Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Little Election Trivia

I've avoided commenting on the current Presidential election. All of us the Foreign Service have or will serve under an administration we don't agree with, so while I am deeply interested in the election, I have chosen not to discuss it here.

Here is my one pseudo-exception to that rule: many people are excited at the prospect of a person not entirely of European origin becoming either the next president or vice president. But if he wins, Obama will still not be the first.

The first non-white person in one of those positions was actually Charles Curtis. He was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1860, and spent the first part of his life on the Kaw reservation (his mother was American Indian). He was elected to the House of Representatives and served in six consecutive Congresses until he was appointed to complete an unfinished term in the Senate. He resigned from the Senate in 1929 and was inaugurated as Herbert Hoover's VP.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Foreign Policy Passport: Independence is just a click away

Foreign Policy Passport has an interesting and amusing take on Kosovo independence.

Independence is just a click away

Since Kosovo declared independence last week, secessionist fever has gripped disgruntled regions from Somaliland to Scotland, and possibly even Montana. With all these pseudostates pushing to get their sovereignty on, who's to say when a place actually becomes a country? No less an international legal scholar than Frank Zappa once said, "You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer." It's a bit more complicated than that, but Frank was right that the criteria for independence are not always clear.

If you're planning on starting a state of your own, you'll want to check out FP's new online guide, "How to Start Your Own Country in Four Easy Steps." These easy-to-follow instructions will make declaring independence, getting international recognition, and applying for U.N. membership a breeze. Whether you're a freedom fighter or just an aspiring kleptocrat, it's a must read. Just follow my simple rules and you'll be sipping your national brew on the presidential jet in no time.

WhirledView: Why the AFSA Survey Is Right: Favoritism Charge is Real

This today from PHK on Whirled View:

Why the AFSA Survey Is Right: Favoritism Charge is Real


Last week, I reviewed the results of the American Foreign Service Association’s fall 2007 survey of active duty Foreign Service employees for a talk I was giving here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As I reread the survey’s summary of responses on AFSA’s website, it came even clearer to me than previously that the major issue affecting Foreign Service members was the perception – at least - of undue favoritism in the State Department that benefited far too few individuals. Such charges can be part and parcel of any organization – but when they are believed by so many people on the inside they need additional investigation to help separate fact from fiction. So I thought I’d dig around a little this past week to see whether or not the perception of favoritism at the State Department was real.

Maybe this is simply the sign of the times in these United States – the widening division between the haves and the have nots. Maybe it is the result of an excessively hierarchical system worsened by, in my view, an unnecessary division into two classes of professional US Foreign Service employees: the Senior Foreign Service and the regular services, a divided and unnecessarily divisive system that since it’s inception almost 30 years ago has over-compensated a few at the expense of too many. This is one reason why today the Foreign Service lacks enough qualified officers trained in Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Russian and other difficult languages.

Whatever the reason, the AFSA survey hit - with its very high response rate - a raw nerve among State Department higher ups and resulted in denials by several. Those who most vociferously objected to the survey’s veracity, of course, were a few of the very people who have also most benefited from the system the way it is.

Survey results mischaracterized in too much of the MSM

Meanwhile, the AFSA survey results were mischaracterized. misconstrued and often twisted in too much of the MSM. Although there were a very few exceptions, most of the media stressed the Iraq policy and forced assignments issue as the most important. Wrong. In reality, Iraq policy was not the major issue for respondents although, in fact, many disapproved. The top issues had primarily to do with problems of favoritism. Reporters, evidently, took too little time to read the three page AFSA survey including reviewing its graphs. Perhaps the reporting was so poor because most reporters failed to understand the Byzantine Foreign Service system. If that was the case, however, they could, and should, have asked.

Solvable inequities

From what I’ve discovered through my own research, albeit only the years 2006-8, the impressions recorded in the AFSA Survey were dead right on the perception of excessive favoritism. In fact, the survey results appear to have correctly identified two key issues that should demand the Department’s attention now, not later. Unlike the quagmire that is Iraq, these inequities can, and should, be easily resolved.

They are as follows:

1) Senior Foreign Service Officers as well as all other US government employees assigned overseas by other departments except the FBI are able to keep their Washington, DC locality pay boost when assigned abroad – a salary increase now over 20%. The Foreign Service generalists and specialists, however, cannot: this means they need to serve at 20% hardship (or greater) differential posts just to make up for what they lose leaving Washington to serve overseas. These are the very people who are paid less to begin with. There are far more of them. These professional staffers make US Embassies and Consulates abroad tick.

2) The second issue is the perception of abject favoritism in State’s assignments, promotions and special awards system. I reviewed the biographic information on the appointments of career U.S. Ambassadorial assignments for the years 2006-8. This information is readily available through the Internet. The data I used comes from the Ambassadorial biographies found on the State Department, White House and/or Senate Foreign Relations Committee websites. It didn’t take long to discover that what smelled like favoritism and walked like favoritism also talked like the favoritism highlighted in the AFSA survey.

Here’s what I found: too high a percentage of Senior Foreign Service Officers who held or hold positions in Human Resources were or are being nominated for Ambassadorial positions than should have been nominated if there had been a level playing field for Ambassadorial nominations among all those eligible to be considered for them. What is even more striking is that none of those nominated for Ambassadorships between 2006-8 from positions in Human Resources had served in Iraq since the invasion in 2003 – or for that matter had ever served in Iraq. Period.

I focused on the 2006-8 period because of the ever increasing pressure on Foreign Service Officers and specialists to serve in Iraq as the years have gone by since the invasion in 2003. It would, however, also be useful to know whether the trend for senior Human Resources staff to be assigned to Embassies without having served in Iraq extends back to 2003. Perhaps AFSA or the Congress should ask that question.

What is particularly troubling is that these are the same people who are encouraging, dangling enticements – or putting the screws on – their colleagues to serve in Iraq when 1) they have not done so themselves; and 2) they are then rewarded with Ambassadorial posts.

Yes, a number of Iraq Senior Foreign Service alumni did become Ambassadors after their service in the Iraq war zone – about 14 percent of the total career Ambassadorial assignments versus approximately 11 percent from Human Resources. But there were far more Senior Foreign Service Officers who served in Iraq during the same time frame than in Human Resources so there should have been a significantly greater number of Senior Foreign Service Officers who had served in Iraq awarded Ambassadorships than those in Human Resources. This was not the case. Perhaps the Department and/or AFSA should be asking why.

Maybe the stress and strain of a seemingly never ending Iraq commitment that calls for more and more Foreign Service personnel every year to serve in an ever expanding Embassy and on increasing PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) and a career service and a Department that is severely understaffed are parts of the problem.

I also think, however, the current divisive system itself has far outlived whatever utility it may once have had. It does not, and has not for some time, served the requirements of the U.S. diplomatic service well. There needs to be top-to-bottom restructuring and rethinking of the Foreign Service personnel system for this 21st century global information age in which cultural understanding and foreign language expertise have never been more important. At minimum, playing by threadbare-teachers’ pet rules needs to stop.

MOHs Can Now Get Security Training!

This cable was sent out for all U.S. direct-hire employees under Chief of Mission authority from the Director General of the Foreign Service Harry K. Thomas, Jr. It allows, for the first time, Members of Household (MOHs, including same-sex partners, parents, adult children, etc) to be enrolled in and attend the special security training that all officers and their Eligible Family Members (or EFMs, meaning their spouses and minor children) receive before going to post. This training is vital, since the Department estimates that 85% will be the victims of some sort of crime (including terrorism) while serving overseas. (M and I both have, though fortunately not while I was an MOH (because the assistance I would have gotten from the Embassy would have been less substantial than had I been an office or EFM at the time). My apartment was robbed shortly after I arrived at post, and then about five months before we left, M and I were robbed at knife point. ) And allowing MOHs to attend this training COSTS NOTHING because the classes are held in a large auditorium which is generally less than 1/4 full.

Here is the cable:

1. The recent deaths of Foreign Service personnel in Sudan and Afghanistan remind us that the world we live in can be a very dangerous place. For that reason, all assigned abroad who serve
under Chief of Mission (COM) authority are reminded that security-related training is mandatory, regardless of agency.

2. Please note that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security has agreed to allow a limited number of agencies to self-certify if they offer similar training. All others must attend training offered by the Foreign Service Institute (see para 4 below).

