Saturday, May 31, 2008

Avuncular American: You've Been Volunteered

Avuncular American posted a piece today on the email M received yesterday.

AA writes:
The above is not a draft notice, but these days few people outside the US military receive such explicit hints that it would behoove them to consider spending time in body armor in Baghdad. In the Army, as my father used to say, it was "We need three volunteers: you, you, and you." The State Department, diplomatically of course, "considers you particularly well qualified." The result is the same. Our diplomat-blogger contents herself with reproducing the Friday morning email. Like the good career professional that she is, she provides no editorial comment. But you can bet that there is much soul-searching going on in the "M" household this weekend.

In the fall of 2007, much was made of the State Department's difficulties in filling its personnel slots at the US Embassy in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, though after the initial flurry of publicity, in fact no one was actually "directed" (or, in non-State speak, forced) to go to Iraq. But "asking you to seriously consider volunteering," while not literally forcing, has a different meaning when you're an individual employee having to deal with the juggernaut of Washington's personnel establishment. The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA, the professional association which advocates for American diplomats with their employers at the State Department, USAID, as well as the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture) has monitored this issue, and its monthly magazine, the Foreign Service Journal, has documented the nuanced meanings of "volunteering."

Consider the typical case of an officer with school age children, who has to follow increasingly restrictive rules that narrow choices down to places like Iraq (Green Zone or PRT?) and Afghanistan (Kabul or a Provincial Reconstruction Team?). One such officer outlined his dwindling options, and illustrated how in the end, his "voluntary" assignment to Afghanistan was simply a choice of lesser evils. And it's not just Iraq and Afghanistan. According to AFSA, "two thirds of the Foreign Service is deployed overseas at all times and 70 percent of them are at hardship posts (meaning locations with difficult living conditions due to terrorist threats, violent crime, harsh climate, or other factors)." Like the military, many Foreign Service families are separated during entire tours of duty.


Digger comments:
I think I have said before that we weren't surprised that M got the email. We both served in Jerusalem (from which she was pressured two years ago to go to Baghdad after doing two straight hardship tours of 25% or greater). She has a 2/2 in Arabic, is a political-coned officer with political experience.

AA is certainly correct that there has been much soul-searching in our household this weekend. I feel like we have run the emotional gamut, and have considered a variety of choices, from M volunteering for the jobs listed in the hopes of coming back to DC, to volunteering for a PRT in the hopes of linking both of us to an interesting post afterward, to going then quitting afterward, to making them direct her. And honestly, we still don't know what we are going to do. The extra money would be nice, but nobody goes into government service to get rich, and like AA said, we certainly wouldn't get rich resigning in protest. For us, there is the added issue of what we would have to deal with if, god forbid, she got hurt or killed. I could be denied access to her hospital room or the right to make medical decisions should she be unable. I would not automatically inherit "her half" of our house, and if I did, I'd have to pay inheritance taxes. I could be denied the right to bury her in the plots we have already purchased together.

I still don't know what we will do.

You can read AA's entire piece here.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Email

Here is the "recruitment" email M received:

Dear M:

As you may have seen in the Director General’s May 27, 2008 ALDAC “Announcing the 2009 Iraq/Afghanistan Cycle (State 056058)” and in the Secretary’s personal message to the field (link below), the Department has begun recruiting for summer 2009 openings in Iraq. I am writing to inform you that the Department considers you among those particularly well qualified for the key positions listed below and is asking you to seriously consider volunteering for an opportunity to tackle our nation’s top foreign policy priority.

POL Officer FS-03
POL Officer FS-03 (AD 2/2)
POL Officer FS-03 (AD 2/2)

You are considered well qualified because your record of achievement indicates that you have the skills and experience, as defined by Embassy Baghdad, to be successful in these positions. Information about the Embassy’s criteria as well as the position descriptions for these and other jobs in Iraq can be found on the following website:

HR/CDA and others will soon be contacting you to discuss further your interest in these positions.

The Director General is confident that with your help, and that of others who step forward, we will staff Iraq with volunteers as we have in the past. As noted in the cable, however, the Director General will assess at an appropriate time how best to complete the cycle. If positions remain unfilled, you would be among the pool of qualified individuals potentially subject to identification for one of these positions. In the interest of fairness and transparency, this is something we wanted to communicate to you at the earliest possible point in the assignments process. Again, our goal is 100% volunteers.

I will give you a call next week (June 2-6) to discuss more in depth what this might mean for you, but please feel free to contact me sooner if you wish. In the meantime, I urge you to take another look at the ALDAC referenced in paragraph one for details on the Iraq-Afghanistan cycle and the overall timeline for 2009 assignments. If you will be in Washington, I also urge you to attend the upcoming Iraq brown bag event on June 3 and to watch for the upcoming Iraq/Afghanistan Open House as well as other events, including DVCs with selected posts. We will be announcing details about these events soon.

