— Domani Spero
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On May 24, 2014, somebody named T. D. from Garden Grove, CA created a White House petition asking the Obama Administration to remove Ambassador Kristie Kenney from her post in Thailand. Below is the purported justification for the petition:
Our ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president, but career ambassadors typically serve three years at their foreign posts. Sometimes, they’re extended for another year. Ambassador Kenney has been in Bangkok since December 2010. She is due for a reassignment not because of a petition but simply because that’s how the Foreign Service works.
We do not know Ambassador Kenney personally but we have followed her tenure in this blog and this seems not only unfair but steams from misunderstanding of an ambassador’s role. Career ambassadors in particular are not rogue operators. They do not originate an administration’s policy, they do not act on whims, they implement and defend the policy of the administration of the day and follow the instructions from the State Department. And when they can no longer do that, they quit as Ambassador Robert Ford did.
It looks like the petitioners were especially incensed by Ambassador Kenney’s “never-ending Twitter selfies.” Are we proposing recalling our various ambassadors for conducting selfie diplomacy? The thing is — ambassadors have marching orders for public engagement in social media. Some are more active and have better reach than others. @KristineKenney, one of the early adopters of Twitter among chiefs of mission currently has over 50K followers. When Bush 43’s Karen Hughes talked about “a rapid response unit, ” Twitter was at its infancy. Today, you have a chief of mission responding to rumors as quickly as you can say boo!
Absolutely false. Do not believe rumors RT @timothygo_only1: the acting PM is reportedly at the US Embassy
— Kristie Kenney (@KristieKenney) May 22, 2014
We looked at the ambassador’s timeline on Twitter, just because. The recent selfies had to do with cotton and bagels, which may seem petty and all except that this is cotton USA and the bagels were from a partly US-owned business during American Restaurant Week in Bangkok. We should note that economic diplomacy is the buzzword in Foggy Bottom — this includes not only in attracting direct private investment to the United States but also in helping to expand foreign markets for U.S. businesses. In fact, State is proud to tout that it generates $150 billion in trade and even has a map that shows how the work of the Department benefits each U.S. State, and all for about 1% of the Federal budget.
So how can we fault her for these?
Tonight I’m joining USA Cotton Council to celebrate partnership w Thailand. Annual event includes a fashion show of Thai-designed cotton.
— Kristie Kenney (@KristieKenney) May 19, 2014
— Kristie Kenney (@KristieKenney) May 19, 2014
In some places, commercial promotion becomes the main priority for chiefs of mission (see US Embassy Abu Dhabi: A+ for Commercial Promotion, “Below Average Scores on Every Leadership Category”). And while this photo below is not a selfie but obtained via Flickr, note that we even promote U.S beef in Africa.
The US Mission in Bangkok has about 10 social media platforms including Ambassador Kenney’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. Not sure what is its total reach like, but here’s a shoutout to its American Citizens Services @ACSBKK tweeting security updates, curfew reminders, as well as IRS, voting, and other relevant and timely information to overseas Americans. No, we do not expect ACS anywhere to live-tweet a coup, good gracious!
As the weekend approaches, remember that our Duty Officer is available in an emergency @ 02-205-4000 http://t.co/YKYnL13tRx
— ACS Bangkok (@ACSBKK) May 30, 2014
We’re sure that our folks overseas, like most of us would probably like some quiet time to read a book or have a private dinner with family and friends. Instead — they’re promoting U.S. businesses because that’s part of the job. Oh yeah, how would you like to be that guy promoting beef?
Whether the signature threshold in the WH petition is reached or not, Ambassador Kenney is expected to rotate out of Bangkok in the near future. We, however, imagine that the WH may opt to keep her at post for the full fourth year, precisely because of the petition. Thailand is a country of over 66 million people. Still, we do not think the WH would like to see a perceived precedence that a petition could unseat a president’s personal representative by way of a petition. But should this petition reach 100,000 signatures in 30 days, it is assured an official response from the Obama Administration.
Note that thousands of people petitioned the White House to “secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.” It got an official response but sorry, we’re not gonna build a Death Star.
* * *
- Twitter diplomacy becomes an art form with US ambassador to Thailand (telegraph.feedsportal.com)
- Yingluck Answers Thai Military Summons (voanews.com)
- Ex-Thai PM reports to military after coup (cnn.com)
- Thailand’s Coup: What You Need to Know (nbcnews.com)
- The US Embassy uses social media to spread Bangkok terrorist alert (thenextweb.com)
- Thai military seizes power in bloodless coup (jsonline.com)