Monday, March 31, 2008

The Challenge of Transforming

Diplopundit has some interesting thoughts on Transforming and Transformational Diplomacy and what the Department should do to make progress on those fronts.

As John Kotter writes in The Heart of Change, "People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings." The Foreign Service has some of the best and the brightest men and women this country has to offer. Most if not all, have their ears on the ground and recognizes the realities that require a revitalized diplomacy as a primary tool of foreign policy.

So, the challenge to the State leadership is this - how seriously does it want transformational diplomacy to work and take roots beyond the next 10 months, and beyond the front pages of the news rags. If serious enough, then it has to do a better job at understanding what people are feeling, and its needs to address the employees' anxieties and distrust as one of the primary components of this necessary journey.

And oh yes, I think it would also be helpful if it starts delivering messages directly to the employees instead of the news media first.

You can read the entire post here.

WAMU: The Future of the Foreign Service

Today at noon on WAMU (88.5FM, the radio station for American University) there will be a discussion of the FS. Streaming audio of the show will be available approximately one hour after the show ends.

The Future of the Foreign Service

They're a key tool in the exercise of America's "soft power"- civilian diplomats tasked with representing America across the globe. Kojo explores the major challenges confronting America's diplomatic corps in a time of evolving international challenges.

* Steve Kelly, Senior Foreign Service Officer and Division Director in the Career Development and Assignments Office, U.S. Department of State

* Steven Kashkett, Vice President, American Foreign Service Association

* Carlos Pascual, Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution; U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine (2000-2003)

* Ann Syrett, Chief of the Outreach Branch and Coordinator for the Diplomats in Residence Program, U.S. Department of State

Sunday, March 30, 2008

"The Way I See Things" comments on FSOs speaking out

The Way I See Things, which seems to be a new blog by an FSO, comments on Taking the King's Shilling.

...Today we have a professional civil service and foreign service. Foreign service officers serve for decades, building up experience and gaining real-world insight into diplomatic relations. We are experts on foreign affairs (much as military officers are experts on military tactics, operational art, and strategy). People who argue that we take the shilling, so we should shut up and do the bidding, correctly note that our job is to carry out the foreign policy of our elected leaders. They miss, however, the equally important point that our job is also to provide expertise and advice to that elected leadership, most of whom come to the job with a few foreign policy advisers who have outstanding academic and theoretical credentials, but precious little real-world experience.

Without getting into the minutae of why I think our Iraq policy is seriously flawed, I think telling foreign service officers that they are wrong to point out the flaws they see in this policy is dangerous and short-sighted.

You can read the entire post here.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

U.S. to be one of THREE superpowers?

The NY Times Sunday Book Review has a review today of THE SECOND WORLD, a book by Parag Khanna. Khanna predicts that the U.S. will be one of three superpowers, the other two being China and the European Union. The review suggests the State Department will need to play an important role in this future if the U.S. is to compete.

Still, if the United States is going to compete successfully, the next administration must undertake some deep-seated fixes at the State Department. In the Arab world, Khanna notes, Chinese diplomats “show deference to local culture by learning Arabic and even taking Arabic names.” America will not become more diplomatically competitive by cutting the State Department further, as many conservatives would like. Already, America’s image and standing in the world have been weakened immensely by closing American libraries and consulates, or putting them behind forbidding security barriers ....The diplomatic ranks need to grow; there are more musicians in America’s military bands than there are foreign service officers, and the generals and admirals who head the various commands, like the Central Command or Centcom in Florida, have more aides and advisers than the country has ambassadors and assistant secretaries of state.

You can read the entire review here.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Sad News Out of Iraq

TSB reports the sad news out of Iraq that yet another American has died in the recent mortar shellings of the International Zone in Iraq. This is to say nothing of the countless Iraqis and third-country nationals who also work for us there and have been killed. Those names never make the press but they are a loss to our family as well. I watched as a collegue who just returned from Iraq watched and read the press reports with a pained expression. These are her friends, her family from her year there. I too worry about the folks back in Jerusalem when the violence escalates there. I can only imagine what it must feel like to hear about them being bombed. My thoughts are with the families of the hurt and killed, including the members of their FS family.

Second USG Employee Killed This Week in Green Zone Rocket Attacks

The Associated Press is reporting tonight that a U.S. government employee was killed Thursday by rocket fire into Baghdad's Green Zone. Volleys of rockets and mortars have been fired into the Green Zone intermittently for the past four days.

At least one death was reported inside the Green Zone in the latest attacks. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said a U.S. government employee was killed, but would give no further details until relatives are notified. Another American, a financial analyst who audited contracts in Iraq, was killed Sunday in the zone, the embassy and relatives said earlier this week.

Another U.S. official said that personnel — who usually sleep two to a trailer on the embassy grounds — are now sleeping inside the former Saddam palace where their offices are located. "There are cots everywhere," the U.S. official said. "People are scouting out free couches."

The official — who has been through other attacks — described the recent barrages as "qualitatively different." "There is a sense of hunkering down for a sustained period of time," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security restrictions.

The last sustained attacks on the Green Zone were in July when extremists unleashed a barrage of more than a dozen mortars or rockets, killing at least three people — including an American — and wounding 18.

What is Public Diplomacy?

MountainRunner has a good piece on what Public Diplomacy is (and isn't).

What is Public Diplomacy?
By MountainRunner

Not too long ago, Marc Lynch and I had a back and forth on the utility and purposes of Smith-Mundt, a law that today is used not to give America a voice in a global informational struggle -- the purpose for which it was passed -- but to impose artificial constraints that is unique among our peers and our adversaries.

That discussion included an interesting (and incredible) statement that public diplomacy was not about advocacy. I completely disagree, as I wrote in Understanding the Purpose of Public Diplomacy. Crucial to understanding the purpose of public diplomacy is understanding what it is.

So, What is Public Diplomacy?

While the term itself originated as an alternative to "propaganda," by 1965, when Edmund Gullion coined it, public diplomacy was already well on its way to be something much different than propaganda. The definition of public diplomacy back then is virtually indistinguishable from what today we call information operations, propaganda, or even psychological operations.

More recent American definitions of public diplomacy, when they exist, tend to ignore the purpose of the communication, leaving open the possibility that all political communications of a state (or non-state actor) is public diplomacy simply by virtue of the target, a foreign public. That may have been implied by Gullion, but it isn't what it is today and very much why the term "strategic communications" has come into fashion.

If public diplomacy was simply the conveyance of information to influence a group of people, it would be indistinguishable from information operations or even psychological operations. So what is it?

In a timely post on the State Department's blog, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Colleen Graffy captured a key element of what differentiates public diplomacy:

"Hmm... Now what exactly is public diplomacy"? That is the question I am often asked.

I describe public diplomacy as the art of communicating a country's policies, values and culture to other peoples. It is an attempt to explain why we have decided on certain measures, and beyond that, to explain who we are.

Public diplomacy is many things, but what differentiates it from information operations, the now traditional definition of propaganda, and political warfare, is an effort to create an understanding based on conveying a point of view.

You can read the entire post here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cookie Pusher, Where Are You?

I have recently been unable to access one of blogs I really like, The Cookie Pusher. When you click on the link, it takes you to a WordPress logon page, but his blog apparently does not recognize my WordPress logon.

So Cookie Pusher, if you are still out there, I'd love to hear from you. You have had some really interesting insights.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

FT: State grapples with vacancies in midlevel Foreign Service posts

This piece was in yesterday's Federal Times.

State grapples with vacancies in midlevel Foreign Service posts


About one-fifth of the State Department’s midlevel Foreign Service positions are vacant, and the department says it needs Congress to approve long-overdue funding to fill them.

A State Department official said the agency is coping with the vacancies by leaving open positions at lower-priority embassies and consulates, and temporarily assigning some employees jobs that are above their paygrades. About 19 percent of Foreign Service employees today are “stretching” to do jobs above their paygrade, said Linda Taglialatela, State’s deputy assistant secretary for human resources.

“We’re meeting the highest of our priorities,” Taglialatela said. “But it’s not sustainable over the long run.”