I look forward to working with you as you consider stepping forward for one of these critical assignments.


Your Career Development Officer

Link to the Secretary’s message:

The Dreaded Email

"You have cordially been invited/recruited to serve in Iraq." Or something to that effect. M got hers this morning.

Not sure yet what our plans are. Like most spouses I imagine, I would rather it had been me.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Washington Blade: Baldwin challenges Rice over State Dept. policies

This article was in the May 16 Washington Blade, D.C.'s GLBT newspaper.

Baldwin challenges Rice over State Dept. policies
Decries ‘inequities facing gays and lesbians’

May. 16, 2008

The only open lesbian in the U.S. House of Representatives is continuing a correspondence with the U.S. State Department in a quest — that’s been fruitless thus far — to secure policy changes to benefit the same-sex partners of gay foreign service officers.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) last week replied to an April 17 letter from Jeffrey Bergner, assistant secretary of Legislative Affairs for the State Department. Bergner’s letter was a reply to an earlier letter Baldwin sent in February. Baldwin addressed both her letters to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Baldwin’s initial letter addresses what she called “basic and common-sense policy changes” that would eliminate “inequities facing gays and lesbians at the State Department.”

Baldwin cited partners’ inability to qualify as “eligible family members” in the department’s eyes, which would qualify them for safety training and language classes, access to health services, medication in the event of an epidemic, financial assistance in the event of an evacuation and help obtaining visas and help with employment opportunities, all of which the department grants to those it deems “eligible family members.”

In her first letter, Baldwin said she was greatly concerned and cited Michael Guest, the openly gay former U.S. ambassador to Romania, who ended his 26-year career in the Foreign Service in December citing what he considered unfair treatment of gay diplomats and their partners.

In a Blade phone interview this week, Baldwin said the letters tie into her broader work as lead sponsor of a House bill that, if passed, would secure domestic partner benefits for federal employees (it hasn’t been voted out of committee).

“I’ve long been interested in the fight for equality not just for LGBT individuals but also for LGBT families,” Baldwin said. “In a number of federal agencies, there are actions that could be taken short of needing to pass legislation because, of course, we know what a long, laborious process that can be. The secretary has significant latitude to address the issues.”

Bergner’s reply to Baldwin’s first letter said the department hires “without regard to sexual orientation” and that same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried partners are treated the same.

Baldwin’s follow-up conveyed to Rice that Bergner’s response “was unsatisfactory” and points out several matters in the first letter that Bergner failed to address.

The State Department did not respond to a request seeking comment.

But how realistic are Baldwin’s requests considering Rice’s boss, President George Bush, has indicated a likelihood to veto pro-gay legislation during his administration?

Guest said Rice, when pressed, made one concession, pointing to a Feb. 13 Foreign Affairs Committee session in which Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who co-signed Baldwin’s letters with Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), questioned Rice on the issue. Rice then made one training course available to same-sex partners.

“It can be effective for elected representatives to go to the secretary in the interest of safety, effectiveness, morale and workplace equity,” Guest, who’s now working on the still-forming Council for Global Equality, said.

“I hope in time the response will be better.”

Rice, who is unmarried, has declined to comment on her sexual orientation. Rice biographer and Washington Post correspondent Glenn Kessler discovered that Rice owns a house with another unmarried woman, filmmaker Randy Bean.

Though Guest said Rice had repeatedly declined to make allowances for gay State Department employees and their partners, the secretary has occasionally acknowledged gays and their partners, most notably during the swearing-in ceremony in October 2006 of openly gay Dr. Mark Dybul as U.S. Global AIDS coordinator.

Rice referred to Dybul’s partner, Jason Claire, and referenced Claire’s mother as Dybul’s “mother-in-law.”

Baldwin said she didn’t know if Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) or Barack Obama (D-Ill.) had been asked about provisions for gay employees and their partners in the State Department.

“We all know, of course that they’ve expressed strong support for same-sex couples,” Baldwin said, “and this is clearly a subset of those kinds of benefits.”

