Former Top Diplomats Make a Case For Sensible Funding of the State Department Budget

Posted: 2:21 am ET
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In light of the Trump Administration’s proposed FY18 budget, the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Council of American Ambassadors wrote a joint letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to make a case for sensible State Department funding in the federal budget.  The letter was signed by Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, AAD Chairman; Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann, AAD President; Ambassador Bruce S. Gelb, CAA Chairman; and Ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel CAA Chairman Emeritus. We understand that identical letters were also sent to Senators Cardin, Corker, Graham, Leahy and Schumer in the Senate, and Representatives Engel, Lowey, McCarthy, Pelosi, Rogers, and Royce in the House.

Sept 14, 2012: Thousands of protestors attacked the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, setting fire to the Consular Section entrance, and causing extensive damage. (Source: U.S. State Department/DS)

Below is the text of the letter AAD/CAA sent to the Hill:

On behalf of the American Academy of Diplomacy (AAD) and the Council of American Ambassadors (CAA), we believe the proposed magnitude of the cuts to the State Department budget pose serious risks to American security. After the military defeat of the Islamic State, intensive diplomatic efforts in Iraq and Syria will be essential to stabilization, without which the radical movements that we now contest will reappear. Afghanistan requires the same attention.

As a general principle, diplomacy is far less costly than war to achieve our national purposes. Diplomacy is most often the first line of America’s defense. When the Islamic State suddenly appeared in Mali, it was our Embassy that was able to recommend action based on knowing the difference between terrorists and local political actors who needed support. When Ebola in West Africa threatened a worldwide pandemic, it was our Foreign Service that remained in place to establish the bases for and support the multi-agency health efforts deployed to stop the disease outbreak. It is to our embassies that American citizens turn for security and evacuation abroad.

Our embassies’ commercial work supports US companies and citizen entrepreneurs in selling abroad. This creates thousands of American jobs. Every dollar spent on this work returns hundreds in sales. Peacekeeping and political missions are mandated by the Security Council where our veto power can ensure when, where, how many, and what kind of peacekeepers used in a mission support US interests. Peacekeeping forces are deployed in fragile, sometimes prolonged, circumstances, where the US would not want to use US forces. UN organized troops cost the US taxpayer only about one-eighth the cost of sending US troops. Our contributions to refugees and development are critical to avoid humanitarian crises from spiraling into conflicts that would draw in the United States and promote violent extremism. Budget cuts of the amounts contemplated endanger basic US security interests.

US public diplomacy fights radicalism. Educational exchanges over the years have enabled hundreds of thousands of foreign students truly to understand Americans and American culture. This is far more effective in countering radical propaganda than social media. The American Immigration Law Foundation estimates that 46 current and 165 former heads of government are US graduates.

These few examples should show why so many American military leaders are deeply opposed to the current budget proposals. They recognize that when diplomacy is not permitted to do its job the chances of Americans dying in war increase. When the number of employees in military commissaries or military bands exceeds the number of US diplomats, the current budget proposal is indeed not a cost-effective way to protect America and its interests.

The Academy, representing the most experienced and distinguished former American diplomats, both career and non-career, and the Council have never opposed all cuts to the State Department budget. The Academy’s detailed study American Diplomacy at Risk (2015) proposed many reductions. We believe streamlining is possible, and we can make proposals to that end. However, the current budget proposals will damage American national security and should be rejected.

The original letter is here: Letter re Proposed DOS Budget Cuts – Senator McConnell.

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SFRC Hearing 2/16/17: David Friedman to be U.S. Ambassador to Israel

Posted: 2:51 am  ET
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We’ve previously posted about the Trump nominee to be the U.S. Ambassador to Israel (see Trump Names David Friedman, Two-State Solution Critic as Next Ambassador to Israel. On Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) will hold its confirmation hearing on Mr. Friedman’s nomination.

Date: Thursday, February 16, 2017
Time: 10:00 AM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Corker

Nominee: Mr. David Friedman
Of New York, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To Israel

The prepared testimony and live video will be posted here when available.