The roots of the problem lie in the Clinton-era downsizing of the federal work force, which kept State from hiring many young people who would today be midcareer Foreign Service officers, said Taglialatela and American Foreign Service Association President John Naland. But the problem has been compounded by Congress’ refusal to fund Foreign Service hiring since 2004.

Clinton’s peace dividend got taken out of State, and the hiring stopped,” Naland said.

State now has about 3,000 midcareer Foreign Service generalist officers — grades FS-03 to FS-01 — and needs about 3,800. Midcareer officers usually have between five and 20 years of experience, and earn $62,600 to $124,000 annually. FS-06 entry-level officers get $36,700.

State is asking Congress for enough money to hire about 700 Foreign Service officers in fiscal 2009. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is pushing hard for additional hiring as she briefs lawmakers on the proposed budget, Taglialatela said.

The problem is most severe in the ranks of State’s Foreign Service generalists — the officers who handle consular duties, meet with foreign citizens and organizations, manage embassies and consulates, or do other nonspecialized jobs.

The most important embassies — such as those in Baghdad, Iraq, and Kabul, Afghanistan — are either fully or nearly fully staffed, Taglialatela said. And embassies and consulates in more peaceful or less strategic countries are suffering as a result of the staffing needs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It takes away from other locations, but we’re managing it,” Taglialatela said.

While State is trying to keep most of the unfilled Foreign Service posts at its Washington headquarters, it is leaving some positions abroad unfilled and dividing up duties among officers with similar skills there. Sometimes the spouses of Foreign Service employees pitch in to help, with a little training from State. Some unnecessary positions have been eliminated.

But those tactics can’t work for more than two tours, Taglialatela said.

Foreign Service people are very dedicated, and many people work very long hours. But at some point, we’re going to have to find the resources to staff those jobs,” she said.

When State relies on employees working above their paygrades, embassies and consulates aren’t running at peak efficiency, she said.

“Most of them are very bright and capable, and they can do 70 percent of the job,” Taglialatela said. “But they need more supervision, they need more time, more direction; and they can’t hit the ground running like a more senior person would be able to.”

One midlevel Foreign Service officer, who asked not to be identified, said he has had to do up to four jobs at once in his stints abroad.

You’re just trying to stick fingers in cracks to make sure things don’t fall apart,” the officer said. “You’re not necessarily trying to produce the best product. You’re making sure there are no catastrophes.”

State has to rely increasingly on foreign employees, who cannot always be completely trusted, the officer said.

“There’s always a local agenda,” he said.

And with Foreign Service officers stretched to the limit, the officer said, embassies and consulates can’t always give American citizens the help and attention they need. He and other officers he knows have become discouraged and thought about leaving for the private sector, he said.

“We do this because we want to serve and enjoy the lifestyle of being overseas,” the officer said. “But at some point, you don’t feel like you’re having the most positive impact you could, or are unable to reverse negative trends in foreign policy. Then you start to question your own personal reasons.”

And although State was able to find enough Foreign Service officers to fill its Baghdad embassy this year without ordering officers to serve, Naland worries that today’s shortages will affect next year’s staffing.

“The State Department doesn’t have the bench strength to staff the ever-growing embassy in Iraq,” Naland said. “This fall, we’re going to face the same need again.”

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

President Bush Visits Department of State

President Bush visited the State Department yesterday and had some really nice things to say about the Department and those of us who serve, particularly those who have served in Iraq. The entire speech is copied below.

Disappointing, though, was a local news channels selective use of quotes from the speech as part of their coverage of the 4,000th person killed in Iraq, to make it seem like the speech was addressing only the sacrifices of the military. I find it frustrating that Americans still clearly do not recognize the contributions of the State Department both in the war and throughout the world, no doubt in large part because of the media's selective coverage of the issues.

President Bush Visits Department of State

THE PRESIDENT: Madam Secretary, thank you very much for your hospitality. I just had a very interesting dialogue on how to strengthen the State Department's capacity to bring freedom and peace around the world, and how to make sure the State Department works collaboratively with the Defense Department, as we deal with some of the more difficult areas, and really take advantage of some of the great opportunities that we're faced with.

And so I really want to thank you, Madam Secretary, and I thank the folks who work in this building. Our citizens have really no idea how competent, courageous and successful the people here who work at the State Department are -- I do. After my -- now my eighth year as President, I've gotten to know the people in the State Department well, and I'm impressed, and so should our citizens.

Obviously we want to expand the reach of the State Department by increasing the size and its efficiencies, and to make sure that there's interoperability. And along these lines, of course, I'm fully aware that folks who have worked in the State Department lost their lives and -- in Iraq, along with our military folks. And on this day of reflection, I offer our deepest sympathies to their families. I hope their families know that the citizens pray for their comfort and strength, whether they were the first one who lost their life in Iraq or recently lost their lives in Iraq -- that every life is precious in our sight.

And I guess my one thought I wanted to leave with those who still hurt is that one day people will look back at this moment in history and say, thank God there were courageous people willing to serve, because they laid the foundations for peace for generations to come; that I have vowed in the past, and I will vow so long as I'm President, to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain, that, in fact, there is a outcome that will merit the sacrifice that civilian and military alike have made; that our strategy going forward will be aimed at making sure that we achieve victory and, therefore, America becomes more secure and these young democracies survive, and peace more likely as we head into the 21st century.

So, Madam Secretary, I'm honored to be here, and I thank you very much for your hard work and your dedication.

Thank you all.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ambassador Guest talks about the Human Rights Report

Queerty has an interview with Ambassador Michael Guest about the human rights report and the Department's documentation of anti-gay human rights abuses abroad. (Yes, I think the pun in the title was intended.)

Straight Talk With Michael Guest

Michael Guest stepped into the spotlight again this week. The former Romanian ambassador, who resigned last year to protest the State Department’s gay inequality, held a press conference to highlight the Department’s documentation of anti-gay human rights abuses.

Despite the Department’s look at these abuses, that report, says Guest and his friends at the LGBT Foreign Policy Project, does nothing to address the stark, often violent reality of gay living abroad.

Our editor sat down with Guest yesterday to discuss the report, as well as the State Department’s queer inaction, how to approach anti-gay nations and why even a flawed democracy matters.

Andrew Belonsky: So, let’s start this week’s press conference on the treatment of gay people abroad.

Michael Guest: Yes, well we talked about how the State Department’s report on LGBT rights has become more complete over time – over the past ten or twelve years.

AB: And what’s the significance of that – that the report has become more comprehensive?

MG: Well, it’s important to have an accurate understanding of what the picture of discrimination is against LGBT citizens overseas. It’s the starting point for action against legal discrimination, as well as a range of abuses that are being carried out. We need a clear picture of what’s happening in these countries in order to come up with an action plan.

AB: Obviously the State Department is well aware of abuses that are happening around the world, but do you think the State Department is really working to nullify abuses?

MG: First of all, without a human rights report, it’s not clear to me that the State Department or we as citizens would even know of the human rights abuses happening overseas. It was only in 1995 that LGBT issues were even put into the report. But, no, I don’t believe that the State Department is doing enough. More needs to be done. That starts with having a clear or more precise record – in other words, if you look at the report, some countries don’t mention LGBT issues at all. There needs to be greater clarity than what there is now and we’ll be taking that case to the State Department. Beyond the clarity, we want a record to show what the embassies are doing to counter the discrimination. We want a clear record of embassies expressing concern about reports of abuses – physical abuses against LGBT citizens. There’s a whole range of actions that need to take place and it’s not clear from the reports whether they are taking place.

AB: What’s the motivation for the State Department’s inaction? Or, rather, why are they not motivated to act?

MG: Well, the report is an onerous thing to compile, I know that, and very often embassies have twenty things they have to do in that day, so it’s easy for attention to the issue to slide. I think over time, since Jimmy Carter’s presidency, there has been a slide in our focus on human rights. Do I think it’s deliberate? No, not always. It may depend on the individuals, but I think in general there are just other priorities that have crept in and my organization believes this issue should be one of our highest priorities in keeping with what America stands for: freedom, equality, diversity and respect.