Staff in Baldwin’s office said letter exchanges are standard procedure for these kinds of requests. Elected officials typically find correspondence preferable to in-person meetings so there’s a paper trail.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Round Two (more like four or six) of the Diplo-draft

I found this article by AP writer Matthew Lee today in the Huffington Post. I was not at work yesterday, but M told me she saw the cable yesterday saying they were identifying people they plan to "recruit" to serve in Iraq and that those folks would be notified probably by Thursday. We full expect her to be one of the "particularly well qualified" people who get "recruited." Good thing I am in the service, since as an MOH I wouldn't even be allowed to attend the support group for the spouses of those sent on unaccompanied tours, much less receive the separate maintenance allowance they give to those spouses (even if they are newly wed. M and I have been together for nine years, and were married in our church 6 years ago). It would be nice if the "nation's gratitude" the Secretary refers to extended to roughly 700 people in the service who have "Members of Household" instead of "Eligible Family Members."

Diplomats eyed for possible forced service in Iraq

By Matthew Lee

WASHINGTON — The State Department has begun to identify diplomats who could be forced to serve in Iraq next year unless enough volunteers come forward to fill about 300 positions, The Associated Press has learned.

A department-wide notice issued Tuesday says officials have looked through the files of all foreign service officers who will be applying or "bidding" for new jobs in 2009 and compiled a roster of candidates who are "particularly well-qualified" to work at the American Embassy in Baghdad and in outlying provinces.

Those on the list will be notified of their status this week and urged to volunteer, according to the internal notice, which was also sent by cable to all U.S. diplomatic missions abroad. If positions remain unfilled after the summer, they will become the core of a group of "prime candidates" who may be forced to go to Iraq, it says.

The announcements, accompanied by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's personal appeal for volunteers, were obtained by the AP.

"I am asking that you consider joining this highly motivated team of professionals as we look for volunteers for positions opening in 2009," Rice said. She recorded a video of the message, which also deals with jobs coming open next year in Afghanistan, that is to be shown on the State Department's internal television network.

"Our brave volunteers are doing a tough, but necessary, job far away from family and friends," she said. "Employees and families deserve the nation's gratitude. I can assure you that they have mine, and I encourage you to join our teams in Baghdad and Kabul."

The notices say the department hopes and expects that the call will be answered. But if not, they say the department will start selecting "prime candidates" for compulsory Iraq duty.

A similar move late last year for 48 vacant jobs in Iraq caused an uproar when some foreign service officers objected to forced tours in a war zone in what would have been the largest diplomatic call-up since the Vietnam War.

That furor over so-called "directed assignments" in October and November petered out when enough volunteers eventually stepped up, but not before it made national headlines and sparked harsh criticism from commentators. As a result, the department decided to begin the process of staffing Iraq earlier with a "targeted recruitment effort."

As part of that effort, State Department Director General Harry Thomas said in Tuesday's announcement that his office is now determining which diplomats are "particularly well-qualified to staff key positions in Iraq" that will come open in the summer of 2009.

"We will inform those individuals in the coming days that they are part of a pool of the best qualified potential bidders who will be the primary, but not exclusive, focus of recruitment efforts for Iraq," he said.

"In addition, should (I) determine that identification procedures need to be used ... to staff unfilled positions, these individuals will also comprise the primary pool for identification," Thomas said.

The notices did not say how many diplomats were on the "particularly well qualified" list or exactly when the department would decide if it has to move to directed assignments, which means ordering diplomats to work in certain locations under threat of dismissal unless they have a compelling reason, such as a health condition, not to go.

Since the U.S. reopened its embassies in Baghdad and Kabul, positions there have been filled entirely with volunteers who serve one-year tours and are offered numerous incentives including significant pay boosts, extra vacation time and choice of their next post. But there are serious concerns that the pool of diplomats to draw on is dwindling.

More than 20 percent of the nearly 7,000-strong foreign service have already worked in either Iraq or Afghanistan and a growing number have done tours in both.

And some diplomats have privately expressed unease about volunteering for Iraq amid uncertainty over how the administration following President Bush will deal with Iraq, and how that might affect security there or change Washington's focus on the country.

At least three foreign service personnel _ two diplomatic security agents and one political officer _ have been killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

Honoring those who served.

Veterans memorial, Cherokee Indian Reservation, North Carolina

Friday, May 23, 2008

Change What is Within your Power to Change

Dead Men Working has a piece about an interview in the Washington Times with Secretary Rice.

Change What is Within your Power to Change

In a recent interview with the Washington Times, the Secretary of State was asked about race. She spoke clearly and forcefully about the inequities African Americans have faced in America, and noted that "African Americans have loved and had faith in this country even when this country did not love and have faith in them."

The interview received little attention.

So little, in fact, that Roland Martin, and African American author and journalist, publicly wondered why.

One reason may be that, race aside, the Secretary of State has not done a very good job advancing civil rights within the agency she heads. In fact, in certain aspects, things have taken a pronounced step backward under her tenure.

Despite the unquestionable obstacles the Secretary herself has faced and the many inequities (and worse) she honestly claims to have witnessed in her life, her legitimacy as a spokesperson for civil rights issues is tarnished by her own inaction in the areas most directly under her own ability to control.

