments received this past July, that this is being used as a developmental tool by Consular Affairs and the Leadership and Management School at FSI (see a couple of feedback), but those are, in all likelihood, the two exceptions. The 360 degree feedback is primarily used as an assignments or placement tool.

In 2013, the Marine Corps Times reported that the Pentagon was expanding its use of “360-degree” reviews for senior officers, but legal concerns may limit their inclusion in any formal promotion or command screening process:

Even if there is interest among the brass to formalize the process, there may be big legal hurdles to expanding the 360-review process beyond a strictly confidential tool for self-awareness.

Officers have valid concerns about anonymous and unverified criticisms seeping into the official process for doling out promotions, command assignments or seats at prestigious schools.

If officers feel their career was damaged by a harsh 360-degree review, they might insist on knowing precisely who lodged the criticisms in order to rebut them. And if the confidentiality is questioned, then the whole endeavor ceases to have much value.
[…]
From a legal standpoint, that officer might have a right to file a Freedom of Information Act request to find out who submitted that confidential review.

“The more that’s at stake … the more difficult it will be to maintain the anonymity,” the senior official said. “And, of course, if you don’t maintain the confidentiality, then you have a very different product,” because peers and subordinates will be far less likely to offer candid criticism.

In April 2015, an official Pentagon study concludes that the “360-degree reviews” probably should not be used as a part of the formal military evaluation and promotion process. Below via the Military Times:

[T]he new report cites a long list of legal, cultural and practical concerns that would prevent this type of review’s widespread use in determining who gets selected for promotions, command assignments or slots at prestigious schools.

In 2013, Congress ordered the Defense Department to do a thorough assessment of whether and how 360-degree reviews should be used in the military personnel system.

Rand researchers concluded that the tools should be limited to personnel development programs, which means some troops are subject to 360-degree reviews but the results are provided only to the individual for his or her own benefit, and are not included in any official personnel file.

In the September issue of the Foreign Service Journal, consular-coned officer, William Bent, currently serving at the US Embassy in Barbados pens a Speaking Out piece on the need for the State Department to reevaluate its use of the 360-degree reviews.

Mr. Bent spells out the following concerns as the 360 feedback continue to be used as a placement tool by “assignment decision-makers”:

♨︎ || The reviews are seldom transparent. In current practice, the assessed employee usually has no idea what feedback the deciding official has received, and an employee receiving any negative feedback is rarely, if ever, contacted to discuss the issues raised. This creates the potential for unsubstantiated criticism that can unfairly undermine an employee’s chance for advancement. One does not have to assume deliberate career sabotage here: as a manager, one sometimes has to make unpopular decisions that years later still rankle former subordinates who, because of inexperience, may not have had the full picture.

The Bureau of Consular Affair’s recent development of the Consular Bidder Assessment Tool addresses the issue of transparency by allowing the assessed employee to see the anonymous feedback statements. But the employee is denied the opportunity for a timely discussion of the results (bidders are instructed not to attempt to discuss results until after bidding season is over). This is a surprising approach from the bureau that brought us the innovative CLI.

The DCM/principal officer 360-degree reviews are neither transparent, nor do they provide any opportunity for assessed employees to obtain feedback.

♨︎ || The reviews have little value because the assessed employee chooses the assessor. On the whole, most peers and subordinates resist being frank and candid in their reviews. Having the assessed employee pick his or her own assessors emphasizes this tendency, skewing the results.

It also replicates the EER problem: when everyone walks on water, the decision-makers try to read between the lines, looking for any chinks in an individual’s armor. Paradoxically, this feeds into the concerns discussed above, since any negative review raises bells and whistles and is given extra weight.

♨︎ || Use of 360-degree reviews for purposes other than development remains controversial among human resource experts. Using them to determine assignments is akin to using them as performance appraisals, which some human resource experts see as detrimental to an organization because of its negative effect on personal growth. When the results are not shared in a transparent way, trust is undermined.
[…]
♨︎ || The State Department’s use of 360s in determining assignments was not adequately studied prior to implementation. This practice appears to have been implemented on an ad hoc basis several years ago, with a few bureaus using email as a platform to receive input. The use of 360s has now proliferated, with all bureaus involved in the assignment process utilizing them to make decisions.