3. We believe that you can take an active, positive step towards enhancing your own personal security by ensuring that you, your family members, and all those who form a part of your usual household (i.e., Members of Household (MOHs)) enroll in training - and then practice good personal security. We are extending access to security training to MOHs in the firm belief that they can be at risk because of their association with us and, as residents of our households and
participants in the Embassy community, can positively contribute to our collective safety

4. Security-related training offered by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI):

(a) SAFE (Safety Abroad for Families and Employees) is the mandatory personal security training for personnel under Chief of Mission (COM) authority. It consists of two training modules, which can be taken separately. State career employees are only required to take the
Security Overseas Seminar. The second (Working in an Embassy) is included in entry-level training.

-- (1) The Security Overseas Seminar (SOS) (MQ911) is a two-day class at FSI. It is mandatory for all employees under COM authority prior to their first overseas assignment. Family members and MOHs are also strongly encouraged to enroll. State employees will be automatically enrolled upon assignment overseas.

-- (2) Working in an Embassy (WIAE) (PN113) is an on-line, Distance Learning follow-on to SOS and is also mandatory for personnel under Chief of Mission authority, regardless of agency. (See above note regarding career State Department FS employees.) While family members and MOHs are welcome, it is most relevant to those who expect to work within an embassy.

(b) Advanced Security Overseas Seminar (MQ912) is open to those who have taken the two-day Security Overseas Seminar (MQ911). It fulfills the requirement to take the SOS program every five years and is available on line, through Distance Learning.

(c) The Security Overseas Seminar, Youth (MQ914) is a one-day class at FSI held in February and during the summer months, exploring safety and security issue that our youth may face in an overseas environment and help them identify resources to protect themselves. In February, classes are held for family members and MOHs in grades six through twelve. Classes in the summer are open to those in grades two through twelve.

5. To enroll their family members and MOHs, and to enroll themselves in the courses for which enrollment is not automatic, State employees should contact their Career Development Officer (CDO). All other agencies should contact their Human Resources office.

Condoleezza challenged over discrimination against gay staff

This was in today's Pink News from the UK.

Condoleezza challenged over discrimination against gay staff

By Tony Grew

The only out lesbian in the US Congress has challenged the country's Secretary of State about unequal treatment of lesbian and gay staff in her department.

In December a former US ambassador left his post at the State Department after criticising Condoleezza Rice's treatment of gay people.

Michael E Guest retired after more than 26 years as a form of protest against regulations that he considered as unfair to same-sex partners of foreign service officers.

The 50-year-old, who is openly gay, served as US ambassador to Romania when President Bush took office.

Since his return home in 2004, he has appealed directly to the US Secretary of State Rice to end gay discrimination.

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, from Wisconsin, wrote to Secretary Rice last week, joined by Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democrat colleagues Howard Berman and Gary Ackerman:

"We have followed with great interest and concern the media coverage of the workplace inequities facing gays and lesbians in the US Department of State," they wrote.

"As in the case of former Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest, the inequitable treatment of gay and lesbian Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) and their partners should not be allowed to lead highly qualified employees to leave the State Department at a time when their service is needed more than ever.

"Many of these inequities could clearly be remedied through your leadership as Secretary, without legislative changes.

"We write to highlight basic and common-sense policy changes that beg your prompt attention and ask that you act to make eliminating inequities facing gays and lesbians at the State Department a priority."

Mr Guest was the first out gay person to be confirmed by the Senate to an ambassadorial post.

"For the past three years, I've urged the Secretary and her senior management team to redress policies that discriminate against gay and lesbian employees," he said during a speech in Washington in December.

According to Guest, under the current regulations only a US State Department's spouse can claim several rights which are denied to unmarried partners and same-sex partners.

These include issues such as the lack of training for same-sex partners to recognise terrorist threats, the lack of medical care and the need to pay for one's own transportation when one's partner is on duty.

Guest said that these issue could have been solved simply with Ms Rice's signature, but his pleas had never received any attention.

Congresswoman Baldwin and her colleagues have asked Secretary Rice to institute changes in State Department policy regarding gay and lesbian Foreign Service Officers' partners that would put them on an equal footing with married couples.

The issue is also covered here at Queerty.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Letter to the Secretary

Outtake Online covered the letter from Representative Tammy Baldwin (along with Representatives Ros-Lehtinen, Ackerman, and Berman) to Secretary Rice over inequalities in employment practices for gay and lesbian employees.

You can read the post here.

More fallout from Kosovo's declaration of independence

At least this time, the police were there in time to defend the Consulate.

Bosnian Serbs Try to Storm US Consulate

By IRENA KNEZEVIC – 2 hours ago

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Police fired tear gas at Bosnian Serb rioters Tuesday to prevent them from storming the building of the U.S. consulate after protests against Kosovo's independence.

A group split away from the almost 10,000 peaceful protesters in Banja Luka and headed toward the consulate, breaking shop windows and throwing stones at police who blocked the streets leading to the building with armored vehicles.

A rain of stones poured down on police before officers fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. Several officers were seen limping. Police were also seen detaining several demonstrators as they withdrew to a nearby park.

Hundreds of hooligans attacked the U.S. embassy in downtown Belgrade Thursday, setting part of it on fire and smashing windows. One person died and hundreds were injured and arrested.

Some bystanders returning from the peaceful part of Tuesday's protest yelled "shame on you!" at the rioters and one man, apparently a former Bosnian Serb soldier, shouted, "This is not what I fought for!"

The incident occurred despite repeated calls by organizers to hold a peaceful protest against Kosovo's independence. Police secured diplomatic missions in the city and warned it would use all legal means to prevent violence.

Tuesday's protest begun with participants gathering peacefully at the main square in downtown Banja Luka, carrying Serbian flags, pictures of Russian President Vladimir Putin and banners reading "No America." At least one U.S. flag had a swastika scribbled on it.

Bosnia consists of two mini-states, one run by Bosnian Serbs, the other by Bosnians and Croats. The Bosnian Serb parliament has condemned Kosovo's declaration of independence and said it will consider a referendum to secede from Bosnia if more countries recognize an independent Kosovo.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Considering EERs

Considering I am in the middle of the EER process (because my boss has to finish them early because he has volunteered for Iraq), I really like some of the suggestions The Cookie Pusher has for the EER process. It's broken...let's fix it.

360 reviews for all!

...But, at least the EERs provide a clear picture of how good an officer is, and are submitted to clearly-understood criteria which a promotion panel reviews and promotes based on an unbiased judgment of merit, right?

OK, after you stop laughing, read on.

Our EERs are labor-intensive, and require the most work (in which the entire Department is convulsed in the March-April time-frame) from the highest-ranking officers. What’s worse, not one officer I’ve ever met, senior, junior, or mid-level (including several who have served multiple times on promotion panels) feels the systems offers any guarantee for promotion of people who really do a good job.

The doublespeak of EERs

As I leaf through a few of my old EERs, I’m forced to ask the question: why haven’t I been promoted to ambassador yet? Why haven’t I gotten the Congressional Medal of Honor? If you read the language as an uninitiated observer, I appear to have nearly-superhuman diplomatic qualities and am certainly the finest mid-level officer in the whole wide world.

And yet, I get promoted at about the same rate as everybody else. Eureka! The answer is: We’re all special, “which,” as Dash in Pixar’s The Incredibles rightly points out, “means that none of us are special.” We’ve engineered a regime of doublespeak and subtlety so refined that we ourselves don’t know when someone is being honest, when praise is praise, and what exactly criticism is.

No room for improvement

Every EER has the fabled “area for improvement,” in which an officer agrees with his or her boss on a criticism so faint and (ideally) irrelevant that it can’t possibly be construed as, in fact, a problem. I’m personally proudest of a year where my boss agreed to write that I needed to acquire a certain area of substantive knowledge for my next job. Allow me to emphasize that he didn’t suggest I needed it for my current assignment, but for the future – and I had time to do so before the next EER. Perfect.

U-Write EERs

Since we’ve established that EERs fall heavily on managers’ shoulders, how do they cope? Answer: typically, by having the employee write (or at minimum, provide a couple pages of outline for) their own evaluations. No wonder we all come across as heroes. We’re describing ourselves to the promotion boards most of the time.

Finding the criticism

Quite correctly, the Department understands that not everyone is as good as their EER makes them out to be, and since budgets are always a reality, only a certain number of officers get promoted in any given year. They force the promotion panels to divide officers into “promote now,” “low rank,” and a rank-ordered list of the rest. But what puts me higher up the ranking, with a better chance of getting above the cutoff number, and securing that promotion?