Unless one defines civil rights solely in terms of the rights of African Americans, the State Department (with particular attention to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security) does not express the same love and faith towards Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans, Gay Americans, and others that the historic patriotism and contributions of those groups should merit.


If the Secretary of State is truly of the belief that faith in the patriotism of American citizens should not be dictated by race, then she would immeasurably help her own credibility if she also opposed the free exercise of bigotry by DS agents and others.

Madame Secretary,

With respect:

Jewish Americans do not, by sole virtue of their religion, have dual loyalties, even if many of them support (as does the president of the United States) the right of Israel to exist as a free and secure nation.

Muslim Americans are not, simply by definition, supporters of anti-American terrorism.

Gay Americans do not, by simple definition, have loose morals, nor are most openly Gay Americans more vulnerable to blackmail than anyone else.

Naturalized Americans, even from countries which may temporarily oppose our policies, do not necessarily support the politics of the countries they left behind. In fact, most left those countries, and came to America, precisely because they oppose them. And many first-generation immigrants, including many of the founding fathers and mothers of our country, have served America with honor and distinction.

The patriotism of individual American citizens cannot be deduced from their skin color, religion, ethnic background or sexual orientation, and when DS/PSS routinely confuses religion with Foreign Preference, or homosexuality with criminal sexual behavior, DS is doing so improperly.

And yes, we know that you can point to token examples of FSOs in each of those categories who are doing fine, for now. And we know that the Department's rules are EEO compliant. But tokens do not excuse the prejudicial treatment of even one other person. And when rules are broken, and nobody objects, the rules don't really matter.

If your exposure to inequity and injustice has taught you to hate inequity and injustice, then stop them in the place you have the most power to change things.

Digger comments:
I had seen the interview, and in particular, recognized that her quote could easily be applied to other minority groups. Gays and lesbians too continue to love and have faith in this country even though this country STILL does not love and have faith in us. We are STILL expected to ride at the back of the proverbial bus, and I recognize that other minorities are in similar positions. What has happened is not that the country has recognized that discrimination is wrong so much as it has replaced the socially acceptable targets of derision and discrimination. I hope soon though that our country will love and have faith in all of us, and in particular, recognize the greater patriotism is takes to serve a country that does not keep faith with you.

You can read DMW's entire piece here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Slur Against America's FSOs

I found this piece today on Fabius Maximus. Kudos to Naland for defending us, as he always does so well.

A slur against America’s Foreign Service Officers

I recommend reading this letter from John K. Naland, President of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) to the Editor of the Washington Post (esp. note the last sentance; bold emphasis added):

"Your May 2 news article “Expert on Terrorism To Direct Rebuilding” included a shameful slur against America’s career diplomats by Pentagon advisor Richard Perle. Discussing President Bush’s selection of Foreign Service Officer L. Paul Bremer to direct the rebuilding of Iraq, Perle characterizes Ambassador Bremer as being “aggressive by Foreign Service standards (but) I’ve seen hummingbirds that are aggressive by Foreign Service standards.”

It is unfortunate that Mr. Perle does not understand that our nation’s diplomats do indeed aggressively promote vital U.S. interests, often in harsh or dangerous places. As Secretary of State Colin Powell told a Senate committee on April 30, “I send young State Department officers out to the most difficult places in the world to serve their country, taking their families with them where there may not be any hospital care, there may not be any school for their kids, or where they’re separated from their families for a longer period of time than the average soldier gets separated from his family. And they go willingly because they’re happy to serve the American people.”

Indeed, I invite Mr. Perle to visit the Department of State this coming Friday, May 9, to witness the addition of six more names to the AFSA Memorial Plaques honoring American diplomats who have died in the line of duty while serving our nation abroad. Those plaques now contain 215 names. As a Pentagon advisor, Mr. Perle might be particularly interested in the fact that, in the last half century, more U.S. Ambassadors than generals and admirals have died in the line of duty."

To date the Washington Post has not published this letter. Hat tip for this to a comment posted at Abu Muqawama.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

In Praise of Our Ambassador to Zimbabwe

I heard about this story, covered by The Plank, a blog at The New Republic, last week when I was at work. I am impressed, and I think this is indicative of the courage of the folks who serve in the Foreign Service.

In Praise of James McGee

You probably haven't heard of James McGee. He's our Ambassador in Harare, Zimbabwe. He's also a black man, which frustrates the sick worldview of Robert Mugabe. Here's an excerpt from a news story earlier this week that made me smile:

The diplomats involved in the incident at a roadblock on the edge of the capital, Harare, had just completed a tour of hospitals and an alleged torture camp when police demanded they prove they had official permission to visit the sites.