AB: What steps would you suggest – obviously the United States’ politics and economic system are intrinsically linked to anti-gay nations. Saudi Arabia comes to mind. Do you think that the State Department is worried about ruffling its allies’ feathers?

MG: I think the State Department doesn’t think about the issue actively: human rights abuses and particularly human rights abuses against the LGBT community. In the day-to-day world that embassies operate in – if you’re sitting in country that’s an ally in the war on terror, or you’re sitting in a country where we have developmental needs – certain projects take priority. That’s why we felt compelled to hold a press conference. These kinds of abuses are, in our view, quite serious. They need to be taken seriously by our government, which has pledged to represent the values and principles of this country. We understand that these issues don’t get treated in a void – every bilateral relationship is complex and involve many different factors, but you have to stand on principle. You have to have a consistent manner of raising concerns about the violation of individuals in countries, even countries that are our friends. You’ve got be able to speak clearly and consistently with them – and that’s really what friends should do with each other.

AB: What if a state department official steps into a situation – they approach a government and say, “We know you have laws against homosexuality. This needs to change.” And then the leaders say, “It’s not a part of our culture. It’s a Western thing.” How can diplomacy bridge such a stark ideological divide on something that’s as contentious as sexuality?

MG: There are international norms that have been negotiated over time in places like the United Nations that pertain to LGBT rights. I guess my response to any government that said, “That’s your culture” would to remind them of conventions that in all likelihood they have signed. Also, I would make clear that no matter what you think about homosexuality, there’s still an obligation to ensure that they are protected against being killed and they shouldn’t be abused because they’re homosexual. There are norms that should be followed irrespective of one country’s background: norms that are international. And that’s what human rights are all about.

AB: Back to America, with regard to your resignation – what’s your view of American democracy? Obviously democracy is one man, one vote, but take that a little further and think of liberal democracy, all men are created equal. Has liberal democracy really been a success in the United States?

MG: Well, let me look at it in a slightly different way. I’ve spent 26 years of my life – well, more than that – studying foreign policy and then 26 years being an active diplomat posted to a number of countries. I’ve seen how democracy is not perfect in any country, just like individuals are not perfect. Everybody has their own beauty spots and flaws, their strengths and weaknesses. And the same is true about democracies. I think America has a more vibrant democracy than so many countries that I have seen, but it’s not perfect. What I love about American democracy – and why I’m involved in this project – is that when Americans see something unjust, they get involved. Not everybody, but you have the capacity to get involved. There are a lot of organizations in civil society that exist to call attention to issues.

I love the fact that in this country that you can debate and push for change and that isn’t the case in a lot of countries around the world. Yes, we have flaws in our system. In fact, I was commenting to someone that there is a certain amount of irony in the fact that the State Department puts out this report on human rights violations overseas every year, but no one really does an assessment of our own democracy and our own human rights failings.

AB: Definitely.

MG:There’s also irony in the fact that while the State Department’s putting out these reports, it is practicing discriminatory policies in its work place against LGBT employees, which is why I left. But, having left and having then found an organization and raise my voice on Capitol Hill – the issue has now been raised to the Secretary of State by a member of Congress and the Secretary has now responded with one small change in favor of partners of gay and lesbian foreign service employees: to allow the partners to attend the security seminar, but that’s a baby step. It does, however, show that you can have an impact by getting involved.

I think we’ve lost a lot of opportunities over the past seven years to use America’s influence for positive good in areas like this: human rights abuse issues. We want to see that attention to principle on the basis of what this country has always stood for. It’s important that the government start standing on principle.

Diplopundit on Ambassador Harty's "connection" to the passport flap

Diplopundit also has a good take on the "connection" of Ambassador Harty to the passport flap, including a good explanation of what we, as public servants, can and cannot do in terms of campaigning for elected officials. I have quoted the entire post because it is well worth reading.

The Public Servant and the Internet Beast

Right after the news of the passport breach at the State Department hit the web the night before last, conspiracy aficionados had a field day online. The Huffington Post did a brief news update on its site quoting an MSNBC news item and citing “Mora Hardy” as the person who was in charge of the passport office when the breaches occurred. There was not much on the report; it was approximately 250 words (it’s not online anymore and has now been replaced with this) but it did mention that “Mora Hardy” was am ambassador appointed during the Clinton administration and left readers to draw their own conclusions from what was still breaking news. And that they did, quite unfairly towards a dedicated public servant. Tsk! Tsk! Did not even bother to fact-check her name.

One post alleged that Paraguay where Ambassador Harty was posted from 1997-1999 was a “prestige post” given to political contributors. According to the CIA World Factbook, Paraguay’s economy had rebounded between 2003-2007, but on “a per capita basis, real income has stagnated at 1980 levels and most observers attribute Paraguay's poor economic performance to political uncertainty, corruption, limited progress on structural reform, and deficient infrastructure.” Paraguay is far from Paris, and has a GDP of $4,000 but that’s not really relevant, is it? It is a foreign country that sounds exotic, it must be a prestigious post, never mind that it has a 10% hardship differential and a 10% cost of living allowance bundled with it. Another alleged that Ambassador Harty is a Clinton supporter and implied that she must be involved. After another post indicated that Ambassador Harty had retired in February, still one more poster, alleged that she must have seen this coming, that’s why she quit her job at 49!

I spent some time reading through the online posts and came away with the realization that the regular American public has no idea how the State Department works. I have never seen such ignorance and such great willingness to believe everything so quickly without any supporting facts. I understand that this is the price we pay for the 24/7 barrage of information that comes with technology but isn’t this quite disturbing? Do we think so lowly of our public servants that we cannot afford them the courtesy of waiting until the facts are in before drawing virtual blood? The feeding frenzy reminds me of sharks feeding, really!

Just for clarity - Ambassador Harty was a career Foreign Service Officer; she earned her “stripes” within a very competitive organization through hard work. You can read more information about her career in the State Department here and here.

Her impending retirement was announced in November last year, but her actual retirement did not occur until this past February. She was a career Ambassador, a rank equivalent to a General in the military. She was not only well-respected but also genuinely liked by the people who worked for her.

As for those “prestige” assignments given to political contributors – those are the non-career ambassadors, political appointees nominated by the White House and approved by the Senate. For historical context, I refer to U.S. Diplomacy which states:

“Until passage of the Rogers Act of 1924 all ambassadors (then generally called “ministers”) of the United States were non-career political appointees. However, since the Second World War the great majority of those positions have been filled by career FSOs. In recent years approximately 70% of U.S. ambassadors come from the ranks of the professional Foreign Service, while the other 30% are from the private sector. Nominations of non-career ambassadors are made by the White House. Career officers are nominated by the White House upon recommendation by the Department of State.”

Foreign Service Officers (our diplomats) are commissioned by the President of the United States. Since Ambassador Harty joined the State Department in 1981, she must have been commissioned by President Reagan. She continued her career within the State Department through the administrations of Bush I, Clinton and Bush 2. But there’s nothing odd about that; all our career professional and civil servants continue working for Uncle Sam regardless of which party occupies the White House.

I must also add that Foreign Service Officers like all Federal employees are precluded from engaging in political activities under the Hatch Act. Federal employees may not-

* be candidates for public office in partisan elections
* campaign for or against a candidate or slate of candidates in partisan elections
* make campaign speeches
* collect contributions or sell tickets to political fund raising functions
* distribute campaign material in partisan elections
* organize or manage political rallies or meetings
* hold office in political clubs or parties
* circulate nominating petitions
* work to register voters for one party only
* wear political buttons at work

The penalties can be a 30-day suspension or removal from office, so folks are extremely careful about that just as we are careful and mindful of all the rules and regulations that govern our lives inside and outside the office. If you are thinking about the Bill Clinton passport flap in 1992, please bear in mind that the culprits then were political appointees not career professionals.

CAA comments on attempts to "smear" Ambassador Harty

Consul-At-Arms commented on my earlier post about attempts to connect Ambassador Harty to this passport nonsense. I am pleased, and not surprised, that he also agrees connecting her to the issue is absurd.