Yet there seems to have been no prior centralized review of the ramifications of broad use of the tool on the Foreign Service workforce. The use of SharePoint and other technologies to gather the results also raises confidentiality questions (some 360s have been posted—I assume accidentally—on the State Department’s intranet site).

♨︎ || Some recipients of the results may lack the training and expertise to interpret them effectively. There is a reason there are books and articles written by human resource academics and specialists on how to effectively implement and utilize the 360-degree review process. Has the State Department trained officials using the results in human resource management or the 360-degree review process? Do these officials have goals beyond filling the position in question (e.g., the further career development of an employee)?

Moreover, what role has the Bureau of Human Resources—the one bureau theoretically best placed to manage this process—played in implementing the 360 review requirements? Are career development officers discussing the results of 360s with clients to improve the employee’s chances of strengthening skills?

♨︎ || The annual deluge of 360s creates significant time and resource issues. Let’s face it, the 360 process has become a major time suck for everyone involved, with email inboxes inundated each summer with requests for 360-degree reviews. Although we all have a responsibility to assist our colleagues and the organization as a whole by diligently filling out the reviews, the sheer volume of requests can be overwhelming. This could result in less comprehensive responses that don’t give a full portrait of the assessed employee.

Mr. Bent provides four recommendations including, the immediate suspension of “the use of 360s in the Foreign Service assignment process pending the completion of a study, conducted by an outside consultant, on the effectiveness of their use.”

If the Pentagon’s decision not to jump into the 360 degree bandwagon is not enough to give the State Department pause in its use of the 360 as part of the employes’ assignment process, then perhaps what should give them pause is the potential for privacy and FOIA litigation.  360 results posted online, hello?

We’ve located the Pentagon 360 study conducted by the Rand Corporation. In one part, it quotes a participant of its study saying, “Conventional wisdom in regards to 360-degree assessments from experts and researchers is that the most effective use of 360 assessments is to enhance professional, individual development. Once you change the purpose or intent of a 360 from development to evaluation, you affect the willingness of raters to provide candid or unfettered feedback.” That’s probably the most apt comment when it comes to the 360 degree feedback.

Read Rand’s 360-Degree Assessments: Are They the Right Tool for the U.S. Military? (pdf).

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US Embassy Libya: Post Drawdown Soon, Marine Air-to-Ground Task Force At The Ready

— Domani Spero
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We understand that US Embassy Tripoli will soon be on drawdown. We don’t know yet if this will be an authorized or ordered departure for personnel or temporary post closure.

On May 19, we blogged about the U.S. Embassy in Libya. (See US Embassy Libya: Decision to Evacuate Grows By the Minute, Satterfield as Libya Envoy. Amidst reports in the couple of days that the US Embassy in Tripoli is poised to be evacuated, the State Department spokesperson yesterday said that those reports are inaccurate.  “We have not made decisions to move any of our personnel out of Libya. We continue to review the situation. It’s incredibly fluid, and obviously we can make decisions quickly to address embassy security needs. But those reports are inaccurate at this point,” said Jen Psaki.

Ms. Psaki also indicated that Ambassador Deborah Jones, who on May 21 participated in the speakers series at the Stimson Center in D.C. (see the c-span coverage here) will be “returning to Tripoli in the near future.”

On the appointment of Ambassador David Satterfield, Ms. Psaki was asked in what capacity was he doing this contact with the Libyans. Here is the official response:

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary asked him to travel with him last week, and he has obviously – as you know, has an extensive background as a foreign diplomat. And so he traveled to Libya in – as a private citizen to help build political consensus at this challenging time. And obviously, he sat in with him during the meeting with the Quint last week.

More on the Libya hands — no special envoy but there is a Special Coordinator for Libya.

QUESTION: Is he [Satterfield] a special envoy to Libya now?

MS. PSAKI: No, I’m not giving him a title. He was there – as you know, his specific position is as Director-General of the Multinational Force and Observers, the MFO. So he’ll continue to fulfill his duties in that capacity. Jonathan Winer, who you also may know, visited Tripoli in February in his role as Special Coordinator for Libya and met with a variety of Libyan and international partners, and he’s working closely with Ambassador Satterfield and our NEA team.