At one point, a police officer threatened to beat one of Mr. McGee’s senior aides. The officer got into his car and lurched toward Mr. McGee after he had demanded the officer’s name. The car made contact with Mr. McGee’s shins, but he was not injured.

Mr. McGee climbed onto the hood of the car while his aide snatched the keys from the ignition, then the diplomats used their mobile phone cameras to take photographs of the officer.

Mr. McGee insisted the convoy be allowed through and the 11 vehicles passed through after about an hour.

The men and women of the foreign service put themselves through great sacrifice, but rarely do we hear of stories like this in which an actual Ambassador would put his own life on the line to send a message to a totalitarian, murderous regime: America is watching you.

Abu Muqawama was also impressed. He called McGee's actions "Moral Courage" and remarked on the TNR post: Indeed. There's a pretty standard line offered by foreign service officers recounting the number of ambassadors killed in the line of duty vs. the number of general officers. (Charlie can't remember the former, but the latter is something approximating "zero since WWII.") Not all ambassadors spend their time at cocktail parties, and not all of America's influence comes from the barrel of a gun (but check out Jamie's novel suggestion for an Africom mission at the end of his post).

More coverage of the letter

Baldwin challenges Rice over State Dept. policies

The only open lesbian in the U.S. House of Representatives is continuing a correspondence with the U.S. State Department in a quest - that's been fruitless thus far - to secure policy changes to benefit the same-sex partners of gay foreign service officers.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) last week replied to an April 17 letter from Jeffrey Bergner, assistant secretary of Legislative Affairs for the State Department. Bergner's letter was a reply to an earlier letter Baldwin sent in February. Baldwin addressed both her letters to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Baldwin's initial letter addresses what she called "basic and common-sensepolicy changes" that would eliminate "inequities facing gays and lesbians atthe State Department." See Baldwin challenges Rice over State Dept. policies

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hardship Posts

Diplopundit had a good piece yesterday on a piece I saw in FS Voice (see page 9) in the Foreign Service Journal the other day called "Thanks for Your Service...Now, Here's Your Pay Cut," about a family who got their hardship pay reduced in Beijing, because, among other things, their air quality had improved (!). This of course was after the FS spouse had lost the hearing in one ear because of a "mystery virus" that the medical care system there couldn't diagnose and treat properly and after her husband had developed respiratory problems.

[...] before FS critics jump up and down on this, and accuse FS folks of “whining,” again, I’d like to highlight a couple of significant health consequences of this specific hardship assignment for the Gormans:

“In October, my previously healthy husband developed severe breathing troubles. A lifelong runner, he began wheezing as he climbed the stairs; at night, it sounded like he was drowning in his sleep. He was initially diagnosed with reactive airway disease and then a severe sinus infection. After an inhaler, steroid and some four to five courses of antibiotics, his condition improved. But only after a trip to Hong Kong, where the air is cleaner, did his symptoms subside.

“[…] I caught a mysterious virus that caused me to go deaf in one ear. The doctors in Beijing weren’t equipped to handle the emergency, so I was medevaced to Hong Kong. There, doctors tried to restore my hearing, though warned that the odds were against me, given how much time had elapsed. Back home in the States, or at a post that was more medically advanced, I would have been able to get treatment at the ER within hours, improving my odds. Here, not so. I’m now permanently deaf in one ear. Then again, as a colleague pointed out, “I suppose that’s one of the reasons you get hardship pay over there.”

We pick hardship assignments (at least, I think most of us do) not to toughen our kids or to test if our spouses and partners love us enough to put up with the highs and lows of life overseas. We pick hardship assignments fully expecting, well, hardships, and the additional compensation of 5-35 percent over basic compensation to make up for those hardships. Why? Because like you and your neighbors, we are regular people with mortgage and bills to pay, kids to send to college, and retirements to plan for life after the Service. Perhaps the independently wealthy would not be too concerned with things like these, but there are not a whole lot of them in this Foreign Service.

We knock on wood, and we keep fingers crossed because we realized that picking a hardship assignment is always a roll of a dice. Dr. John Kellogg says that “health is wealth is a trite maxim, the truth of which everyone (only) appreciates best after having suffered a disease.” After contracting various illnesses and collecting worldwide available parasites, I think we all certainly learn to appreciate the "health is wealth" maxim but we also often bet that we’d come out at least even, with all our loved ones’ appendages and parts still working, as we survive another hardship assignment. Would anyone of us willingly go to a place if we know that we’re going to get permanent deafness in exchange for it? How much does an ear cost, that is, if you still have it but it's no longer functional? I don't think there is a "numerical weight" for this, most especially for the unemployed trailing partner.