Who knows. But one thing is for sure: the typical panel reads quickly, since they all have day jobs, and if something jumps out at them in their cursory read, it makes a lot of difference. This can be positive, but since a bad officer rarely suffers a full-frontal assault by his boss in writing, the panels are often left to look for “damning with faint praise,” which means that any officer could potentially be misunderstood as under-performing because… get this… the boss didn’t praise you highly enough. So, your boss’ writing skills (or perhaps your own, if you are one of many who crafts much of your own EER) become the greatest influence on your promotion.

...Save our time. Save your money. Save our collective sanity. Move to universal 360 reviews now. Here’s how I’d recommend doing it:

All reviews would be numerical only. No prose.

Rating and reviewing roles (your boss, and your boss’ boss) remain relevant. Their participation remains mandatory, and their numbers count double.

Including rating and reviewing officers, you have to have 10 (just a number I’m offering) evaluations. If you have co-workers in the same section, they must review you (up to let’s say 3 people). If you have subordinates, they must review you (up to a certain number, let’s say 3, and the subordinate positions which have a review role are designated in your position description). Finally, you have 2 left which you can solicit at large from any State Department employee with whom you’ve worked or are working.

Highest and lowest reviews are thrown out (but not the rating or reviewing officers’), and a computer figures out who has enough points for promotion.

The only thing I’d add is that, as with the military, we should maintain “eligibility for promotion” criteria: time in class, completion of training, language requirements, hardship postings, and so forth. If you check all these boxes, and have the points, congratulations.

The Department of Agriculture, a much bigger bureaucracy than ours, has done it for years. Major corporations much bigger than State do it, too. Now, tell me why we shouldn’t move to 360.

A Comment on Kosovo Independence and the Attack on our Embassy in Belgrade

I found this today on Willam Roddy's blog:

I didn't write this but I wish I had

Here's a rather good comment that I happen to believe, from an unusual source. It's the beginning of a set of movie reviews about American embassies, written by D. Maass , on

"As a red-blooded American, I have a secret chamber in my heart reserved for nations that declare independence. The geo-political circumstances might be slightly beyond my grasp, but I've always got a few metaphorical sparklers within arms. How can I not be in love with these lines from our own Declaration of Independence?

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

So, when Kosovo declared independence from Serbia this week, my heart beat a little faster, my steps sprung a little bouncier. But then, when, 150,000 Serbian protesters rioted at the US Embassy in Belgrade and a few "thugs" lit our embassy on fire, I realized that it's exactly this kind attitude of mine that inspires that kind of violence.

It's a strange paradox of values for me. But one thing I'm solid on: supporting our ambassadors and Foreign Service officials. They're risking their lives at the front lines of the diplomatic war for peace and harmony."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Press Release from Ros-Lentinen

House Foreign Affairs Committee
U.S. House of Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen,
Ranking Republican
February 14, 2008

For IMMEDIATE Release:

Ros-Lehtinen Urges Secretary Rice to Solve Workplace Inequities Faced by Gay and Lesbian Employees Working for State Department

(WASHINGTON) – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested today that the U.S. Department of State must do more to solve workplace inequities faced by its gay and lesbian employees.

During a Wednesday hearing of the Foreign Affairs Committee with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Ros-Lehtinen urged the department to “consider the inequities that are facing many of these wonderful men and women who are often in very tough assignments and who need workplace protection.”

Ros-Lehtinen expressed concern that the department’s failure to designate same-sex partners as an “eligible family member” may be “leading many highly qualified people to leave the foreign service at a time when their talents are most needed.”

Ros-Lehtinen is urging the State Department to adopt administrative changes that will address these inequities.

“We ask much of our foreign service officers, many of whom serve under difficult circumstances. These revisions to departmental policy can be done without changes in existing law and will help our dedicated men and women to better serve the vital interests of our nation.”

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ros-Lehtinen, others protest "inequitable treatment of gay and lesbian Foreign Service Officers"

This was in today's Miami Herald blog:

Ros-Lehtinen, others protest "inequitable treatment of gay and lesbian Foreign Service Officers"

On Thursday, U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Tammy Baldwin, Howard Berman and Gary Ackerman sent this letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:

"We have followed with great interest and concern the media coverage of the workplace inequities facing gays and lesbians in the U.S. Department of State. As in the case of Former Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest, the inequitable treatment of gay and lesbian Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) and their partners should not be allowed to lead highly qualified employees to leave the State Department at a time when their service is needed more than ever. Many of these inequities could clearly be remedied through your leadership as Secretary, without legislative changes. We write to highlight basic and common-sense policy changes that beg your prompt attention and ask that you act to make eliminating inequities facing gays and lesbians at the State Department a priority.

"By not including same-sex partners in the definition of an “Eligible Family Member” (EFM), the Department excludes them from many of the benefits, protections, and services that are enjoyed by family members of married FSOs, and that are important to the safety, effectiveness, and morale of our communities abroad."

You can read the entire letter here.

Potential US Ambassador in Sofia Announced

The Sofia Echo reports today that Nancy McEldowney will likely be the next Ambassador to Bulgaria. M worked with Nancy in Azerbaijan and loved it. She found her to be an excellent DCM (Deputy Chief of Mission), really dedicated to mentoring Junior Officers. Seeing Nancy's relationship with her Junior Officers, particularly the way she mentored M, is one of the reasons I decided the Foreign Service would be a good career option for me, so I am extremely happy that it looks like she will be getting this honor. She deserves it.

Potential US Ambassador in Sofia Announced

Recent hearsay about current US ambassador to Bulgaria John Beyrle being transfered mid-term to Russia was one step further confirmed on February 21 when the White House press office announced the intended nomination of Nancy E McEldowney to the Bulgarian ambassadorship.

At the moment, McEldowney, a career member of the senior foreign service, is serving as deputy chief of mission at the United States embassy in Turkey. Before this, she was deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Azerbaijan.

Beyrle, a career officer in the senior foreign service at the rank of minister-counsellor, has been ambassador in Sofia since September 8 2005. Given his two-time experience in Moscow, where he was most recently deputy chief of mission, prior diplomacy positions in the former USSR and specialised knowledge in related issues, he had been mentioned in January as a replacement to current US ambassador to Russia William Burns, who had been proposed as the new under secretary for political affairs after the retirement of Nicholas Burns (no relation).

Michigan-native Beyrle also served in Bulgaria in 1985/87. McEldowney, of Florida, has also served as the director of European affairs at the National Security Council.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Serbian Protesters Attack U.S. Embassy

This started while I was at work this afternoon. Thankfully, it occurred after normal business hours and so most of the Embassy staff had gone home for the day.

Belgrade's US Embassy Set on Fire

Photo courtesy of AP

The Associated Press

BELGRADE, Serbia -- Serb rioters broke into the U.S. Embassy and set fire to an office Thursday, and police clashed with protesters outside other embassy buildings after a large demonstration against Kosovo's declaration of independence.

Masked attackers broke into the U.S. compound, which has been closed this week, just after 7 p.m. and tried to throw furniture from an office. They set fire to the office and flames shot up the side of the building.

It took police about 45 minutes to appear at the scene, and firefighters arrived about the same time and put out the blaze. Police secured the U.S. Embassy and surrounding area, blocking off all access.

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, said he was "outraged" by the attack and would ask the U.N. Security Council to issue a unanimous statement "expressing the council's outrage, condemning the attack, and also reminding the Serb government of its responsibility to protect diplomatic facilities."

Serbia's President Boris Tadic, on an official visit to Romania, appealed for calm and urged the protesters to stop the attacks and move away from the streets. Tadic said that violence was "damaging" Serbia's efforts to defend Kosovo, which declared its independence from Belgrade on Sunday.

More than a dozen nations have recognized Kosovo's declaration of independence, including the United States, Britain, France and Germany. But the declaration by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership has been rejected by Serbia's government and the ethnic Serbians who populate northern Kosovo.

For several days, Kosovo's Serbs have shown their anger by destroying U.N. and NATO property, setting off small bombs and staging noisy rallies.

On Thursday, the neighboring Croatian Embassy also was targeted by the same group of protesters at the U.S. Embassy, and smaller groups attacked police posts outside the Turkish and British embassies in another part of the city but were beaten back.

Elite police paramilitaries drove armored jeeps down the street outside the U.S. Embassy and fired dozens of tear gas canisters to clear crowds. The protesters fled into side streets where they continued clashing with the police.

Groups also broke into a McDonald's restaurant and demolished the interior. A number of other shops were also ransacked and people were seen carrying off running shoes, track suits and other sporting goods from a department store.