QUESTION: So Ambassador Satterfield is actually not at the moment a State Department employee —

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: — or a U.S. diplomat. He works with the Multinational Force, which is a UN —

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: — organization.

QUESTION: Yes, please. Just to —

[…]

QUESTION: Yeah. Just to clarify this point – I mean, still U.S. Ambassador is there, right?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, Deborah Jones. She was out of the country – out of Libya for some prior scheduled travel, and so —

Jonathan Winer, the new Special Coordinator for Libya was previously appointed by the State Department as Senior Advisor for MEK Resettlement in 2013.  In that capacity, he was tasked with overseeing USG efforts to help resettle the residents of Camp Hurriya to permanent, and secure locations outside of Iraq. He also previously served as chief counsel and principal legislative assistant to then Senator Kerry for 10 years and was a DAS at INL.

Where are the Marines?

Over at the Pentagon spokesman Read Admiral Kirby said that “There’s been no request for military operations or assistance in Libya. And that’s — obviously, that’s going to be a State Department call. And I think you heard the State Department speak very clearly that there’s been no change to their embassy operations there in Tripoli.”

The press briefing was on May 20, so possibly OBE already. 

The first ever landing (touch and go) of a V-22 Osprey aboard the USS Ashland (LSD-48), underway in the Leyte Gulf, Philippines. Boatswain's Mate Third Class Brian Sherlock, of Tucson, Arizona, directs the first-ever landing of this type aircraft aboard. BM3 Sherlock is the Landing Signalman Enlisted member chosen to direct this operation. (Courtesy Photo by Navy Media Content Services)

The first ever landing (touch and go) of a V-22 Osprey aboard the USS Ashland (LSD-48), underway in the Leyte Gulf, Philippines. Boatswain’s Mate Third Class Brian Sherlock, of Tucson, Arizona, directs the first-ever landing of this type aircraft aboard. BM3 Sherlock is the Landing Signalman Enlisted member chosen to direct this operation.
(Courtesy Photo by Navy Media Content Services)

Calling it a prudent precautionary measure, the Pentagon has moved elements of a Marine air-to-ground task force from their base in Moron, Spain to Sigonella, Sicily.  Apparently, there’s a total of about 250 Marines on Sicily; seven Ospreys; three C-130s as part of this air-to-ground task force. “This was a prudent measure taken by General Rodriguez in consultation with General Breedlove, the European Command commander, and of course, the State Department, to be able to be in a posture and in a location that should they be needed in North Africa, specifically, yes, specifically Libya, that they would be — that they would be ready to do so.”

Today, Wayne White, a former Deputy Director of the State Department’s Middle East/South Asia Intelligence Office (INR/NESA) writes on lobelog.com on why the U.S. should evacuate Libya:

 “There were always those who opposed withdrawing (regardless of the risk of staying), arguing that leaving the countries in question would reduce the US’ ability to influence events on the ground. Of course, in this case, for quite some time now the US and other Western diplomatic missions have had precious little impact on what has been unfolding in Libya.”

The man of the hour, called Libya’s enigmatic General Khalifa Haftar by the BBC apparently has been on different sides of almost every power struggle in Libya since the 1960s.  Since coming to the United States in the early 1990s, he apparently lived in suburban Virginia. According to WaPo, he also became a U.S. citizen — and voted in Virginia in elections in 2008 and 2009.

A possible expatriation case (pdf)? Maybe or maybe not. That depends on whether the  U.S. citizen who serves as a commissioned or noncommissioned officer of a foreign state is engaged/not engaged in hostilities against the United States.

 

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Angry Congress? Who’s Fault is That? And Here DiploPundit Gets a Scolding …

One of my blog pals scolded me on a serious error in my recent blog post (see Angry Lawmakers Care About the Foreign Service. Seriously. When It’s Convenient!). The lawmakers are political opportunists with more stripes than a zebra but since she has an excellent point, I’ll let you listen to the scolding:

A (I imagine her wagging her finger at me):

State doesn’t want attention from Congress.  The result is a Congress that does not understand State’s mission.

Me: (small voice) Uh-huh, isn’t there a State Dept liaison office in Congress?