You can read Diplopundit's entire piece here

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Memorial Wall

U.S. Diplomacy blog has a nice piece about the service earlier this month honoring honoring those who have lost their lives in the service of the country as part of Foreign Service. I have copied the post here, but you should go to her site for the embedded video of Deputy Secretary Negroponte's speech at the event. You can see the video here.

Earlier this month the American Foreign Service Association held its annual ceremony honoring the Foreign Servicemen and women who lost their lives in the line of duty. Their names are eched into memorial plaques on the wall near the entrance to the State Depatment.

This year sadly saw two more names etched onto the memorial wall: Steven Thomas Stefani, IV and John Michael Granville. “Tom” Stefani, a U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service employee, on voluntary assignment with the Foreign Agricultural Service in Afghanistan, was serving as an agricultural adviser on a Provincial Reconstruction Team when he was killed in an explosion on October 4th, 2007 in Ghazni Province.

While serving as a Democracy and Governance Officer with USAID in Sudan, John Michael Granville was killed in Khartoum on January 1st, 2008, along with his Sudanese driver, Abdelrahman Abbas Rahama, when their vehicle came under fire.

At the ceremony Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte read some of the remarks of one of Mr. Granville’s Cameroonian friends made at his funeral:

“One of John’s Cameroonian friends said this at John’s funeral, and I quote: “John did not stand from a distance to watch us. He was one of us. He spoke our language, ate our food, observed and practiced our traditions, respected our ways, and worked with us, even when he disagreed with us. He always placed himself in the shoes of the people he worked and lived with. He tried to see the world through our eyes, through their personal experiences.”

President Bush sent along some kind words:

“I send greetings to those gathered for Foreign Affairs Day at the Department of State. Those who serve in the Foreign Service and the Civil Service and as Foreign Service nationals are performing their duties during a defining moment in our country’s history. Through hard work and determination they advance America’s founding ideals. As emissaries to the world, these fine individuals bring pride to our nation and help extend hope around the world…”

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Secretary Gates Still Stumping for State

In a speech given last Monday at the Brookings Institute, Secretary of Defense Gates showed he is still committed to strengthing the State Department and the nation's "soft power."

But even a reformed and transformed military establishment is not sufficient to protect our national security and advance our interests. America’s civilian instruments of national power, in particular the State Department, have suffered from chronic underfunding for decades, and were virtually gutted in the 1990s.

The U.S. Agency for International Development twenty years ago was an independent agency with some 15,000 employees and deployed experts all over the world. It now has about 3,000 people and is basically a contracting agency. USIA was an independent agency that conducted strategic communication on a global scale before it was folded into the State Department. Today, the entire Foreign Service –6,600 men and women – would not be enough to crew one air carrier strike group. The total foreign affairs budget is less than the DoD spends on health care.

In recent years, we have made progress towards rebuilding and modernizing tools of diplomacy and American influence abroad. The foreign affairs budget has about doubled since 2001, though it remains a tiny fraction of what we spend on defense. Secretary Rice has initiated a program of transformational diplomacy, moving people from where they made sense during the Cold War to where they make sense now. Increasing numbers of Foreign Service officers now serve with the armed forces, both on the front lines in provincial reconstruction teams and in military headquarters where their expertise and insight has been invaluable. This year’s budget request includes funding for more than 1,000 additional Foreign Service officers, as well as a reserve corps of civilians that can deploy on short notice. But the State Department must be strengthened even further – in money, people, and bureaucratic clout – to truly fulfill its responsibilities as the lead agency in American foreign policy.

There is strong support in the ranks of the military for building up this civilian capacity. In fact, it was at a Brookings event last year that Admiral Mike Mullen, as Chief of Naval Operations, told Carlos Pascual [Pass Kwall] that he’d be willing to give part of the Navy’s budget to the State Department – a small part, mind you – provided it was spent properly.

What is encouraging is that a consensus appears to be forming at long last among people of varying ideologies and of both political parties that we need to strengthen America’s nonmilitary instruments of national power. There is also a sense that we should take a hard look at the underlying bureaucratic structure of the U.S. national security apparatus inherited from the Cold War era.

Three weeks ago, I testified with Secretary Rice before the House Armed Services Committee. The subject of the hearing was interagency cooperation between State and Defense, with a particular focus on helping other countries build capable security forces. I was advised before the hearing to expect, at most, a couple of questions on these subjects, before the questions all turned to Iraq, or base closures, or the fate of a particular weapons system.