Attempting to "smear" recently-retired A/S Harty as some sort of Clinton machine operative is a dishonest and dishonorable attack on a distinguished American diplomat whose only declared loyalties have been to the United States itself.

Disclaimer: As a consular officer myself, I have been, at great remove, under the supervision of former A/S Harty since the retirement of her predecessor, Career Amb. Ryan, until the end of February of this year when she retired. And in the course of my duties I have met A/S Harty on three-or-four occasions, in three different cities in two different countries.

A/S Harty began her Foreign Service career long before former Pres. Clinton was in office, as evidenced by being at a senior enough rank during his administration that she was appointed an ambassador, even to Paraguay. This is something like assuming everyone promoted to general or admiral during the years of that administration is also a Clintonista of some stripe.

Don't Make Assumptions

The following is from Patterico's Pontifications. He is right that folks should not be assuming anything about this issue. I have pretty good reason to believe at this point that it really is a case of curiousity killed the cat.

Don’t Make Assumptions About the Passport Flap

Regarding the flap over the passports, the Washington Times reports:

The State Department last night said one of the persons responsible for the inappropriate behavior was employed by an information technology firm headed by one of Mr. Obama’s foreign intelligence advisors.

Of course, this doesn’t establish that Obama was behind the snooping — and people are finding tenuous connections between the two firms and each one of the candidates. Just something to keep in mind: we don’t know who’s behind this yet.

The Cost of Currency Fluxuations on U.S. Diplomacy

The Skeptical Bureaucrat has a piece that is A News Story That is NOT About Obama's Passport!! The pay disparity in particular is not a new problem, but the falling dollar has exaccerbated it, and is precisely the reason why I would not bid on any western European posts at this point. I just can't afford it!

A News Story That is NOT About Obama's Passport!!

Let's hear it for The Washington Times! They ran a front page story Saturday about the mundane but very serious matter of unfavorable currency fluctuations and their impact on U.S. embassy operations. The dwindling purchasing power of the U.S. dollar is putting big stress on both facility and personnel costs overseas.

"The State Department is losing millions as a result of the free-falling dollar, forcing its overseas missions to lay off local staff, reduce energy consumption, put facility repairs on hold and cancel travel, officials said ... Several officials said the higher cost of maintaining existing facilities abroad reduces the funds available for renovations and new construction."

I can attest to the truth of that last sentence personally, since I'm grappling right now with an overseas construction project that will soon collapse - leaving about 50 State employees stuck in a highly vulnerable old building that we would love to vacate - unless someone can find a way to increase the project's budget by about one third to compensate our foreign contractor for the disappearing value of his dollar-denominated contract. (Of course, we can sue him if he defaults on his contract, but that won't get the new building finished.)

"Another major expense in foreign currency are the salaries of thousands of local employees at U.S. embassies and consulates. The first officer [interviewed] in Europe said that her salary is now lower than that of her assistant, who is a national of the host country. Still, the officer said that what the assistant makes is "below the salary level [it] should be to be competitive on the local market.”

That U.S.-vs-local salary disparity is not uncommon in the more costly countries, and not just with Foreign Service National employees (locally engaged staff), but also with contract security guards. A few years ago I visited a U.S. Foreign Commercial Service facility in a very expensive northern Italian city where it was pointed out to me that the highest-paid person there wasn't the senior Commercial Officer, but one of the security guards. That guard had a lot of seniority and worked his way up to the top pay grade, which, due to local living costs, was exorbitant by U.S. standards. I remember he was a very distinguished-looking gentleman who commuted to and from home in a custom suit that I'd guess cost in the $2,000 to $4,000 range, and changed into his guard uniform when he got to work.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

What Their (And Your) Passport Files Contain

The following is from DIPNOTE, the State Department's official blog. It explains very well what is in the file of any person who has ever applied for a passport (if you never had a passport, then you don't have a passport file).

We received many questions from the press and the public, several on this blog, about the information contained in a person’s passport file.

This entry details exactly what information can be found in a passport file. You may also view a Policy Podcast video featuring Under Secretary for Management Pat Kennedy that discusses "Passport Data Security." View Video Full Text

Generally, after the State Department issues a passport, all personal documents are returned to the applicant – the only document kept in the Department’s passport file is the passport application. Passport files do not contain travel information, such as visa and entry stamps, from previous passports. Almost all passport files contain only a passport application form as completed by the applicant.

Download the actual passport application forms at:

Application for U.S. Passport or Registrations

Application for U.S. Passport by Mail

The application form asks for the biographic information needed to determine if the applicant qualifies for a U.S. Passport, including:
* Applicant’s name, sex, date of birth, place of birth, social security number, marital status and mailing address and previous passport number if applicable.
* Applicant’s physical descriptors like height, hair color and eye color.
* Names and place of birth of the applicant’s parents.The application form also asks for optional information that helps us to deliver applications on time, and to contact a citizen in case of an emergency:
* Occupation and employer of the applicant and contact information for the applicant as well as his or her emergency contact. (these have proved invaluable in contacting next of kin when a US citizen dies or needs assistance abroad).
* Travel plans as completed by an applicant on the form would be in the record. (This is valuable in getting the passport to the applicant on time.)

In complex circumstances, for instance if there are grounds to suspect possible fraud or if a person born overseas claims citizenship by virtue of having an American citizen parent, we may need additional evidence to review the applications, and we keep this information in the passport file with the applications.

Passport Kerfuffle

Consul-At-Arms has a good commentary on the Passport Kerfuffle, what it is and what it isn't.

In order to do their jobs, people have to be able to access these systems. They also have to be trained in using the systems. People are a very curious flavor of primate and, naturally enough, the first thing they do, often before they can be warned against doing so, when they're first given access to this system is test it with a name they know. Oops. Their first impulse is to treat the database as a sort of Google, often inputting their own names or those of family-members. This is not nearly as sinister as the former FBI agent with all the terrorist connections who was doing the same thing with the FBI's investigative databases.

"What's truly ironic, again, is that this is yet another instance where the State Dept. is pilloried for being a political tool of the Bush administration, totally in thrall to its neo-con vision of world domination. Right. As if. In virtually the same breath, the Foreign Service usually gets chastised for being insufficiently supportive of the national objectives in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. What's that noise? Oh, that's my irony-o-meter resetting itself. It does that whenever I pay attention to the news. "

I recommend reading the whole post.

Friday, March 21, 2008


The Huffington Post had a conspiratorial take on the information released today that the passport files of Obama, Clinton and McCain had been breached. Huffington notes that there is a "Clinton connection" to the story in that Ambassador Maura Harty, the recently retired Assistant Secretary of Consular Affairs, was Ambassador under Bill Clinton. And Huffington's readers have responded that she should be investigated.

That is really reaching.

The incidents did not happen while she was Ambassador. They did not happen while Bill Clinton was in office. In fact, Hillary's was accessed first, in 2007.

Clearly, accessing the files is wrong. All of us who have undergone consular training know that we are only supposed to access Americans' passport files under certain very specific circumstances.

My suspicion is that there was no malicious intent on the part of the contractors, who have been fired or disciplined. My guess it they accessed the files out of curiousity. No less wrong, but certainly less conspiratorial. But I guess that would be boring to those who are looking for vast right-wing or vast left-wing conspiracies. (Maybe this is a vast centrist-wing conspiracy, since the files of all three top presidential candidates were accessed!)

State Department urged to address ‘shocking’ violations 120 countries cited for abuse, harassment of gay citizens

This piece is in today's Washington Blade.

State Department urged to address ‘shocking’ violations 120 countries cited for abuse, harassment of gay citizens


A new advocacy group is calling on the U.S. State Department to address gay rights violations detailed in a recently published report.

The State Department released its annual report March 11. The document, which is thousands of pages long, breaks down the human rights violations in the past year for each country in which they are reported. Included are reports of discrimination and violence against gays overseas.