Doctors at Belgrade's emergency clinic reported treating more than 30 injured, half of whom were policemen. All were lightly injured, said Dusan Jovanovic, deputy chief of the clinic, adding that most of the injured protesters were "extremely drunk."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. ambassador to Serbia was at his home and in contact with U.S. officials. Security officials and Marine guards were in a different part of the compound, but nobody was inside the embassy building, he said.

"We want to strongly urge them, and we are in contact with them, to make sure that they devote the assets to deal with this situation," McCormack told reporters, referring to the Serbian government.

Serbia has "a responsibility now to devote the adequate resources to ensure that that facility is protected," he said.

Kosovo, which is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, has not been under Belgrade's control since 1999, when NATO launched airstrikes to halt a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists. A U.N. mission has governed Kosovo since, with more than 16,000 NATO troops and KFOR, a multiethnic force, policing the province.

But Serbia _ and Kosovo's Serbs, who make up less than 10 percent of Kosovo's population _ refuse to give up Kosovo, a territory considered the ancient cradle of Serbs' state and religion.

Earlier Thursday, police estimated that about 150,000 people had attended a rally in the Serbian capital. The crowd waved Serbian flags and carried signs reading "Stop USA terror." One group set fire to a red-and-black Albanian flag.

Secrets of the State Department

Changing Connections reports going to a speech on February 13 given my Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research Randy Fort (my boss....through several layers of people normally but I am working directly for him as his Staff Assistant this week).

Secrets from the State Department

"During Presidents’ Weekend, 28 students traveled with Miss Brinson and me to Washington, D.C. for NAIMUN, North American Invitational Model United Nations, hosted by Georgetown University. NAIMUN began of Thursday, February 13, with a Keynote Address that promised to deliver STATE SECRETS. A conference room housing over 2850 student delegates and their moderators suddenly hushed.

Mr. Fort, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, manages the production and dissemination of all-source intelligence analysis to the Secretary of State, other senior policymakers, and heads the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community. Assistant Secretary of State Randall M. Fort gave the Keynote Address for the opening of the 45th North American Invitational Model United Nations Conference on November 14, 2008.

Thirty-two years ago, Mr. Fort was a participant at a Model UN and he remembered being bored by the Keynote, so he wanted to do something different. He offered his audience of 3000 spectators “secrets from the State Department.” At that moment, his audience quieted.

The secrets were a formula for success: 4 secrets containing 3 words each—words to live by.

1. DO GOOD WORK. Come to someone’s attention that you are better than the mediocrities because you will enable opportunities for yourself.

2. DEVELOP AN EXPERTISE. Find something you love and become an expert, a skills set that will serve you forever.

3. BUILD YOUR ROLEDEX. Know people who can contribute to your career.

4. MAINTAIN YOUR INTEGRITY. Don’t compromise your ethics. Mr. Fort said this secret was the most important component to success.

After a short but motivating keynote, Mr. Fort devoted the rest of his presentation to fielding a Q and A session."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ambassador Guest on The Agenda with Joe Solmonese

Ambassador Michael Guest, who resigned from the State Department over the treatment of his same-sex partner, was a guest Monday night on The Agenda With Joe Solmonese.

"We were thrilled to welcome a special guest last night who in 2001 became the first openly gay man confirmed by the Senate to be a U.S. Ambassador. Michael Guest was appointed by President Bush to serve in Romania and after his tenure was over, he became an outspoken critic of the way same-sex couples are treated in the Foreign Service. Listen in."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Letter From My Congressman

I received this today from my Congressman, David Price (D-NC):

Thank you for contacting me in support of H.R. 4838, the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act. I am pleased to report that I am a cosponsor of the bill.

As a matter of conscience, I support providing homosexual couples in committed relationships the same benefits available to heterosexual couples. More and more companies are extending health care and other employer-provided benefits to domestic partners, and government employers should do the same.

As you know, H.R. 4838 would extend benefits eligibility to the domestic partners of federal employees . This bill would cover a range of benefits including retirement benefits, life insurance, health insurance, compensation for work injuries as well as transportation and relocation costs, and COBRA benefits, as well as other benefits. The bill would also cover domestic partners' children, who would be treated like stepchildren. H.R. 4838 has been referred to the House Committees on Oversight and Government Reform, House Administration, and Judiciary for consideration.

It may also interest you to know that I am a cosponsor of the Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) Inclusion Act, H.R. 2792, which would enable employees to take family and medical leave to care for the serious health conditions of same-sex spouses and domestic partners, as well as adult children, parents-in-law, siblings, and grandparents. I believe the FMLA has been successful in balancing the needs of employees to care for loved ones with the burden that extended employee leaves can have on employers, and I think it is appropriate to expand the application of the law to recognize that society's definition of "family" is broader than it once was. This bill has been referred to the House Committees on Oversight and Government Reform, House Administration, and Education and Labor for consideration.
I will continue working for enactment of these, and similar pieces of legislation in the 110th Congress. Again, thank you for contacting me, and please continue to keep in touch on issues of concern.
Member of Congress

Castro Resigns

I really expected that he would, as he said in his resignation letter, remain president until his "last breath." But according to the Washington Post, Fidel Castro has resigned as Cuba's president.

Fidel Castro Stepping Down as Cuba's President

I don't expect this will change our diplomatic relations, or lack thereof, with Cuba, since in all likelihood his brother will now officially take his place...but one could hope. Jeffrey Dexter at U.S. Diplomacy seems to think so, calling Raul a "Cuban Gorbechev:

“Raul is also called ‘the practical Castro,’ and when and if he does succeed Fidel permanently, many Cuba watchers speculate that he’ll actually bring a less confrontational, more reform-minded rule to the communist island.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

WhirledView on the Miranda Memo

Whirled View has an excellent commentary on the Miranda Memo:

The Miranda Memorandum: the pot calls the kettle black

Whatever one thinks of the recent nine-page memorandum by Manuel Miranda, a Republican political appointee operative, at the conclusion of his obviously less than satisfactory one year tour at the American Embassy Baghdad, one has to question the judgment of the State Department for hiring him and assigning him there in the first place. Surely, the powers that be should have known his reputation as the staffer in charge of shepherding the Bush administration’s most controversial judicial appointments through the Senate Judiciary Committee then an aide to Senator Frist, positions from which he resigned under a cloud.

I can’t help, however, but agree with several of Miranda's observations concerning the management style and administrative abilities of the State Department. I have never thought the department was the right place for administering programs whether nation- or democracy-building, international educational exchanges, international tours for performing artists, publications, exhibits, narcotics eradication or, well, you name it. State just wasn’t and isn’t nimble enough. It is foremost a policy, not a program agency. That’s why once upon a time we had two separate specialized civilian agencies: the US Information Agency for media, cultural and educational exchanges and USAID for international development. USIA was destroyed in 1999 and USAID is now a mere shadow of its former self.

A substantial number of Foreign Service Officers – at least those who have already served in Iraq if the most recent American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) opinion survey is accurate and I think its numbers and scope are compelling - would agree with Miranda that assigning yet more State Department officers to the country is no answer to the enormous problems that State has agreed to tackle there. To do so, it has let all its other installations abroad operate on skeleton staffs for far too long. Where I disagree with true-believer Miranda is that I do not think that anyone short of Hercules himself could put the Iraqi Humpty-Dumpy together again once the Bush administration had pushed it off the wall.

Moreover, the Foreign Service does not have agronomists, electricians, well-drillers, police trainers, or guerrilla fighters on staff. Nor should it. That is not what diplomacy is all about: diplomacy is all about relations between countries and their governments. It is not about running someone else’s government, society, economy, electrical or water systems. This is a form of post-colonial imperialism at its worst - and least effective.

The Foreign Service and the State Department do, however, have plenty of – some might argue too many – lawyers. I find it, therefore, difficult to understand why a position with the questionable title “director of the office of legislative statecraft” could and should not have been filled by someone from the department itself.

In all my years in the Foreign Service – and I served in some very large embassies - did I ever meet anyone with a title remotely resembling Miranda’s. Regardless, the Department has any number of officers who have served in staff positions on Capitol Hill and a fair number of them had had legal training. Certainly they would have been more qualified than Mr. Miranda to embark upon the difficult Iraq legislative training task at hand. Could Miranda’s have been simply a made up title for a difficult to place Republican stalwart in need of a lucrative paycheck thrust down the department’s neck by the White House Office of Personnel. Who knows who owed what to whom and why. Miranda did not bring Arabic language skills or Iraqi cultural or even Iraqi legal understanding to the position. Whether the US legislative experience is relevant to Iraq is questionable.