But in fact, for the better part of three hours, the questions and discussion focused on the topic of how our U.S. government civilians and military perform and cooperate together. Members of the committee, both Republicans and Democrats, were interested, they believed change was needed, and they wanted to know what they could do to help.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Stories by Diplopundit: Tandem Couples

Diplopundit has another short piece of fiction called Tandem Couple. Being half of an "unofficial tandem," I found it particularly wrenching and am amazed at how well Diplopundit conveys such emotion in such a short space. You can read the piece here.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

So You Want to Be A Diplomat...

U.S. Diplomacy had this piece today on joining the Foreign Service.

Interested in Becoming a Diplomat?

The Washington Post’s job section ran a story this Sunday on tips for getting a job with the US Foreign Service. The author dispelled a few common myths about the FS. Here is an excerpt:

"Myth: The Foreign Service — the nation’s diplomatic corps — is made up exclusively of State Department staff.

Fact: The biggest branch of the Foreign Service indeed consists of State Department staff, said Marianne Myles, director of the State Department’s Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment. But the Foreign Service also has branches with employees of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the departments of Agriculture and Commerce.

Myth: You must have previous overseas experience to become a Foreign Service officer with the State Department. These workers advance U.S. interests abroad and manage embassies.

Fact: The State Department’s screening process for Foreign Service officers has long included a knowledge test called the Foreign Service Officer Test and a day-long Foreign Service Oral Assessment. But a third hurdle was recently added, Myles said: an in-depth review of professional, academic and extracurricular credentials.

This process considers all aspects of applicants’ backgrounds without requiring specific skills or types of experience, such as languages or overseas experience. Why? “Because someone with a totally different skill set can still make a successful diplomat,” Myles said. “The world is a complicated place; State needs multifaceted individuals with a wide range of skill sets.”
The process favors “generalists who are adaptable enough to go wide and deep,” and who represent all walks of life — including recent graduates and stay-at-home parents returning to work, Myles said.

Other agencies have their own processes.

Myth: All federal international jobs are filled by current feds — never by outsiders.

Fact: Federal recruiters say that outsiders regularly fill mid-level jobs as well as contract positions that may lead to permanent overseas work. In addition, outsiders fill recruitment programs for young professionals, including the Presidential Management Fellows Program, which places recent grads in two-year government assignments.

“A [fellow] may conduct a temporary duty assignment overseas at USAID as part of their training plans,” said Tom Davis, chief of outreach and marketing in USAID’s human resources office. “If they finish their fellowship satisfactorily, we will hire them into a permanent job.”

Myth: You must be a language virtuoso to work overseas.

Fact: Foreign language fluency is a plus but not a necessity. English is spoken in many countries, and many jobs provide language training, said James Ham, the country director for Cameroon. With 12 years of experience working in 11 French-speaking countries, Ham’s career has not been slowed by his accented French, despite his admitted tendency to elicit the response, “Votre Francais est tres American, monsieur.”"

Sold on a career in the foreign service? Click here to register for the exam.

More Coverage of the Letter

The Miami Herald is also covering the new letter to the Secretary from Representatives Baldwin, Ros-Lehtinen, Berman and Ackerman. You can read that article here.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A Copy of the Letter

Here is a copy of the latest letter from Representatives Ros-Lehtinen, Baldwin, Berman, and Ackerman:

Dear Madam Secretary:

We write to express our disappointment with Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Jeffrey T. Bergner's April 17th letter written in response to our February 21st letter urging you to act through your leadership as Secretary to eliminate inequities facing gays and lesbians at the State Department.

Mr. Bergner's response was unsatisfactory. He cites a limited range of actions that embassies may currently take in support of unmarried partners of Foreign Service Officers (FSOs). We are acutely aware of the limitations facing gay and lesbian Foreign Services Officers and their partners; the central motivation for our initial letter was to request that you consider providing comparable benefits, protections, and services to those enjoyed by family members of married FSOs. And while we were pleased to learn that your Director General has, at last, opened the Security Overseas Seminar to all family members, we would appreciate an explanation of why other partner-related security issues (i.e. health services and evacuation assistance) cannot currently be made available under the same rationale.

Given that Mr. Bergner's letter does not address many of the points raised in our initial letter, we write again to urge that you take the initiative in addressing the following policy areas:

. Inclusion in travel orders for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs

. Access to training, including language classes, for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs

. Emergency evacuation and medevac from post when necessary for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs

. Access to post health units for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs

. Visa support for same-sex domestic partners accompanying FSOs to overseas postings, and for same-sex foreign-born domestic partners accompanying FSOs to postings in Washington or elsewhere in the U.S.