The following Certificate of Demonstrated Competence per Foreign Service Act, Section 304(a)(4) requirement was submitted to the SFRC and made available publicly by the State Department:

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POST: State of Israel
CANDIDATE: David M. Friedman

David M. Friedman, a nationally top-ranked attorney, is a founding partner of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman of New York, New York, where, since 1994, he has chaired Kasowitz’s Creditors’ Rights and Bankruptcy Practice Group. He frequently represents high-profile clients in large and significant cases, and has published articles and lectured on novel and complex areas of bankruptcy law. Mr. Friedman has played a lead role in negotiating multilateral disputes in some of the nation’s most complex business and financial restructurings. Well known for his excellent public speaking, negotiating and interpersonal skills, Mr. Friedman has been active for decades in U.S. policy as it relates to Israel and the Middle East. He speaks and reads Hebrew and travels to Israel frequently. His skills, knowledge of Israel and the Middle East, language capability and extensive contacts in the region make him well qualified to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

Previously, Mr. Friedman was a Partner in Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander & Ferdon, New York, New York (1990-1994), a Partner in Gordon Hurwitz Butowsky, New York, New York (1987-1990), an Associate in Finley Kumble, New York, New York (1986-1997), an Associate in O’Sullivan Graev & Karabell, New York, New York (1985-1986) and an Associate in Finley Kumble, New York, New York (1981-1985).

Mr. Friedman earned a B.A from Columbia University in New York, New York in 1978 and a J.D. from New York University School of Law, in New York, New York in 1981. He is the recipient of the Sir Harold Acton Medal from New York University for endowing the David Friedman Fellowship at the Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law & Justice and has received numerous recognitions from Chambers, Lawdragon, Law 360, and other publications for excellence in the legal field.

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If confirmed, Mr. Friedman would succeed Daniel B. Shapiro who was appointed by President Obama and served at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv from  July 2011 to January 2017. Previous appointees to Tel Aviv include Ambassadors Thomas R. Pickering, Bill Harrop, and Martin Indyk.

According to Open Secrets, Mr. Friedman made political contributions to both Democrats and Republicans going back to 1998, with the latter receiving 70% of his donations. The largest contributions occurred in the 2004 cycle (almost split between Democrats and Republicans) and in the 2016 cycle (100% went to Republicans).  He has made modest contributions to five senators, four of whom will be voting on his confirmation (Schumer, Menendez, McCain, McConnell; Reid, retired). To see more, click on the Trump Appointee Giving – David Friedman page by Open Secrets.

Some clips to read:

 

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Former AFSA Presidents to SFRC: Delay Approval for FSO Dana Smith as Qatar Ambassador

— Domani Spero
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Eleven former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional association of the United States Foreign Service have written to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) requesting that the Committee postpone consideration of FSO Dana Shell Smith’s nomination as ambassador to Qatar until the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) has made a decision in the case related to Ms. Smith and another senior FSO, Susan Johnson.  Ms. Johnson, the immediate former president of AFSA served two terms from 2009-2013.

The letter says that the former AFSA presidents, which includes seven former ambassadors, “firmly believe that Ms. Smith  has not demonstrated the judgment or temperament to shoulder the responsibilities of Chief of Mission.” 

Ouchy!

It adds that “Ms. Smith’s actions are central to a formal Grievance brought against the Department of State by Ms. Susan R. Johnson, also a Senior Foreign Service Officer and President of AFSA at the time she co-authored an op-ed that stimulated negative Department reaction.

image via cspan

Excerpt from the letter:

 Ms. Smith and Ms. Valerie C. Fowler, then Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary respectively, misusing their official positions and authority over senior assignments and career advancement in order to convey personal views, authored a factually incorrect letter-petition sent through State Department e mail to other FSOs in senior positions, publicly attacking Ms. Johnson on an ad hominem basis for the op-ed she co-authored about the declining role of the Foreign Service.

Senior levels of the Department declined to acknowledge the behavior of Ms. Smith and Ms. Fowler as improper, unprofessional and unprecedented.    Instead the Department condoned the impropriety and compounded the Grievance by nominating one of authors of the ad hominem letter to the senior Foreign Service promotion board which reviewed and did not recommend Ms. Johnson for promotion.   This nomination, the letter-petition and the Department’s inaction may have tainted the board and denied Ms. Johnson a fair promotion review.  Individually and collectively, these actions send a chilling message that speaking out about or questioning personnel policies that lead to the weakening of the Foreign Service as a professional cadre may put careers at risk.

Valerie C. Fowler named above is now the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the R Bureau. PDASes do not need Senate confirmations. As an aside, have you noticed that the R Bureau now has 15 senior officials, all non-career appointees except for five FSOs?