The new gay rights group, tentatively named the LGBT Foreign Policy Project, is calling for greater action and involvement from the State Department in addressing the gay rights issues mentioned in the report. The group highlighted aspects of the report and called for further action Tuesday at a press briefing in Washington.

Michael Guest, a gay former U.S. Ambassador to Romania who is now a member of the group, said the range of abuse described in the report “is simply shocking.” Guest retired as an ambassador last year in protest because of State Department policies toward the same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers.

The report “includes killings, police violence, unwarranted arrest, extortion and a wide array of legal and other forms of societal discrimination,” Guest said.

The State Department identifies at least 37 countries in which gay citizens were assaulted or killed and at least 15 countries where police abuse has been documented.

“Abuses are being committed in countries that are friends and allies of the United States — including some to which the American taxpayer gives substantial amounts of assistance in the form of military or developmental assistance,” Guest said.

James Hormel, former U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg and the first openly gay person to serve as a U.S. ambassador, also encouraged action on the report.

“We need to renew and reinvigorate our worldwide commitment to human rights and that includes recognizing LGBT rights as human rights,” he said.

The report identifies gay rights violations in about 120 countries.

For countries like Saudi Arabia, where sex between two men is punishable by death or flogging, the report notes extreme hostility toward gays. In October, a court there sentenced two men to 7,000 lashes each for having sex with other men. The police also detained 250 men and subsequently arrested 20 for participating in a suspected gay wedding.

There is less detail for Iran, a country that is also known for its hostility toward gays. The most specific incident of anti-gay activity the report cites is a reformist newspaper in Iran that was shut down after interviewing an alleged gay activist.

The report even finds gay rights violations in Western European countries, which are widely considered to be gay friendly, The incidents of hostility there appear more isolated. In the United Kingdom, gays continue to experience discrimination and violence, despite laws prohibiting such discrimination, the report states. In Germany, a group of actors performing in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” were beaten and hospitalized following their performance, the report cites.

The State Department also notes the extension of gay rights in some places, such as Taiwan. The legislature extended medical and legal protections enjoyed by married couples to straight couples and prohibited employment discrimination.

Scott Long, a member of the LGBT Foreign Policy Project and founding member of the gay program at Human Rights Watch, said that while reporting on gay rights violations overseas is an important start, it’s not enough. Long advocated that U.S. ambassadors interact with gay groups overseas.

“One thing we need again is to know that all embassies, all our ambassadors all our public servants are talking to the people they should be talking to,” he said.

The United States needs to employ “strategic intervention” to provide support to movements and put pressure on governments.

“This means not just putting pressure on our enemies because our enemies are not the ones who listen — it means putting pressure on our friends because they do,” he said.

Long said there have been significant gay rights violations in Jamaica and said the embassy there has taken steps to address those issues.

Guest, noting that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice condemned violence against women abroad earlier this month, called on the secretary to “use her voice herself to speak out” on these matters in her talks with other countries.

The former ambassador said he realizes the U.S. government often has to address many issues in other countries besides gay rights, but added, “we think it’s a critically important issue and it certainly needs to be addressed in some fashion.”

Guest said as a U.S. ambassador he “never got a single request” from the State Department “to take this issue seriously.”

The former ambassador said the LGBT Foreign Policy Project plans to present its ideas to David Kramer, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

Susan Johnson, senior coordinator for democracy promotion for the State Department’s bureau of democracy, human rights and labor, attended the briefing and said the U.S. government has already taken some measures to address concerns raised by the LGBT Foreign Policy Project.

Last summer, the State Department told all ambassadors to support human rights more actively, she said. Ambassadors should be “speaking out to defend the defenders and … meet with them and do other things that would demonstrate U.S. government support for those activities,” she said. She did not specify that ambassadors were encouraged to meet with gay rights leaders.

Congress also recently passed a law requiring the State Department to produce annually an “advancing freedom and democracy report” that would detail what action the State Departments has taken to follow-up on its human rights reports, Johnson said.

Johnson said later she believed that U.S. ambassadors have the authority to speak with gay rights groups abroad if they wish.

Gays from Kosovo, Iran seek asylum

To demonstrate the human rights abuses against gays abroad, the LGBT Foreign Policy Project featured Korab Zuka at the briefing. Zuka is a refugee from Kosovo who won asylum in the United States.

Zuka, who is gay, fled to the United States after receiving death threats for founding the Center for Social Emancipation, Kosovo’s first organization aimed at promoting gay rights.

“I’m a firm believer that people are born with fundamental rights and one of them is being treated equally regardless of your sexual orientation,” he said.

Zuka founded the Center for Social Emancipation “to create awareness that gay people existed in Kosovo.”

“In Kosovo, there is this belief that [homosexuality] is an international disease and Kosovo people are not affected by it,” he said.

Zuka said even if people come out as gay to their families, they are still expected to get married and have children.

“So basically you have to play the role that you’re straight regardless … no matter how you identify yourself,” he said.

Zuka appeared on a local television show to discuss his organization. He was hidden behind a curtain, his voice was scrambled and his name was not given, but somehow his identity was still divulged, he said.

He received death threats over the phone and through the mail and his car was damaged. Zuka went to the police, but “their response was, ‘Well, if they want to kill you, they’ll just kill you, so we cannot protect you,’” he said.

Then he received a message signed by an Islamic fundamentalist organization stating that his home and family would be bombed if he did not leave Kosovo. That’s when he decided to flee.

The United States granted Zuka asylum Feb. 29. He lives in Washington.

Long said the asylum process should be reformed because many refugees are not as lucky as Zuka. The burden of proof for needing reason to escape should not lie with the defendant, Long said.

Guest more vocal following retirement

Guest said treatment of same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers has become marginally better since he retired.

He commended Rice for allowing same-sex partners to join the spouses of Foreign Service officers in security seminars. But he lamented that same-sex partners may attend such briefings if space is available.

Guest said leaving his position as ambassador has been liberating.

“I can now say what I want and can now be involved with the issues that I really care about rather than the issues that I’m assigned to care about,” he said.

The former ambassador is expecting congressional hearings later this year on a bill that would address issues faced by same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers.

Dr. Blair Rudes (1951-2008)

I hope you will all forgive a post that is off topic...Dr. Rudes was an excellent researcher and a friend to the Indian tribes of South Carolina. He will be missed.

Blair A. Rudes (1951-2008)

Dr. Blair A. Rudes, Associate Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, died unexpectedly on March 16, 2008, after spending the afternoon exercising. An internationally known linguist and expert in American Indian languages, Dr. Rudes came to UNC Charlotte as an Assistant Professor in 1999 and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2005.

During his career at UNC Charlotte, Dr. Rudes became famous as a “Hollywood linguist.” In 2004, film director Terrence Malick hired Dr. Rudes to work as a consultant and dialect coach for the film The New World, which deals with the founding of Jamestown and the interaction between the Native people and the English settlers. Malick wanted the American Indian characters to speak in their native language, but this language had been extinct for over 200 years. Dr. Rudes drew on his expertise in the history of American Indian languages to revive the Virginia Algonquian language. He then translated the dialog spoken by the Native characters into Virginia Algonquian and coached the actors on how to pronounce their lines in this language. Dr. Rudes’ contributions to this film attracted widespread publicity including a feature story in the New York Times. Impressed with Dr. Rudes’ contributions to The New World, film director Carter Smith hired Dr. Rudes to serve as the Mayan Dialogue Coach for the film The Ruins, which will be released by Dreamworks later in 2008.

As a scholar, Dr. Rudes is best known for writing the Tuscarora-English/English-Tuscarora Dictionary, which the University of Toronto Press published in 1999. He also edited several other books and published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. At the time of his death, he was completing a three-volume work titled The Catawba Language.

In recent years, Dr Rudes received several important honors. In 2006, the Tuscarora Indian Nation honored him for his contributions to preserving the Tuscarora language. In 2007, the South Carolina General Assembly passed a bill honoring Dr. Rudes for his contribution to the South Carolina Commission for Minority Affairs. Most recently, the State University of New York at Buffalo (where Dr. Rudes received his Ph.D. in 1976) gave him with their Distinguished Alumni Award.