Made-up titles for phony jobs for politicos have certainly happened before in US diplomatic circles except they often occur in Washington. Otherwise, the recipients of such “largesse” often wind up with Ambassadorial titles to places like Paris, London or Rome not stuck in a mid-level job in the Emerald Palace on the Tigris. Mr. Miranda, however, would never have made it through a Senate Ambassadorial confirmation hearing - especially with the Democrats in charge of the Senate - even one in an out of the way hell-hole, given his record on the Hill.

Yet as I read, then reread Miranda’ Memo addressed to Ryan Crocker, US Ambassador to Iraq, a diatribe which was clearly designed to garner the most media attention possible and leaked on a slow news day, I couldn’t help wondering what Miranda thought he should have been teaching Iraqi officials during the time he was apparently assigned to witness endless furniture rearrangement and staff reorganizations in the Green Zone.

The major thing that came across in this now infamous memo was the necessity of teaching the Iraqis the practice of lobbying, a dubious endeavor at best but one which Miranda appears to equate part and parcel with the core of the democratic process. If so, then I think Ambassador Crocker and his staff should be congratulated for keeping Miranda otherwise engaged.

Miranda also criticized his predecessor’s overly ambitious claim to progress on gaining passage of Iraq’s “oil law,” a claim which Miranda thought was at best premature. But wait a minute. Wasn't the task of ensuring the oil law’s passage farmed out to private contractor Bearing Point last year? Given Miranda’s position that government can do no right and the private sector can do no wrong, this should have made him ecstatic – although, of course he’s hot to trot to blame the State Department, not the contractor, for failure to deliver.

I was initially taken aback by the cavalier brush-off that State’s Public Affairs Office gave to the hapless reporter who asked a question about Miranda’s memorandum. But given the political landmines any substantive answer might have triggered, perhaps the department was right – the less said, the better.

Yet, I was equally annoyed by ABC’s decision to publish the entire text of Miranda’s memo with no apparent research into the writer’s background or motives. You would think in these days of easy access to myriads of data through Google and other Internet search engines far more reporters would have put two and two together and at least raised more than the few questions about Miranda’s own background and motives before unquestioningly taking the document’s contents at face-value. Unfortunately, all too few did.

Considering the Source

Avuncular American discussed the Miranda Memo today:

Dissing The Diplomats: Consider The Source

Yahoo users today had this little item on their "Yahoo News" homepage: "Is US Diplomacy Being Shortchanged?" - originally in Time Magazine on Valentine's Day. But it's no love letter to the American Foreign Service. Author Brian Bennett's description of "tweedy diplomats" plying the "genteel diplomatic circuits" of the State Department or in the "separately-funded fiefdom of USAID" betrays his view of Foreign Service Officers. So does his choice of sources: Manuel Miranda, described as a "former top congressional aide." Writing of Miranda's departure from Iraq, Bennett says Miranda

"blasted the State Department's performance there in a valedictory memo. "The Foreign Service is not competent to do the job that they have undertaken in Iraq," wrote Manuel Miranda, citing "an excuse-making culture," "willfully negligent if not criminal" management, a "built-in attention deficit disorder," and "information hoarding." "

"Former top congressional aide" is one way to put it. Here's another: disgraced former top congressional aide and hit man for Republican causes. From the Washington Post of February 6, 2004 ("Frist Staffer Quits Over Judiciary Probe"):

"The counsel on judicial nominations for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has resigned in response to a probe of how Republican staff members gained access to Democratic computer files on President Bush's most controversial choices for the federal judiciary. Aides to Frist said the resignation of Manuel Miranda, who has been on leave pending outcome of the inquiry, was accepted last week and takes effect today.Miranda's resignation comes in the midst of an investigation by the Senate sergeant-at-arms, with help from the Secret Service and forensic experts, into whether GOP staffers improperly or perhaps illegally tapped into Democratic strategy memos on a computer server shared by Judiciary Committee members of both parties. "

But since loyal Republicans can do no wrong (see: Scooter Libby; Donald Rumsfeld; etc. etc.), there's always useful work to be done. In Iraq. This is from Jeffrey Toobin in the December 3, 2007 New Yorker ("Where's Manny?") The answer ...

"... a couple of weeks ago, Miranda sent a group message to his old e-mail list that closed with his current title: “Director, Office of Legislative Statecraft, State Department, U.S. Embassy, Baghdad.” Say what? "

“In August of 2005, I got an e-mail saying that the embassy had a need for someone with private-practice and government experience to work with the Iraqi Prime Minister’s legal office in developing its process for legislation,” Miranda said over the telephone the other day. It took a couple of months for the political appointment to come through, and Miranda needed additional time to receive security clearances and training, but he moved to Baghdad in January of last year and since then has been living in a trailer inside the Green Zone and working in Saddam Hussein’s old Republican palace. He is reluctant to say much about his precise duties in Iraq, but it seems that he advises the staff of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on how to prepare legislation for submission to parliament.

Guess Miranda got those "security clearances" (how does that happen, if you're being hunted by the Senate's Sergeant-at-Arms?). So if you're ever wondering where the Iraqi PM's legal office got its ethical training, now you know.

Next time "Manny" complains about the Foreign Service and its "excuse-making culture," ask him what his excuse was for stealing Democratic staffers' emails. When he complains about the State Department's "willfully negligent if not criminal" management, check with the Secret Service on its investigation into his questionable activities. Check your sources, Yahoo and Time Magazine.

Digger comments:
My initial comment on this memo was commented about on another blog, which blasted me for discussing Miranda's background before discussing the memo. But just as I put out there were I work (and hence, what my biases are and, I hope, what things I won't allow in the blog), like Avucular American, I think it is important to consider the source.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

More the dropping of the ban on HIV+ applicants

US Drops Ban on HIV-Positive Diplomats

By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — Under pressure from a lawsuit, the State Department is changing rules that had disqualified HIV-positive people from becoming U.S. diplomats.

Effective Friday, the department removed HIV from a list of medical conditions that automatically prevent foreign service candidates from meeting an employment requirement that they be able to work anywhere in the world.

The change was made after consultation with medical experts and in response to a lawsuit filed by an HIV-positive man who was denied entry into the foreign service despite being otherwise qualified, the department said.

Prospective diplomats with HIV will now be considered for the foreign service on a case-by-case basis, along with those with other designated ailments like cancer to determine if they meet the "worldwide availability" standard, it said.

Officials denied that the policy had ever intentionally discriminated against HIV-positive people and noted that the policy had applied only to incoming diplomats, not those who had contracted the virus or other diseases while in the foreign service.

"We have a policy requiring that all foreign service officers be worldwide available as determined by a medical examination at the time of entry into the foreign service," said Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman. "That has not changed."

The department's chief medical officer had "revised its medical clearance guidelines on HIV based on advances in HIV care and treatment and consultations with medical experts," Gallegos said. "The new clearance guidelines provide that HIV-positive individuals may be deemed worldwide available if certain medical conditions are met."

The decision was hailed by Lambda Legal, a New York-based group that advocates for the civil rights of homosexuals, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV and represented the plaintiff in the lawsuit against the State Department.

"The new guidelines mean that candidates for Foreign Service posts who have HIV will now be assessed on a case-by-case basis, as the law requires," said Bebe Anderson, the organization's HIV project director. "At long last, the State Department is taking down its sign that read, 'People with HIV need not apply.'"

The change in policy came less than two weeks before the trial in the lawsuit brought in 2003 by Lorenzo Taylor, a trilingual international affairs specialist who passed the difficult foreign service application process but was rejected after he told the department of his HIV status.

"Now people like me who apply to the Foreign Service will not have to go through what I did," Taylor said in a statement. "They and others with HIV will know that they do not have to surrender to stigma, ignorance, fear or the efforts of anyone, even the federal government, to impose second-class citizenship on them. They can fight back."

Lambda Legal said the suit had been settled "partly due to the new guidelines," but the State Department said the policy switch was not part of the settlement.

"The change simply reflects medical advances in the area of HIV care and maintenance," Gallegos said.