According to her LinkedIn profile, Ms. Johnson is currently a senior fellow at the Academy of American Diplomacy where she is working on the latest AAD study-report on strengthening Foreign Service professionalism. The April 2013 op-ed referred to in the letter to the Senate is online at WaPo (see “Presidents are breaking the U.S. Foreign Service).” That op-ed piece was authored by Ms. Johnson who was then AFSA president, Ronald E. Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, and  Thomas R. Pickering, a former undersecretary of state, and chairman of the AAD board.

The Senate letter was from the following former AFSA presidents: Ambassador Thomas Boyatt, Ambassador William Harrop, Ambassador Alphonse La Porta, Ambassador Theodore Eliot, Ambassador Dennis Hays,  Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes, Ambassador John Limbert, and senior  FSOs F. Allen “Tex” Harris, Theodore Wilkinson, Marshall Adair, and Kenneth Bleakley. Their letter specifically requests that consideration be postponed “until the Foreign Service Grievance Board has made a decision in the case and forwarded the file to the Committee.”

WaPo’s Federal Eye has additional details of this “family” feud:

State did not permit interviews with Smith and Fowler. Doug Frantz,  an assistant secretary of state, said the letter asking the committee to delay action on Smith “contained errors.”  He noted that Johnson’s grievance “was filed subsequent to Ms. Smith’s nomination.” He added that Johnson could have requested Fowler’s recusal from the board, but did not.

Though the letter from Smith, Fowler and the others to Johnson was sent by government e-mail, Frantz said it “was intended to be a private communication from AFSA members to the head of their association.” It’s not private now.

We should note that Douglas Frantz was appointed Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Public Affairs in 2013. Prior to Ms. Smith’s nomination as ambassador to Qatar, she was Mr. Frantz’s top deputy as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Public Affairs (2011-2014).

Also, the average time for consideration of a Foreign Service grievance from time of  filing to a Board decision was 41 weeks in 2011 and 33 weeks in 2012.

This could take a whole tour …

Or … maybe not.

Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) cleared Ms. Smith’s nomination for the Senate’s full vote.  Unless a Senate hold suddenly materialize, we anticipate that this nominee and a whole slew of ambassadorial nominees will be confirmed as Congress runs off to its summer vacation in August.

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Congress Serves Three Benghazi Events This Week – Tickets Running Out!

— By Domani Spero

This week, Congress will have three events focused on Benghazi, two State Department related hearings and one on-the-record interviews with a couple of spooks or OGA folks.

The week started off with the release of the House Oversight Committee’s Benghazi Attacks: Investigative Update Interim Report on the Accountability Review Board (See Read and Weep: Congressional Committee Releases Report Questioning Benghazi ARB Investigation).  An excellent primer on people just doing their jobs.  The 99-page report is worth reading if you work inside the building. Similarly, the Pickering and Mullen transcripts (see links below) are a must-read, too.

On Wednesday, September 18, the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) will hold the following hearing with State Department Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy:

Hearing: Benghazi: Where is the State Department Accountability?
2172 House Rayburn Office Building Washington, DC 20515 |
Sep 18, 2013 10:00am

Several days ago, the Best Practices Sullivan Report leaked to AJAM was quite blunt.  The item was followed by AJAM’s Patrick F. Kennedy: The man in the middle. The Project for Government Oversight (POGO) a few days ago also has the following headlines: State Department Gives Misleading Testimony to Senate and Benghazi Ignored: New Evidence Exposes Gaps in Kabul Embassy.  And now, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight wants answers.  This will be a rough week for some folks but we can almost imagine how this will play out.

On September 19, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on “Reviews” of the Benghazi Attack and Unanswered Questions.  No witnesses have been identified on the OGRC website but word has it that Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Michael Mullen will be two of the witnesses during Thursday’s hearing. Perhaps in preparation for that hearing, the Oversight Committee has posted the full transcripts of the interviews with ARB co-chairs Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Michael Mullen.

Reviews of the Benghazi Attack and Unanswered Questions
2154 Rayburn House Office Building
September 19, 2013 | 9:30 a.m.

Transcript of interview with Admiral Michael G. Mullen

Transcript of deposition of Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering

Previously announced on September 11, but we understand happening this week, the  House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will also conduct an on-the-record interview with two Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers who were on the ground in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 later this month.