A valued member of the Department of English, Dr. Rudes will be deeply missed by his colleagues and students.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Robert Beecroft to be Ambassador to Jordan

The following was announced today by the White House:

The President intends to nominate Robert Beecroft, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Mr. Beecroft, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, currently serves as Executive Assistant to the Secretary of State. Prior to this, he served as Special Assistant to former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Earlier in his career, he served as an International Relations Officer in the Office of Northern Gulf Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Mr. Beecroft received his bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University and his JD from University of California, Berkeley.

It always makes me happy when career members of the Foreign Service are named Ambassador. I suppose much like every boy and girl grows up thinking they could be President, every Foreign Service Officer (or most anyway...none of us are really hear because we are unambitious) secretly hopes to be an Ambassador someday. And when those of our own make it, we have a little hope. Even me. Even though it is very, very unlikely. Ambassador Digger? Hmmm.

Your rights don't travel with you

Diplopundit had another good post yesterday on the non-portability of American rights.

Non-Portability of American Rights

In the November 2007 issue of Fast Company, Jonathan Green wrote “Nightmare in Boomtown,” an article that I think should be part of the reading fare for Americans intending to do business abroad. This piece is about Mark Siedenfeld, a married rabbi who originally went to Russia in 1991, became a telecom executive drawn to the post-Soviet boom, had a business partner murdered in broad daylight in Moscow, then went through a 19-month trudge through the post-Soviet justice system, including 11 months in a Siberian prison, and an extradition to Kazakhstan (where he was eventually declared not guilty for charges of embezzlement).

This is a cautionary tale, for sure. But there is also the misconception about the U.S. Government’s influence when something like this happens abroad. The article mentioned that Siedenfeld’s supporters (unnamed in the article) “had been stunned by the apparent reluctance of U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan John Ordway to help an American citizen in distress. The ambassador had met with the Kazakh general prosecutor, but nothing had come of it. Beyond that, he sent Seidenfeld a few magazines and some energy bars in prison.” In another part of the article, it says “As the months passed after his arrest, Siedenfeld came to the creeping realization that he’d been hung out to dry. The State Department had done next to nothing to get him sprung, despite pleas for help to the consulate.”

The notion that the U.S. Government by virtue of its power and influence can “sprung” anybody from a foreign jail is quite absurd. Let’s put this simply – let’s say we have a Kazakh national languishing in a Detroit jail for embezzlement (or it could be any other national, or any other crime, take your pick). How would you feel, if the Kazakh Ambassador to the U.S. demands that our Attorney General sprung this individual from our jail? Can you imagine the uproar that would make? From experience, more than a few of our nationals do expect American Ambassadors or American Consuls to spring them out of jail. Not only that, some Americans also expect that the U.S. Marines would come to extract them when they get into trouble overseas. Would you expect Kazakhtan’s military to send in their Marines to extract their Kazakh national from our jail? Absolutely not!


I must add here that I have seen consular officers bring dinners to incarcerated Americans during Thanksgiving. ... our Embassies do not have money to pay for these basic necessities, and most foreign jails barely have money to feed their prisoners, much less provide these necessities. In any case, it is possible that Mr. Siedenberg’s energy bars were bought with EMDA [Emergency Medical/Dietary Assistance] funds, or were funded from contributions from American businesses operating in the area (I am speculating here) but it is also a good possibility that they came out of Ambassador Ordway or some nameless Consul’s personal funds.

Digger comments:
I can't tell you how many times in Jerusalem officers took up collections to get someone a meal or a hotel room. So many Americans really do think that they get special rights overseas because they are American, regardless of the crime they committed. And don't even get me started on the folks who have read one too many Tom Clancy novels!

Here’s the lowdown -- if you intend to do business abroad, be sure to conduct due diligence before diving head on and have a risk mitigation plan in place. Yeah, yeah, yeah, these can be a hassle but these hassles are minor compared to the prospect of navigating the justice system overseas, if you tumble. Take to heart what the State Department says about your American rights … “The rights an American enjoys in this country (the United States of America) do not travel abroad. Each country is sovereign and its laws apply to everyone who enters regardless of nationality. The U.S. government cannot get Americans released from foreign jails. However, a U.S. consul will insist on prompt access to an arrested American, provide a list of attorneys, and provide information on the host country’s legal system, offer to contact the arrested American’s family or friends, visit on a regular basis, protest mistreatment, monitor jail conditions, provide dietary supplements, if needed, and keep the State Department informed.

You can read more here.

In short, your rights as an American citizen are non-portable; you cannot take them with you. When push comes to shove, you can proclaim, "I am an American," as loudly as you can but - when you are overseas, you are fully subject to the laws of your host country and at the mercy of a foreign justice system that may have little or no resemblance to our own.

You can read the entire post here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Diplopundit's Realities of Diplomatic Life

This post from Diplopundit was so true I wanted to share some of it. You can read the entire post here.

Realities of Diplomatic Life

Reality #1: Going to lunch could cost an arm or a leg, or one snuffed light bulb, seriously.

I woke up last Sunday to news of another bombing in Islamabad, Pakistan. The initial reports indicate that some U.S. Embassy staffers were also wounded in the attack. The Luna Caprese restaurant where the bombing occurred is a well-known haunt for expatriates, notably diplomats, journalists, and aid agency officials according to reports.

I felt like I was holding my breath for hours until I heard later reports specifying a total of 12 people wounded - none life-threatening (the wounded included four FBI agents and an embassy staffer). This is one thing that folks back home do not always understand about life in the Foreign Service – that one could lose a limb or one’s life by simply going out to lunch or dinner while overseas. Sure, the same thing could happen in the U.S. just by driving a car but really - no one has yet been blown away while eating a Vegetable and Swiss Frittata.

In the Foreign Service, this is a dark cloud that is never too far away from our thoughts. I go through my normal day like a normal person back home, of course – go to work, send the kids to school, go grocery shopping, meet our contacts and friends, but all the while with fingers crossed - that today would be a good day, and our loved ones would return home, safe from harm. A bit dramatic you think? Perhaps, but no matter how you hash it, official Americans are moving targets whether they are in Prague or Amman. Lawrence Foley was shot as he walked to his car outside his home in Jordan. In 2006, David Foy died in a suicide car bomb attack outside the US consulate in Karachi.

Digger comments:
I held my breath too...I have a good friend serving there. Thankfully, she is safe and thankfully none of the wounds to our folks weren't life-threatening. But these attacks are a reality of our lives even as Americans forget them within days. Foley and Foy were killed only because they were there serving. Foley was shot because he was an "easy" American target, not because of anything he in particular had done. He just represented us. And Foy had the misfortune of pulling into the parking lot at the consulate at the same time as the suicide bomber. Again, he wasn't a specific target...Americans serving our country in the Foreign Service were the target.

Each of us carries these people with us. Each bombing at an embassy or consulate is personal, and every person killed there, whether American or Foreign Service National (locally hired staff) is the loss of a family member. We join knowing these are the risks, but we join anyway because we love our country and feel strongly the call to serve. I don't think most Americans here at home know that.

Reality #2: Paranoia can grow like a weed – you learn to tend it

I can get paranoid at times, true, but it pays to have a healthy sense of paranoia when there are people who are trying to get us wherever and whenever they can. Most folks I know in the FS take their security seriously but we also learn to make adjustments to balance the security needs with living a “normal” life overseas; because I know that if I don’t, this weed can quickly grow wild. The Green Zone can be as real as the one in Iraq, or as real as any fortified house in the mind.

Digger comments:
A little paranoia is a good thing...especially overseas. We all know at the very least that our host government is likely watching us. I have a co-worker who served in Vietnam. They knew their apartments were bugged, and each year a birthday gift or cake would show up in the apartment at the appropriate time. On his second year, no birthday cake. So he said loudly, "I can't believe the apartment forgot my birthday. It remembers everyone else's birthday!" And within five minutes, there was a knock at the door and a Vietnamese man with a birthday cake, smiling and apologizing for being late.