A:

It takes two to tango and in this case, State rarely goes to the ballroom.  When State does get near the dance floor, it often steps on its own feet.

Me: Wearing the wrong shoes?

A (ignores me totally):

When State does go to the Hill, compare the general quality of their testimony with that of their military counterparts.  We know the quality of communication matters, even if both sides continue to disagree.  (Call it public diplomacy with the Hill if you want.)

On the quality of the testimony, the Libya hearings provides an immediate example.  Two State people + two military.  Both military were clear in content, substance, and delivery.  On the State side, only Kennedy excelled in all areas with Lamb coming up short across the board.  

Me: (mumble) But those military guys get lots of practice briefing their generals (mumble).

A: 

How do you think the military developed a constituency? Most ascribe that to the military-industrial complex, and while that is a large factor, it creates opportunities not the relationship itself.  The military actively courts the Congress.  Since the 40’s (or late 30’s), it has played one master against the other.  It has realized that it helps to keep the Hill informed.  How do you get money and authorities from a group of lawmakers that have no idea what you do?  Defense is constantly reminded of this.  When budget cuts are threatened, the Pentagon quickly engages members and staff.  The Pentagon and the Hill are no strangers to each other.  State and the Hill, on the other hand, is something else.

Me:  When you put it like that, it seems like State and the Hill are a series of one night stands. Maybe Alec should have stayed home and helped develop a culture of developing constituency in Congress right there in Foggy Bottom?

A:

That the Hill doesn’t know or care about State is largely State’s problem.  Legislative Affairs (H) is more interested with preventing information from moving between the two bodies than increasing understanding and partnership.  Who in Foggy Bottom can you identify has good relationships, either professional or personal, with Hill staff or members (yes, plural)?

Me:  Who?  Well. Um … they don’t sign out with me when they’re doing their engaging over there.  But … oh, wait, there’s an entire bureau working on that.  State says that “H facilitates effective communication between State Department officials and the Members of Congress and their staffs.” In fact since 2001, it has a Capitol Hill House Liaison Office in the Rayburn House Office Building and the Senate Liaison Office since 2010 in the Senate Russell Office Building.  Here is what it says:

Both offices provide a full range of State Department support services to members of Congress and their staff. In particular, it provides services related to consular affairs and travel by members of Congress. In fact, there are two full time Foreign Service Officer who are Consular Affairs specialist and available to assist with questions related to visas and passports.

Oops!  Damn! Primarily just for CODELs?…. isn’t that like the Pentagon having an office in Congress just for miljets?

A – how come I just know that you’re going to ruin my happy, bubbly day?

A:

In terms of the Hill committees, there is the problem of HFAC and SFRC not being known as effective committees.  That does not mean State should ignore them or ignore the Hill.  In most cases, the real power, with regard to foreign operations then, is with the appropriators.  But getting legislation to the appropriators requires going through the authorizers.  Beyond these committees, it would generally behoove State to actively engage the rest of the Congress because you never know when one might change committees or make a public statement.  After all, State truly does have constituents all over the country across all sectors of American life, not just the military-industrial complex like the Pentagon: exchange students, support for businesses operating overseas, tourism, relationships with NGOs based in the US that operate overseas, national security, and more.

Me:  See? There. I know she’s going to get me one of these days.  😥

Oh, hey, would it help if FSOs blog about their lives overseas beyond the perfect PD moments and not get eaten by State Department tigers?

Or maybe some senior FSOs reassigned to Foggy Bottom can adopt a congressman or a senator?

State can start with Larry Schwartz, the Public Affairs officer from the US Embassy Cairo who ignited a political firestorm for his condemnation (cleared with the embassy’s acting ambassador) of a YouTube video that mocked the Prophet Muhammad.  Heard that he had just been “relocated” to WashDC, perfect timing. I should mention that Mr. Schwartz’s boss who reportedly cleared that statement had prior experience with the House International Relations Committee and would have been an ideal candidate to adopt Congressman Jordan or Gawdy, too.  Except that he remains stuck in Cairo.

A?  A? Where are you?  She’s a dear pal, but she can only take so much of me sometimes especially when I’m being scolded ….and I get all 😮