HPSCI Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Announces Benghazi Oversight Agenda

Whew! Are you ready?

Updated 9/18 – 7:30 am: We missed this one, not directly related to Benghazi, but one that came about in the aftermath of Benghazi.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 19 will also have a hearing on the nomination of Gregory Starr to be Ambassador Eric Boswell’s successor as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security.

Mr. Gregory B. Starr
of Virginia, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security

Thursday, September 19, 2013 | 10:00 AM | Senate Hart 216

Updated 9/18 at 10:13 am PST: Oops, what’s this? Former and current colleagues are talking to John Hudson of The Cable about Mr. Starr.  Allegations Swirl Around Obama’s Pick for State Department Security Chief.  State Department Chief of Staff David Wade waded in and added his support to the nominee. “Anyone smearing a distinguished public servant should have the guts to do it on the record instead of seeking cowardly refuge in anonymous quotes.”

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AP’s Matt Lee Asks Tom Pickering About the ARB’s Supposed to be Never-Again Moment

Via the State Department’s ARB Benghazi Briefing with Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen:

MS. NULAND: … Let’s start with Matt Lee from AP, please.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for doing this briefing. The report, to a layman, seems to indicate either rank incompetence or a complete lack of understanding of the situation on the ground in Benghazi. And my question is: Why is such poor performance like that from senior leaders in these two bureaus that you mention, why is not a breach of or a dereliction of duty? Why is it not grounds for disciplinary action?

And then secondly, after the 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the ARB report – the ARB that was formed then came out with a series of recommendations, and many of your recommendations today, the broader ones, are very similar. Those bombings in East Africa were supposed to have been a never-again moment. What happened between then and now that this could possibly have happened?

AMBASSADOR PICKERING: Without accepting your characterization of the problem, it is very clear that under the law and in connection with the State Department regulatory practice, one has to find willful misconduct or similar kinds of action in order to find breach of duty. And indeed, one of our recommendations is – there is such a large gap between willful misconduct, which leads, obviously, to conclusions about discipline, letters of reprimand, separation, the removal of an individual temporarily from duty, that we believe that gap ought to be filled. But we found, perhaps, close to – as we say in the report – breach, but there were performance inadequacies. And those are the ones that we believe ought to be taken up, and we made recommendations to the Secretary in that regard.

Thank you for asking the question, Matt Lee.

On a side note — Ambassador Pickering was the 17th Undersecretary for Political Affairs who was the #3 ranking official at the State Department (1997-2000) when the East Africa Embassy Bombings occurred in 1998.  He was one of those interviewed by the Crowe Commission; that Board concluded that “no employee of the U.S. government” had “breached his or her responsibility.” No one was pressured to leave after that incident as far as we can recall. More on that here from Ambassador Bushnell who similarly requested additional resources for US Embassy Nairobi prior to the bombing.

ARB Benghazi’s report released yesterday says that “the Board did not find that any individual U.S. Government employee engaged in misconduct or willfully ignored his or her responsibilities, and, therefore did not find reasonable cause to believe that an individual breached his or her duty so as to be the subject of a recommendation for disciplinary action.”

And yet — as of 10:17 pm PST, four State Department officials no higher than an deputy assistant secretary (DAS) have so far been snared by the ARB report (one AS and three DASes).  Only one of those who were reportedly pressured to step down is big enough fish to make a splash on the State Department organizational chart.  A statement from the State Department via NPR:

“The ARB identified the performance of four officials, three in the Bureau of the Diplomatic Security and one in the Bureau of Near East Asia Affairs,” spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. “The Secretary has accepted Eric Boswell’s decision to resign as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, effective immediately. The other three individuals have been relieved of their current duties. All four individuals have been placed on administrative leave pending further action.”

So — now, if the ARB report did in fact identify these officials, why was that considered “classified” and omitted from the publicly available report?

Did the ARB only identified four officials or are there more?

How many deputy assistant secretaries is the State Department prepared to pitch under the bus to ensure that the bureaucratic firewall holds at the bureau level?

Don’t get us wrong.  Four people were dead, a few more wounded. We want to see who is accountable. The ARB report and the State Department’s response is sending lots of static.  We understand that one of those leaving is preparing to retire anyway …. so … what’s going on guys?

domani spero sig