State Department relaxes rules for HIV-positive diplomat applicants

This today from the CNN Wire:

State Department relaxes rules for HIV-positive diplomat applicants

WASHINGTON (CNN) — People who are HIV-positive will no longer be automatically disqualified from the U.S. Foreign Service under new State Department rules issued Friday.
Instead, applicants for diplomatic jobs will be considered on a case-by-case basis, as is done with other perspective Foreign Service officers with medical conditions such as cancer.
Gonzo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman, said the department “never had a policy prohibiting HIV-positive individuals from entering the Foreign Service. We have a policy requiring that all Foreign Service officers be worldwide available, as determined by a medical examination, at the time of entry into the Foreign Service. That hasn’t changed.”
–From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott

Digger comments:
Reviewing them on a case-by-case basis is fair. Certainly some people with HIV, like some with cancer or other medical conditions, can still serve in hardship posts. It would not be fair to those of us already in the service, however, to have people who were not world wide available at the time of hire to be brought in because that means there are that many fewer jobs at non-hardship posts for us to take after serving one or more hardship tours. It is one thing to lose your medical clearance over time through aging, illness, or the toll hardship posts can take on your health. It is another to be exempt from the hardship tours from before you ever join. Much like the military demands certain health standards, so must the Foreign Service.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Secretary Rice's Testimony Before Congress

Here is an article from Time about the Secretary's testimony before Congress.

Is US Diplomacy Being Shortchanged?

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sat before senators on Capitol Hill Wednesday to urge a State Department budget increase of 8.5% and the hiring of 1,100 new staff. Unusually, some lawmakers wished she'd have asked for even more. Senator Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat, told Rice that her request was "small compared to the overall needs." and that U.S. diplomacy was still getting "shortchanged."

A number of recent government studies have demanded the State Department radically transform its approach to diplomacy, in line with the fact that America's most urgent foreign policy challenges today lie far beyond the genteel diplomatic circuit of the industrialized world. A former top Republican congressional aide who this month completed an assignment as an adviser to Ambassador Ryan Crocker in Iraq blasted the State Department's performance there in a valedictory memo. "The foreign service is not competent to do the job that they have undertaken in Iraq," wrote Manuel Miranda, citing "an excuse-making culture," "willfully negligent if not criminal" management, a "built-in attention deficit disorder," and "information hoarding." (The State Department has dismissed Miranda's charges as the opinion of one individual, saying they are not shared by the vast majority of officials serving in Iraq or

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did talk about tackling some of the deficiencies cited by Miranda when she spoke to students at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service Tuesday. She's changing the training, focus and culture of the foreign service, she said. Rice wants to beef up career development programs for mid-level managers. She wants to phase out the foreign service tradition of having a cadre of generalists in favor of being able to deploy diplomats and civilians who have the specialized experience to address the specific needs of a post-conflict country. Rice has also talked about how she is trying to transform how the State Department shares information, so foreign service officers have "quick access to the knowledge and real-time information they need." All of these recommendations speak to the underlying faults that Miranda points out in his memo — and only State Department officials seem to see any substantial improvement since the plans were first announced in 2006.

Feingold, for example, wants to see the State Department put more resources into disaster assistance, education and health programs, which he sees as a major part of "building strong nations" and "restoring stability in post-conflict situations." At the moment the State Department and its separately-funded fiefdom, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), are contracting out the vast majority of this work. Rice says she wants her diplomats
getting their hands dirty in development work, but lawmakers are growing impatient at what they see is a lack of will to fund the major overhaul and hiring binge that this would require. Indeed, in 1970 USAID employed 4,500 foreign service officers; today it employs only 800.

Just getting foreign service officers to go to the more undesirable corners of the planet where they are most needed has been an uphill battle. In November, the State Department was short volunteers to serve in the embassy in Iraq and was threatening to "direct" — diplo-speak for "order" — 48 foreign service officers to Iraq. At a town hall meeting to discuss the staffing gap, one 46-year diplomat described a posting in Iraq as "a potential death sentence." After the hubbub, enough volunteers stepped forward, so no one was ordered to go to Iraq. But the incident laid bare the cultural aversion some tweedy diplomats have to the realities of the changing world beyond Foggy Bottom. After the town hall, Rice, says a close adviser, was even more determined to make sure the department had the right people serving in the most difficult places. "We are trying to do things, quite literally, that have never been done before," Rice
told the audience at Georgetown. "America must recruit and train a new generation of foreign service professionals with new expectations of what life a diplomat must be."

All of this, of course, costs money. The Bush Administration has increased the State Department budget by 25% since 2005, but the department is still moving at a snail's pace toward achieving its goals. Even with next year's requested bump, the average embassy will still have a staffing shortfall this year of 20%. The State Department has never recovered from a hiring freeze on new foreign service officers in the mid-1990s when more diplomats were retiring than were brought in.

With the State Department short-staffed and unprepared for operating in dangerous places like Iraq and Afghanistan, Pentagon officials have expressed frustration in recent years that the military has been forced to shoulder most of the load in post-conflict zones. To address this, Rice is proposing the creation of a Civilian Response Corps. Similar to the military reserves, the new program would comprise doctors, lawyers, engineers, agricultural experts, police officers and public administrators, led by a team of diplomats, that could deploy with a military unit with 48 hours notice. Senators Joseph Biden of Delaware and Richard Lugar of Indiana originated the
idea in Congress in 2003, but some lawmakers are wondering why, five years into the war in Iraq and seven years since the U.S. intervened in Afghanistan, it has taken so long to get these resources out of the gate.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Quote from the Secretary Rice

From Secretary Rice's speech on Transformational Diplomacy yesterday at Georgetown.

"So as we continue to use our resources wisely and continue to transform the practice, posture, and purpose of our diplomacy, we will need greater capacity. How can it be, for example, that the Pentagon has nearly twice as many lawyers as America has Foreign Service Officers? How can it be that the United Kingdom, with one-fifth of our population, has a diplomatic service nearly as large as America’s?"


If you were in the DC area yesterday, you know that it was an absolute zoo. An ice storm came in that apparently caught all the highway folks by surprise, meaning none of the roads got treated in time. A subsequent twenty-car pileup closed one of the interstates (and there were lots more smaller crashes), forcing traffic to go everywhere else, including the streets near our place. I was home in bed but could see the really nasty traffic from my bedroom window.

M left work at about 5 to go vote. Her bus finally gave up at about 6:30 and let people out near the Pentagon. She walked, in the ice, from the Pentagon to the Air Force Memorial. She called me, and I came to get her, knowing the traffic going toward DC was not bad and she'd at least be in a warm car. It took us until 8 pm to get home...we only live 5 miles from the Department.

And of course, all of that meant that she didn't get to vote. Virginia decided not to extend polling hours even though it was clear that lots of folks couldn't make it in time because of the traffic and weather. Maryland kept the polls open until 9:30...I guess they recognize the importance of letting people have their say. Too bad Virginia doesn't.

My ability to vote was not affected by the weather and traffic...I am registered in my home state, which is NOT Virginia.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Miranda Memo

I've been debating for a few days whether to respond to the Miranda Memo, a scathing attack on the State Department and Foreign Service officers who serve in Iraq, first began appearing on some of the blogs.

Miranda, for those who don't know, is Manuel Miranda, has been serving for the past year as the Director of the Office of Leglistative Statecraft in the Embassy in Baghdad. The memo in question was one he wrote to Ambassador Crocker. That is ended up in the press is of little surprise, since he is the same Manuel Miranda who gained access to the emails of Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee and leaked them to the Washington Times.

According to the New Yorker:
"Early in the George W. Bush Presidency, Miranda came to public notice as a fiercely partisan aide to the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He moved to the staff of Bill Frist, who was Senate Majority Leader at the time, and orchestrated a series of noisy attempts—including an all-night Senate session—to win confirmation for Bush’s judicial nominations. In November, 2003, after internal documents belonging to Democrats on the committee were leaked, the Senate opened an investigation that revealed that Miranda, through a quirk in the computer system, had been reading his adversaries’ e-mails and sharing them with right-leaning news outlets like the Washington Times. Senator Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, called Miranda’s actions “improper, unethical, and simply unacceptable.” Miranda resigned, and a criminal investigation of him was initiated."

In the memo, Miranda says that:
"That civilian progress, and the Pax Americana, will not be achieved with the Foreign Service and the State Department's bureaucracy at the helm of America's number one policy consideration. You are simply not up to the task, and many of you will readily and honestly admit it. I believe that a better job can be done. It is simply that we have brought to Iraq the worst of America – our bureaucrats – and failed to apply, as President Roosevelt once did, the high-caliber leadership class and intellectual talent, whose rallying has defined all of America's finest hours..."

"Foreign Service officers, with ludicrously little management experience by any standard other than your own, are not equipped to manage programs, hundreds of millions in funds, and expert human capital assets needed to assist the Government of Iraq to stand up. It is apparent that, other than diplomacy, your only expertise is your own bureaucracy, which inherently makes State Department personnel unable to think outside the box or beyond the paths they have previously taken. "

The truth is that the State Department has far more experience than Miranda in managing multi-million dollar programs throughout the world. But Miranda seems to think highly-paid contractors rather than dedicated government servants who have experience throughout the world would be better at this mission. How offensive to those of us who have dedicated our lives to serving the country.