But in all seriousness, you are forced overseas to adjust to things Americans back home never consider. I came to accept that random gunfire was likely coming from Palestinians celebrating a wedding...unless it came from the checkpoint near my house, in which case it likely came from an Israeli soldier. And he wasn't celebrating. My take-away from there is a discomfort when helicopters fly overhead. In Jerusalem, that meant that the Israelis were looking for a suicide bomber. Groups of young men unnerve me too, a leftover from being robbed at knife point there, but that could happen anywhere. The difference is having to deal with a law enforcement system that does not share your language, and may not share your laws and values. Thank God for our Foreign Service Nationals, or it would have been unbearable.

Reality #3: We’d like to think we’re in the driver’s seat, we’re not

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the Belarusian Foreign Ministry had summoned U.S. Charge d'Affaires Jonathan Moore to convey a "strong advice of the Belarusian side to cut the number of the U.S. Embassy personnel."

...I hope this is nothing more than posturing (after all the U.S. Ambassador has already gone back to DC for consultations) but if the Belarusian Government insists on this personnel cut, this could spiral into a tit for tat, with a reduction of the Belarusian Embassy presence in Washington, D.C. And caught in the midst of this are diplomatic families on both sides that could get separated, children pulled out of schools, jobs left at short notices, etc. etc. An unpopular policy, a slight, a row – it could be as huge an issue as an elephant or as tiny as an ant, we can still become pawns in a diplomatic game – such is life in the diplomatic corp ... I'm not looking for sympathy, I'm just saying ...

And I agree, one thousand percent.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Anti-GLBT bias is driving good people from public service

The following letter from Joe Solmonese was sent out in an email to members of the Human Rights Campaign and was posted on Political Wrinkles.

Anti-GLBT bias is driving good people from public service

Michael Guest, a well-respected and committed public servant, had risen to a top position in the Foreign Service. The first openly gay American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate as an overseas Ambassador, Guest left his prestigious post – and the career he loved – because of the State Department's second-class treatment of his partner.

Our nation has lost countless talented public servants like Michael because it doesn't give their same-sex partners equal benefits and protections.

But there's a bill in Congress that would help our government catch up to the private sector – and make sure GLBT Americans can serve their country proudly, at home and abroad.

Click here to tell Congress to pass the bill that would give equal benefits to its employees' domestic partners. Take Action: Partnership benefits NOW for GLBT public servants!

For Michael Guest, it wasn't just the basic indignities, like the government's insistence that he and his partner pack for Romania in separate suitcases. The discrimination he experienced extended to graver matters: even in the immediate wake of 9/11, Guest's partner was unable to receive security training (to know how to recognize a terrorist threat or intelligence trap). Nor was he entitled to evacuation in the event of hostilities.

Upon his retirement from the Foreign Service in December, Michael lamented being forced to choose between his family and service to his country. "That anyone should have to make that choice," he said, "is a stain on...[our] leadership and a shame for this institution and our country."

Erasing that stain would be both the right thing and the smart thing to do. Nearly 10,000 private companies, including more than half of the Fortune 500, offer benefits to their employees' domestic partners. Because they know that it helps them compete for the most talented and qualified employees.

The business community gets it; why doesn't our government?

Tell your elected leaders that patriotic GLBT Americans demand no more for their families than the basic benefits and protections afforded to different-sex spouses.

Send a strong message to your lawmakers to support and co-sponsor the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act. Your Members of Congress are federal employees too. Ask them if it would be fair if their families couldn't get basic benefits and protections.

Congress will respond once there is a groundswell of support. So spread the word. Tell your friends about this critically important bill, and ask them to join you in the fight for domestic partnership rights.

Joe Solmonese

Monday, March 17, 2008

More on the Islamabad Blast

American Team A Possible Target In Saturday Attack

By Candace Rondeaux and Allan Lengel
Washington Post Foreign Service

ISLAMABAD — Four FBI agents were among 12 people wounded in a weekend bomb blast at a popular Italian restaurant in Pakistan’s capital, U.S. law enforcement officials said Sunday.

The attack Saturday occurred on the garden patio of Luna Caprese, a restaurant popular with foreigners in a busy, upscale section of Islamabad. The explosion killed a Turkish woman and injured several other people, including another American.

The four FBI agents who were wounded included a legal attache, an assistant legal attache and an agency supervisor, according to one law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the record. The job title of the fourth agent could not be determined. None of the injuries was life-threatening, the official said, although at least one agent was sent to London to undergo reconstructive surgery.

News of the four wounded FBI agents was first reported by CNN.

The cause of the blast at the restaurant remains under investigation. But sources in Pakistan familiar with the inquiry said a seven-member FBI team tasked with investigating bombings in the city of Lahore was in Islamabad at the time of the attack on Luna Caprese. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe is ongoing, said the four agents might have been specifically targeted.

The U.S.-led task force was called in to assist with an investigation into two coordinated bombings Tuesday in Lahore. At least 28 people were killed and more than 170 injured in an attack at the headquarters of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency. Minutes after that blast, suicide bombers struck a home in a residential area, killing three people.

The bombing at the Federal Investigation Agency was particularly devastating and caused portions of the agency’s multi-story building to collapse. The agency is responsible for cases involving illegal immigration and smuggling, but is also the base for an FBI-trained counterterrorism unit.

The FBI has collaborated with its Pakistani counterpart on several occasions in recent years. In 2006, officials with the Pakistani agency announced plans for the FBI to train 100 Pakistani recruits in counterterrorism tactics. In 2002, the FBI assisted Pakistani authorities with the investigation of a suicide bombing at the U.S. Consulate in Karachi that killed 12 people and injured 50.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Embassy personnel among injured in Islamabad blast

The FS is an incredibly small world. I have a friend in Islamabad, and have still not heard whether she is among the wounded from the Embassy. Please keep all the injured and their families in your thoughts.

Pakistan on alert as blast targets foreigners

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- Pakistan's capital was on high alert Sunday and embassies reviewed security measures after a bomb struck an Italian restaurant crowded with foreigners, killing a Turkish aid worker and wounding at least 12 other people.

U.S. and British embassy personnel were wounded in what appeared to be the first attack targeting foreigners in a recent wave of violence in Pakistan, which has been battling al-Qaida- and Taliban-linked militants.

The Saturday attack also came at a politically sensitive time -- parliament is due to convene Monday, bringing to power foes of U.S.-allied President Pervez Musharraf.

A warden notice posted on the U.S. embassy's Web site late Saturday urged Americans "to avoid areas where Westerners are known to congregate and to maintain a low profile," also noting that "American citizens should stay alert, be aware of their surroundings, reduce travel to a minimum, and act self-defensively at all times."

U.S. policy prohibits families of American diplomats from accompanying them on assignment in Pakistan, but most other countries allow it. U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Kay Mayfield could not comment on whether the U.S. was taking measures such as sending home nonessential employees. But, Mayfield said, "Embassies are reviewing their security practices and the guidance they give to their employees."

Concrete barriers lined streets Sunday in the upscale neighborhood around the Luna Caprese restaurant, a popular spot for expatriates in Islamabad. A dozen policemen stood guard outside the two-story villa in what was thought to be a secure neighborhood where diplomats and government officials live.

Police stepped up vehicle checks throughout the capital, a senior police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.

Officials said the bomb was planted in the restaurant's garden, which was crowded with diners, or thrown over the wall. The restaurant had a single private security guard at its entrance, but none along its perimeter.

The Foreign Ministry said Sunday the dead Turkish woman worked for a foreign aid group. A list of victims was posted in the reception of an Islamabad hospital. Five U.S. citizens were listed as undergoing surgery. One Japanese citizen, one Canadian, one Briton and three Pakistanis also were wounded.

"There were U.S. Embassy personnel among the injured. They are receiving medical treatment and their families are being notified," Mayfield said. She was unable to confirm the number of personnel wounded and their nationalities.

The British Foreign Office reported that a staff member from the British High Commission had been "lightly injured" in the blast. The man was being treated in a hospital, the office said.

