Posted: 2:19 am EDT
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President Obama recently announced his intent to nominate William A. Heidt as the next Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia. The WH released the following brief bio:
William A. Heidt, a career member of the Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as Executive Assistant to the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment at the Department of State, a position he has held since 2012. Mr. Heidt served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, Poland from 2009 to 2012, Counselor for Economic and Social Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York from 2007 to 2009, Economic Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia from 2004 to 2007, and Special Assistant in the Office of the Under Secretary for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs from 2003 to 2004. Prior to that, he served as a Finance and Development Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta from 2000 to 2003 and Economic and Commercial Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia from 1997 to 1999. Earlier assignments with the Department included Economic Officer in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, Economic Officer in the Office of Korean Affairs, Economic Officer in the Office of Bilateral Trade Affairs, and Consular Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Poznan, Poland.
Mr. Heidt received a B.A from Pennsylvania State University and an M.A. from The George Washington University.
Forty years later, John Gunther Dean recalls one of the most tragic days of his life — April 12, 1975, the day the United States “abandoned Cambodia and handed it over to the butcher.”
“We’d accepted responsibility for Cambodia and then walked out without fulfilling our promise. That’s the worst thing a country can do,” he says in an interview in Paris. “And I cried because I knew what was going to happen.”
Five days after the dramatic evacuation of Americans, the U.S.-backed government fell to communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas. They drove Phnom Penh’s 2 million inhabitants into the countryside at gunpoint. Nearly 2 million Cambodians — one in every four — would die from executions, starvation and hideous torture.
Below is an excerpt from Ambassador Dean’s oral history interview conducted in 2000 for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training:
Our messages from Phnom Penh were crystal clear: if the Khmer Rouge takes control of the country, there was going to be a bloodbath. The exact word was “bloodbath.” It turned out to be even worse: a genocide.
Certainly by the end of February and the first week of March, the Khmer Rouge were pressing hard. We used that time to move as many Cambodians, Americans, and foreigners as possible to safety in Thailand. We had set up a system imagined by Robert Keeley (DCM). Ray Perkins (Chief political Section), and Tim Carney, a junior officer who spoke Cambodian. Tim became Ambassador later in his life. All those who felt endangered were sent out by plane over a period of 8 weeks before our departure. In addition, we had set up a procedure whereby key Cambodian leaders were told to send an assistant or secretary to the U.S. Embassy at 6:00 a.m. every day to find out the situation and decisions taken by us regarding taking people to safety. That system worked rather well when on this fateful day of April 12, 1975 we had decided to leave Phnom Penh by helicopter. These aides and secretaries all came on the morning of April 12. One of them was the aide to Sirik Matak. We had prepared during the night a message stating that we were evacuating, and urging the recipient of the note to come along. In his reply to this message, Sirik Matak wrote one of the most heart-wrenching letters ever sent to an American official:
Phnom Penh 12 April 1975
Dear Excellency and Friend,
I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection, and we can do nothing about it.
You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is too bad, because we all are born and must die (one day). I have only committed this mistake of believing in you the Americans.
Please accept, Excellency and dear friend, my faithful and friendly sentiments.
(signed) Sirik Matak
On that fateful day, I said to General Palmer that I wanted to be the last person to leave Cambodian soil. I felt like I was the captain of the ship and, as the tradition goes, the captain is the last man to leave the ship. My wish was granted. Awaiting to be called to move to the extraction site, I was sitting in my office, fully aware of the meaning of the moment for our country. I read the letter from Sirik Matak which had arrived about 45 minutes earlier. Looking out of the window, I saw the Marines taking people to the helicopters and to safety. I watched the Embassy personnel driving themselves to do all they could to help those who had thrown in their fate with us.
Nobody was turned down for evacuation, including at the last moment, Sydney Schanberg’s Cambodian staffer working for the New York Times. We took foreign nationals out, for whom we had responsibility, or even if we had no responsibility. We did not distinguish between illiterate gardeners and highly educated intellectuals. We took the Cambodian girlfriends of some of our bachelor staff members out to safety. I asked our resident military and the Marines in charge of the evacuation to take out anybody who wanted to go with us. At one point in my office, I took a pair of scissors and cut the American flag and the President’s flag off the staff of the poles which were in back of my desk in the ambassador’s office. I was trying to figure out a way of giving some form of protection to the symbol of our country and to the people whom I represented in Cambodia. Tears were rolling off my cheeks. I was alone. I took the two flags and put them over my arm. I got some plastic so they would not get wet. Unkind newspaper people wrote that I had put the flags in a body bag for dead soldiers. On our way to the helicopters, I stopped at my residence where the American flag was flying, and I struck the colors. I took the flag, the third flag, and put it with the other two flags. I asked the Cambodian staff at my residence whether they wanted to go with me. Some of them had been sent to safety before. Those who were still at the residence on April 12 thought they could stay behind without fearing for their safety. At that point, I abandoned the ambassadorial limousine and walked the rest of the way to the waiting helicopters with the American flags draped over my arm. As a Boy Scout in Kansas City, as an officer in the United States Army, and as a Foreign Service officer, I respected the Stars and Stripes as a symbol of our country. I was the last man in our Mission to leave Cambodia in a very large helicopter. One of the correspondents of an American broadcasting system sat next to me weeping because he understood what was going on. We landed on an American aircraft carrier. The entire extraction was called “Operation Eagle Pull.”