The Embassy is also severely encumbered by the Foreign Service's built-in attention deficit disorder, with personnel and new leaders rotating out within a year or less.

I find it ironic that he is criticizing Foreign Service Officers for rotating out after a year when he is also leaving after a year.

"Most notable, there is a near complete lack of strategic forethought or synchronization between Embassy staffing and program initiatives and funding. This is also true of PRTs. Only the military takes seriously the Joint Campaign and its metrics of achievement, while State Department leaders use it only when advantageous."

I seem to recall that it was the State Department that argued for a plan for rebuilding Iraq BEFORE we started the war, and the Secertary Rumsfeld dismissed us as feet draggers. We are now seeing the results of the lack of planning but it has somehow become the State Department's fault.

"This past year, the State Department and the Embassy has been led by two misguided premises: first, the obsessive aim that the Embassy be turned into a "normal embassy" and, second, that the State Department cannot be faulted for things that the GOI is not doing, i.e. "the Iraqis need to do this themselves.""

Again, if memory serves, we were told before this war that the U.S. was not in the business of "nation-building." Then we trumpeted the Iraqi election of a government of their own. And now the State Department is criticized for conducting the business of government-to-government relations rather than governing Iraq ourselves. The Department is not the Government of Iraq, nor should we be.

Overall, I found the memo to be pompous, partisan and, as someone who has very good friends serving in Iraq and who will no doubt serve there myself in the not so distant future, deeply offensive. It is full of the same old rhetoric about how the military is Iraq is perfect and the State Department is really just an impediment to the progress the military could make. The truth is we are part of the same team. Even Defense Secretary Gates recognizes the need for both soft power and hard power. No one blames the pitcher for not being a catcher and everyone recognizes that a baseball team needs both.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

From an Officer in N'Djamena

Below is a letter from Solomon Atayi, a Foreign Service Officer assigned to the U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena, Chad. The letter, written to his friends describing the recent embassy evacuation due to escalating violence and civil unrest in Chad, appears on the Department's blog, DIPNOTE, and is illustrative of the dangers Foreign Service Officers face while bravely serving our country overseas.

"Dear friends,

I am sending you this email to let you know that I am fine. We were evacuated on Sunday afternoon and taken to the French military base. Early this morning at 3:00 AM a U.S. military base in Germany sent a military plane to come to bring us to Yaoundé. We evacuated dependents and children on Saturday before the start of the war. They left at 4:00 AM and the war started around 9:00 AM. The Department of Defense element came to the compound to secure it. We were all divided into 2 groups. One group with the Ambassador was at the embassy, and the other group was on the U.S. housing compound. We were all put in one room, and the 11 of us were right on the floor. We could hear the fight. One tank stopped right under our wall, and each time it fired, the room vibrated. We could hear bullets flying as well as the rocket propelled grenades. The U.S. Navy Seals were on the top of the biggest building on the compound, and they had authorization to open fire if anyone came onto the compound. The fight lasted until 5:00 PM when everything got quiet for the evening prayer. Then it started again till 9:00 PM. On Saturday, it started over again. When they moved toward the President’s Palace, the looting started. We were hearing from the local guards who stayed at our separate residences how one after the other they had to abandon each post because the house was invaded by looters.

Yes, I lost absolutely everything. Everything. And I am not the only one. We all lost everything except our life. God was looking over us. Two houses on the compound got hit by strayed cannon fire. We were hearing those guns fire all day on Saturday and part of Sunday. When the rebels stopped the fight on Sunday to regroup, that's when the French troops came to the compound in armored trucks that looked like tanks and took us to their military base. The French sent a helicopter to the embassy to airlift our Ambassador, the marines and others who were at the embassy.

I went to Chad with over 2000 pounds of goods, I left with one bag that contained one pair of pants, 2 socks and 2 shirts. They even took all my figurines and all our Christmas decorations that we had been collecting for many years and were planning to give to the children.

Do I regret having gone to Chad? No. Not at all! In fact, I am ready to go back. We were doing a very good job and were helping Chadian children by donating books, backpacks, and school supplies. We were constantly in schools talking to them and helping them whichever way we could. I really loved this job. There was nothing more gratifying than to see a mother crying of joy because we donated school supplies to her child or a Catholic sister crying because we gave her a grant to help her help Chadian abused women. I loved it and will go back if I have the chance. The only thing I will do differently is that I will not spend the fortune I spent to prepare for my life in Chad.

Again, we are all fine, and I thank you all for all your prayers. Thanks to those prayers, a missile miraculously sailed straight through the Ambassador’s office, piercing both walls and exploding outside, while embassy staff were inside burning classified documents. I cannot explain how that happened, but that was what happened.

Thank you and I love you all.


Friday, February 08, 2008

More "Troops" for U.S. Diplomacy

This Op/Ed piece is in today's Christian Science Monitor.

More "troops" for U.S. diplomacy
A proposed increase in diplomats is an important step toward greater "soft power."

from the February 8, 2008 edition

They must be pinching themselves at the State Department. Can it be that the White House wants one of the largest increases ever in the diplomatic corps? The request, revealed in the president's budget this week, shows Washington awakening to the compelling need for greater "soft power."

The condition of America's diplomatic service is not just shameful, but harmful.

When even Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the chief of "hard power," warns consistently about America's atrophied nonmilitary muscle, the risk to US national security must be serious.

Many embassies are staffed at only 70 percent. A new foreign service officer might arrive in Nigeria (Africa's most populous country) with nothing more than one morning of training at the Foreign Service Institute and no predecessor to help the transition. [Just a slight exaggeration - Digger]

Meeting the threats of the post-cold-war era – of weak governments, Islamist jihad, and destabilizing forces such as global warming and energy insecurity – is not just a matter of guns. It also requires the US to engage with the world, communicate (and listen), and provide nonmilitary assistance.

This is tough to do when its foreign service is so stretched it can't spare people to train for a new era.

In the proposed budget for fiscal year 2009, the White House is requesting 1,076 more diplomatic personnel. About 200 are to enhance security, but the rest will free up people to learn tough languages such as Arabic and Chinese, allow foreign service officers to study at US military colleges so they can better work with the armed forces, dedicate a small cadre of diplomats to military command posts, and build a corps of 350 experts who can assist in postconflict zones.

Over the next decade, the State Department wants to double the number of US diplomats. There are about 6,500 foreign service officers – less than an Army division. Congress should fund a diplomatic beef-up. But it's just one step in enhancing US soft power.

It has taken several years for the White House to realize it can't fight terrorism with military means alone. But a change of the guard will provide an opportunity for a more concerted effort. Think tanks, businesses, and NGOs agree, and have launched about 30 studies on this subject – many of them bipartisan.

Not all of their proposals require more spending. America would be well advised to change its often-patronizing tone and work more closely with friends and allies – adjustments begun under Condoleezza Rice and Mr. Gates. Some of the solutions involve greater American leadership, for instance, in climate change; others look outside the government – to people-to-people exchanges, efforts in world health, and charitable giving in disasters.

But there's also no avoiding the issue of government spending. The military took a huge hit after the cold war as Congress cashed in its "peace dividend." But so did US diplomacy, aid, and communication. They need rebuilding.

And what about the asymmetry between hard and soft power? The White House wants to spend $515 billion on the Defense Department (not including the supplemental requests for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) but only $38 billion on the State Department.

The presidential candidates need to think hard about soft power.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Houston Chronicle: President's Bid to Rebuild Diplomatic Corps is On Target But Off Schedule

Consul-At-Arms found a great editorial in Tuesday's Houston Chronicle.

Smart power
President's bid to rebuild diplomatic corps is on target but off schedule.

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

Trained and deployed well, diplomats sometimes can do more than an army. One of diplomacy's chief aims, after all, is working things out without killing anyone.

So President George W. Bush's budget proposal Monday — which would fund 1,076 new diplomat jobs — is a huge advance for U.S. security. Both Bush and Congress, which has turned down far smaller proposals, need to fight hard to get this request passed.

Since fiscal 2005, as our military commitment has surged, the number of foreign service workers has remained essentially flat. It's a deficit as dangerous to American interests as neglecting our military.

Bush's budget request calls for an $8.2 billion increase for the State Department in budget year 2009. The plan would boost embassy construction spending by 41 percent and add almost 20 percent more for security worldwide.

Most significantly, though, it would add 1,076 jobs to the State Department, including spots for diplomats, security experts and replacement employees to allow 450 State Department workers to undergo intensive language training.