Japan's Kyodo News agency said two of its journalists were injured, including the outgoing Islamabad bureau chief. One was hospitalized with a broken jaw and the other had light injuries.

Zahid Janjua, a student at the city's International Islamic University, was dining at a nearby restaurant and helped bring victims to waiting ambulances, staining his clothes with their blood.

"It was chaos. Broken tables and chairs lay scattered across the lawn. There were eight or nine people lying injured and crying for help," he said.

The blast rang out across downtown Islamabad around 8:45 p.m. local time Saturday. Fire engines and police raced to the scene, which was littered with blood and debris. A man's shoe lay in a pile of rubble.

Saturday's attack was the first in Pakistan's quiet capital in several months, and the first targeting foreigners here in more than a year. In January 2007, a security guard was killed and seven people injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Marriott hotel near parliament.

The deadliest attack on expatriates in recent years was in 2002, when five people were killed, including two Americans, when suspected Islamic militants set off grenades at a church in Islamabad's heavily guarded diplomatic enclave.

With extremist attacks overall on the rise, a growing number of Pakistanis are questioning Musharraf's approach to countering al-Qaida and the Taliban. His opponents say punitive military action has only fueled the violence.

The winning parties in last month's parliamentary elections have pledged to form a new counterterrorism strategy when they form a new coalition government next week.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

$4.1 billion that we need

This piece was in yesterday's Washington Note:

Smart Power Vote Coming Tomorrow in Senate

In its infinite wisdom, the Senate Budget Committee slashed $4.1 billion from President Bush's proposed International Affairs budget.

International Affairs, which includes our diplomacy, development and international organization expenses, comprises just over 1.2% of our total federal budget and 6% of our national security spending. It accounts for almost all of our global non-military footprint.

Even with full funding at the level of the President's request, we're facing a crisis with peacekeeping. Our current debts are being absorbed by troop contributing countries like India, Pakistan, Kenya, and Bangladesh, but they won't continue to absorb the debt forever. That means critical missions will be crippled. And President Bush, even with his high request for International Affairs funding generally, has proposed a dollar amount for peacekeeping contributions that House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman has called "absurdly low." That's because the Office of Management and Budget has decided each year to make across-the-board cuts in this area despite our aggressive diplomacy in the UN Security Council to establish and expand peace operations where they are needed.

The military is our hammer and our current budget priorities reflect our view that all of the global challenges we face are nails. Believe it or not, much of the pushback against this view is coming from the Pentagon. Bob Gates has become refreshingly outspoken on the subject:
"Funding for non-military foreign-affairs programs has increased since 2001, but it remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military and to the importance of such capabilities. Consider that this year's budget for the Department of Defense -- not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- is nearly half a trillion dollars. The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department is $36 billion - less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone. Secretary Rice has asked for a budget increase for the State Department and an expansion of the Foreign Service. The need is real.

"Overall, our current military spending amounts to about 4 percent of GDP, below the historic norm and well below previous wartime periods. Nonetheless, we use this benchmark as a rough floor of how much we should spend on defense. We lack a similar benchmark for other departments and institutions.

"What is clear to me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security - diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development. Secretary Rice addressed this need in a speech at Georgetown University nearly two years ago. We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. We must also focus our energies on the other elements of national power that will be so crucial in the coming years.

"Now, I am well aware that having a sitting Secretary of Defense travel halfway across the country to make a pitch to increase the budget of other agencies might fit into the category of "man bites dog" - or for some back in the Pentagon, "blasphemy." It is certainly not an easy sell politically. And don't get me wrong, I'll be asking for yet more money for Defense next year.

"Still, I hear all the time from the senior leadership of our Armed Forces about how important these civilian capabilities are. In fact, when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen was Chief of Naval Operations, he once said he'd hand a part of his budget to the State Department "in a heartbeat," assuming it was spent in the right place."

The amendment to restore the $4.1 billion will be proposed tomorrow by Sens. Biden and Lugar. But let's be clear: I wrote about this last year and will probably say something again next year. This amendment is a minor adjustment, not the radical recalibration that is required.

Digger comments: I hope the amendment to restore the $4.1 billion was added and I hope it is approved. The need for the support of soft power is greater now than it has perhaps ever been.

Maura Harty wins Thomas Jefferson Award

American Citizens Abroad (ACA) announced that Maura Harty, former Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs who recently retired, and Michael Parmly, Chief of Mission in Cuba are this year's winners of the ACA Thomas Jefferson Award. This award honors State Department employees who have given exemplary service to American citizens residing abroad. ACA serves US citizens living outside of the United States on subjects such as taxation, citizenship, voting, Medicare, Social Security, education and many more. Congrats to both, but especially to Ambassador Harty, who I have mentioned my fondness for before in this blog.

American Citizens Abroad Announces the Winners of the 2008 Thomas Jefferson Award

American Citizens Abroad (ACA), a Geneva-based organization serving the interests of overseas Americans all over the world, announced today the winners of the 2008 Thomas Jefferson Award. This distinction honors State Department employees who have given exemplary service to American citizens residing abroad.

The 2008 winners are Maura Harty, former Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, and Michael Parmly, Chief of Mission in Cuba.

Maura Harty was a member of the Foreign Service from 1981 to 2008. A graduate of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, she served the State Department in many challenging positions, both in Washington and abroad - in Mexico, Grenada, Columbia, Spain, Lithuania. Her final overseas assignment was as U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay.
Maura became the Assistant Secretary of Consular Affairs on November 21, 2002, after having served as the Executive Secretary of the Department of State. She stepped down from her Consular Affairs position in February 2008.

Americans overseas are especially grateful to Maura Harty for her dedicated efforts on their behalf while Managing Director of the Directorate of Overseas Citizens Services, where she created the office of Children's Issues, and during her most recent position as the head of the U.S. Consular Service. Her aid in working to resolve a wide range of problems specific to individual Americans abroad and her willingness to meet and discuss with representatives of the American overseas community how to improve the relations between the overseas Americans and the U.S. Government are greatly appreciated.

Michael E. Parmly, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister-Counselor, is currently serving as Chief of Mission-Designate for the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba.

He earned a degree in International Relations and Latin American Studies at St. Joseph's College in Philadelphia and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Bucaramanga, Colombia, prior to receiving his Masters of Arts of Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Michael has been a Foreign Service Officer since 1977, working in Morocco, Spain, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, France and Afghanistan. He has also served on the faculty of the National War College as Professor of National Security Studies, specializing in post-conflict situations. From August to October, 2004, he served as Senior Advisor to Ambassador Khalilzad for the Afghan Presidential elections. In Washington he has served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and later as Acting Assistant Secretary.

American Citizens Abroad salutes Michael Parmly's exemplary and dedicated service to his country, including aspects of his work which have impacted positively on local overseas American communities.

ACA takes great pride in giving this award to both Maura and Michael and wishes them much success in the future.

ACA is a non-partisan, non-profit association of US citizens living outside of the United States. Founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1978, it now has members on six continents. ACA works to address and correct a wide range of anomalies and inequities in US laws and regulations that affect US citizens residing overseas. These include trying to eliminate unfair double taxation, improve the citizenship rights of children, strengthen voting rights, and bring about direct representation for the overseas American community in the U.S. Congress. ACA works to promote a positive image of the United States and of overseas U.S. citizens, and stresses the latter's important contributions to the prosperity, security and the reputation of America. ACA recently published a new anthology of stories about life in the private sector abroad entitled: "So Far Yet So Near".

ACA launched the Thomas Jefferson Award in 1993 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson, America's first Secretary of State and third President. Jefferson, who lived outside the new republic for a number of years, helped to secure its independence and promote its political, economic and national security interests. As he was in many ways the quintessential Overseas American, in the private sector and while serving his country, this is why the ACA award carries his name.

Previous winners of the Thomas Jefferson Award were serving in the Cameroon, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Uruguay, the Caribbean and Washington DC. Their strong and meritorious commitment, creativity and enthusiasm have greatly helped to inspire, promote and protect the interests of the 4 million strong overseas American community.