Ambassador John Gunther Dean‘s oral history interview for ADST is here (pdf-Cambodia starts on p.99). He was appointed Ambassador to Cambodia in March 1974 and he served in that posting until the Embassy was closed and all US personnel were evacuated on 12 April 1975, 5 days before the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh. Sirik Matak, a member of the Cambodian Royal family previously served as Prime Minister of the Khmer Republic. He was offered political asylum to the United States with other high ranking Khmer Republic officials but declined. He was reportedly executed on April 21, 1975.
The US Ambassador to Cambodia Bill Todd blogged that this year the embassy folks had a great time introducing their Cambodian colleagues to the true spirit of Halloween – being scared! These guys even had a Neighborhood Zombie Watch!
Ambassador Todd attacked by zombies at the Front Office (Photo from ambo blog)
Fondest memories of Halloween was trick o’ treating with tots at embassy offices. At some posts you get a contest for best decorations or scariest digs. At other posts the local staff even gets into the act.
Looks like they all had a great time. Read more here. This post will be updated as soon as the congressional investigation commence.
In the past, we have seen a smattering of ambassador video greetings usually posted on embassy websites, urging host country nationals to visit the website and check out embassy services. Like this welcome message by then U.S. Ambassador to Montenegro Roderick W. Moore, which is noisy and and could stand some improvement.
In December 2010, then U.S. Ambassador-designate to Thailand Kristie Kenney sent a video message greeting the people of Thailand, while she was still in Washington, D.C.. The video is in English with Thai subtitle; approximately 16,000 views.
On Dec 9, 2011, Ambassador Adrienne O’Neal also sent a video message to the people of Cape Verde prior to her arrival in the country, in Portuguese; some 385 views.
According to a recent OIG report, before the Ambassador’s arrival in Hanoi, he recorded “a video of his preliminary thoughts and goals for his tenure in Hanoi, some of it in Vietnamese, for a television interview. An estimated 20 million viewers watched the interview. Another 6 million people viewed it after it was posted on the Internet.” We have not been able to find a video of that interview. In August 2011, Ambassador David Shear did have a video greeting for the people of Vietnam (some Vietnamese, English with subtitle) posted in the mission’s YouTube channel; it has 8,310 views.
OnJan 12, 2012, US Embassy Moscow posted Ambassador Michael McFaul’s introduction video, in English with Russian subtitle; some 76,500 views.
On April 3, 2012, the US Embassy Bridgetown and the Eastern Caribbean posted an video message from Ambassador Larry Palmer, who was confirmed by the Senate on March 30. Video in English, approximately 200 views.
On April 16, 2012, the US Embassy in New Delhi followed with a video greeting from DC by Nancy Powell, Ambassador-Designate to India, also done prior to her arrival at post; 4,301 views.
Last week, it was US Embassy Cambodia’s turn with a video on YouTube of Ambassador-Designate William Todd introducing himself to the Cambodian people; some 3200 views.
This appears to be a video trend in the Foreign Service, no doubt created in Foggy Bottom. You can tell from looking at these videos that they have become more sophisticated. The sounds are better, the graphics are more snazzy, the editing more professionally done, etc. New shop at Foggy Bottom busy with these videos, huh?
We do wonder what kind of views would be considered a satisfactory return of investment for the production of these videos? We’re not saying these intro videos are bad, we are simply pointing out that it cost staff hours (also known as manhours in govspeak) and money to produce and edit these videos. At what point are they considered successful – at 200 views, 500 views, a couple thousand views?
Is this something that the Evaluation & Measurement Unit (EMU) under Office of Policy, Planning and Resources for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R/PPR) even looks at? We know not. But this is the unit that “advances the culture of measurement in U.S. public diplomacy.”
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