It's a stunning increase from Bush's meek request last year for only 256 diplomat jobs — a request that Congress nevertheless shot down.

To even make this year's request, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to return to White House budgeters three times to plead her case. Her argument: the State Department needs to become an agent of "transformational diplomacy," focusing on partnering with, rather than coercing, countries to respond democratically to the needs of their own people.

Plenty of states, of course, haven't the slightest interest in partnering with the United States in any context. But many, especially since the launch of an ill-planned war in Iraq, have radicalized directly because of the perceived brutality of U.S. foreign policy.

Unfortunately, we have few diplomats fluent enough in Arabic to debate the point on Al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language international news channel based in Qatar.

For more than four years, this country has fought wars on two fronts, lost thousands of servicemen and women and cost hundreds of thousands of foreign lives. Yet the United States has not bothered to fully staff its core international diplomatic force.

Numerous American embassies struggle along at 70 percent staffing. Last year, 10 percent of diplomatic job openings for 2008 were cut.

How Congress justifies neglecting this arm of national security forces is a mystery. But a recent barrage of critiques, including two speeches by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, may have spurred Bush to finally fight for proper diplomatic funding.

The sum Bush is asking for diplomats would be minor in the military's budget. Yet the additional funds would muster serious smart power: civilian teams to rebuild post-conflict societies; spokesmen to intelligently voice U.S. goals abroad; negotiators to press solutions in the most stubborn conflicts.

Adding new jobs would strengthen the diplomatic corps by a significant percentage. But that's the minimum reinforcement owed to the thousands of soldiers the United States sends around the world to risk their lives.

TSB: Who's Afraid of Fortress Embassies

The Skeptical Bureaucrat talks more today about the issue of "Fortress Embassies."

TSB writes:
"...Exactly what architectural features make an embassy a Fortress instead of just another government office building? As I understand the criticisms, it seems to come down to three objectionable elements: the long (30 meters, or 100 feet) setback distance between the embassy office building and the surrounding streets, the high (2.75 meters, or 9 feet) perimeter wall or fence, and the limited use of glass (currently about 40%) in the building’s façade. The setback distance is blamed for making the embassy remote from downtown and the other two features make it forbidding to visitors. As almost any book or article by Dr. Loeffler in the last 20 years has said, the buildings express fear rather than openness...

...How many people share Dr. Loeffler’s distain for fearful Fortresses and Big Box diplo-kitsch? All too few people appreciate architecture in the first place, which you would have to do before you could have a strong opinion, either pro or con, about Fortress Embassies. I have rarely met anyone from outside the architect and urban planner communities who paid serious attention to how any kind of building looks, and that makes me suspect the Fortress Embassy impression is mostly confined to upper middle-class Americans with an artistic bent. Those good folks often assume their own tastes and opinions are naturally shared by the better sort of people everywhere (even foreigners, since, as we know, inside every foreigner is a middle-class American trying to get out). My own experience difers. Personally, I have never met a foreigner who found U.S. embassies particularly fearful or forbidding, at least not because of their architecture."

I have also never met a Foreign Service Officer who opposed making our Embassies less vunerable to attack. I mentioned before that terrorists were able to throw a grenade over our nice wall at the Consulate in Jerusalem, and lots of folks are still alive only because it was a dud. Now we have a very tall fence on top of the wall (we affectionately call it a giraffe cage). I wonder if those who long for the days of prettier, more open (and more open to attack) embassies also think the military should stop using armored vehicles because they are so "closed" and armored vests because they make our soldiers seem scary.

You can read TSB's entire piece here:
Who's Afraid of Fortress Embassies?

Delivering the Foreigners

Avuncular American, a retired Foreign Service Officer, has an interesting piece about what he calls "the increasingly subordinate role performed by American diplomats vis-a-vis the U.S. Military."

"What Diplomats Do: "Deliver the Foreigners"

Parents in the diplomatic service have to answer the same questions that other mommies and daddies do, but their answers are of necessity more complicated. Children aren't the only ones flummoxed by what diplomats do; many an American Foreign Service Officer working for the State Department has experienced the bemused looks of neighbors and family back home. "State" department sounds like you work in Harrisburg, Tallahassee, or any other American state capital bureaucracy. What you're doing in Tallinn or Algiers, they have no idea."

Digger comments:
This is definitely true. I was in NC when I joined the FS. I told one woman I was going to work for the State Department and she asked if I was moving to Raleigh. I finally gave up on telling people I was a Foreign Service Officer and just said diplomat instead, sacrificing my desire to not sound pretentious in exchange for at least a little clarity.

AA continues:
"But now, thanks to the increasingly subordinate role performed by American diplomats vis-a-vis the US military (see my blast when General David Petraeus insisted on referring to the US Ambassador to Iraq as his "diplomatic wingman"), we have a new wrinkle on the concept of diplomats-as-enablers. The January 18, 2008 Washington Times ("State Doubles Military Advisers," by Nicholas Kralev) tells us that diplomats are much in demand in the burgeoning US military:

The State Department is doubling the number of resident diplomatic advisers that it sends to the offices of the nation's top military commanders at home and overseas — a move encouraged by the Pentagon as its uniformed leaders take on larger public roles abroad.

The diplomats also help to "deliver the foreigners," as one official put it, whenever advice or assistance is needed from allies or other countries. Sometimes, they simply offer their counsel on foreign affairs, ensuring that the commander is familiar with current U.S. policy before making public remarks.

It's good that seasoned diplomats advise generals on current US foreign policy. After all, they have to do the same thing when US presidents persist in sending fat cat campaign donors abroad as political appointee ambassadors, in recognition of their generosity. But it's the preamble of the article that hits the core problem: "a move encouraged by the Pentagon as its uniformed leaders take on larger public roles abroad."

"Delivering the foreigners" for four star (and more junior) generals is increasingly the lot of American diplomats. Increasingly, the US military is taking on "roles and responsibilities" (to use a good Pentagon term) that are very far from basic soldiering. You need a website to bring the Muslims around to the American Way? The Pentagon has it. How about development projects, to win hearts and minds? We got that too: the Special Operations Command excels in "public safety, agriculture, finance, economy, and support of dislocated civilian operations."

In the recent "stand up" of the Pentagon's newest regional combatant command, AFRICOM, the US military proceeded to reinvent the diplomatic and development wheels that the State Department and USAID have had in Africa ever since President John F. Kennedy determined that the United States would have a "universal" presence in every one of the newly-independent African countries that started appearing during his tenure. A USAID veteran told me of his particular experience:

I've had conversations during 2007 with university colleagues whose brains are being picked by the Africa command folks on this side of the Atlantic. The content of these DOD-university dialogues is often incredibly basic. As a consequence, the new partnership crowds out long-established relationships that USAID and USDA [Agriculture Department] had/have with the university agriculture community. The Administration has duplicated USAID with MCC [Millenium Challenge Corporation], and now the Pentagon will do so again with the Africa Command's emphasis on civilian topics.

Meanwhile, USAID's well-planned agriculture projects in Africa limp along with stagnant funding. "

Digger comments:
I think much of this is a duel problem of State having too little money and too much focus on Iraq. I am not one of the nay-sayers who thinks we should withdraw immediately from Iraq (in fact, I hope the military stays there until at least after I serve my tour there, as we all will, because I am a big fan of having folks there with guns who are on our side!). I don't even think withdrawal is a realistic possibility, though I do think our embassy there is too large given the current environment (any other embassy on earth would have been long ago evacuated). I do think that having Iraq as our primary foreign policy focus is short-sighted (at a Junior Officer conference, department leaders from the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) said anything outside of Iraq and the Middle East was just "fisheries." I suppose that means Russia and China are not important) and has lead to vast amounts of money being pumped into the military at State's expense. One might even argue that State's initial reluctance to go into Iraq without proper planning for reconstruction opened a door for the military to take the lead, and we have remained somewhat marginalized.

That the military is taking over so many of the functions we should be doing (and could do better because that is our area of expertise) is no surprise given the size of their budget. And no one can blame them for trying to increase their budget by taking on new projects. The problem is an issue of soft power versus hard power. We should be using diplomacy as a soft power before we use hard power and we should be properly funding the soft power so it can do the tasks it was meant to do. Regardless of what anyone thinks about the war, we are there, and we need to do our jobs. And conducting diplomacy abroad is the role of the State Department, not the military.

The point is we need both, each doing what we are expert at doing and letting the other do what they are expert at doing. The carrot and the stick approach only works when you have both a carrot AND and stick and the two are held in different hands.