. Preferential status for employment at post comparable to that enjoyed by Eligible Family Members (EFMs) for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs

As we already stated, many of these changes might be efficiently addressed through the inclusion of same-sex domestic partners under the definition of an EFM in the Foreign Service Standardized Regulation 040(m). None of the changes above are contrary to the letter or spirit of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Madame Secretary, we again look to your personal leadership on this issue, in the interest of mission effectiveness, workplace equity, and fairness for those who sacrifice so much for our country. We would be pleased to work with you and look forward to your timely response.

Tammy Baldwin
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Howard Berman
Gary Ackerman

Another Letter to the Secretary

BlogCabin, the blog of the Log Cabin Republicans, had this piece today. It sounds as if a new letter has been sent to the Secretary (a previous letter was sent in February, and last month the Department sent a very non-responsive response). I'll try to get a copy of the new letter.

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

CONTACT: Sam Stratman, (202) 226-7875, May 7, 2008
Alex Cruz, (202) 225-8200


Ros-Lehtinen Again Urges Fair Treatment

for Gay and Lesbian Employees of U.S. Department of State

(WASHINGTON) - Following up on a request to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier this year to eliminate inequities facing gays and lesbians serving in the Department, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) today reiterated the need for action in a letter co-signed by four senior House members.

In February, Ros-Lehtinen questioned Rice during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and urged the Department of State to provide domestic partners with comparable benefits, protections, and services as those enjoyed by family members of married foreign service officers.

“We ask much of our foreign service officers who operate under sometimes difficult and dangerous circumstances, and yet we treat some as second class citizens,” said Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Republican on the Committee.

“Providing the kind of services to domestic partners that are already enjoyed by families of married couples is consistent with our cherished value of equality under the law,” she added.

Among the benefits already enjoyed by families of married couples are emergency medical and security evacuation when required, access to training, including language classes, and access to embassy health units.

In the letter to Rice, Ros-Lehtinen and others suggest that most of the policy changes can be addressed by inclusion of same-sex domestic partners under the rules for defining an eligible family member. In addition to Ros-Lehtinen, the letter, which was prompted by unresponsive answers to earlier inquiries, was signed by U.S. Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA), Chairman of the Committee, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Gary Ackerman (D-NY).

Fair treatment for domestic partners also has the added benefit of improving an otherwise stressful workplace environment and boosting morale among the dedicated men and women who are on the front lines of protecting our interests overseas,” Ros-Lehtinen added.

No, seriously...

From the "your tax dollars at work" file...Avuncular American mentioned today a $5 billion (yes, that was a "b") tourism plan the Pentagon has come up with for the International Zone in Baghdad, including a golf resort.

AA rightly comments:

And if $5 billion isn’t excessive for a little R&R on the Tigris, why is it so difficult to provide decent (i.e., without sewage backups) housing for soldiers returning to their barracks Stateside? It took an outraged father of a soldier back from a combat zone, armed with a digital camera and a YouTube account, to shame the Army into action.

The idea behind this is to create a "zone of influence" around our Embassy compound and such.

Here's a better idea. Maybe we could use that money to create safe housing for the folks serving in Baghdad. (Yes, I know that is DOD money, not Department of State money, but we seem to be all mushed up together these days anyway.). And I can tell you that I would certainly rather, when my time comes to serve in Baghdad, have a safe place to sleep rather than a golf course.


Monday, May 05, 2008

Housing Shortage in Baghdad

The Skeptical Bureaucrat discusses the housing shortage at the new Embassy in Baghdad.

The shortage is the consequence of State assigning more staff to Baghdad after the NEC was well into construction, and of approving still more NEC occupants - USAID and DOD - when the construction project was already in its final stages. OBO couldn't add enough housing to accommodate all of the new embassy arrivals for the same reason that you can't change a tire on a moving car. And keeping everyone out of the completed NEC for yet another year while waiting for more and better-protected housing to be built wasn't an option, I'm sure.

So what can be done now? Risk Management 101 tells us that when we can't lessen the threat of rocket and mortar attacks, and after we've reduced our vulnerability to the threat all we can (by hardening structures and making staff wear body armor when outdoors), then the only way left to lower our risk is to reduce the number of people on the site. Any other embassy receiving rocket and mortar fire would be evacuated or put on ordered departure, as U.S. Embassy Sanaa was recently after it was attacked to no effect with only four measly 51mm mortar rounds, but, again, that's not an option in the case of Baghdad.

You can read the entire post here.

Mental Health Issues and State

Diplopundit has a good piece on PTSD and people seeking counseling at State. She recommends State make a statement akin to the one released recently by the Department of Defense which changes the question on the security clearance form to remove counseling as it relates to PTSD. High time. We need it for State as well.

You can read Diplopundit's entire piece here.

On the Infamous Q21, PTSD and the Wholeness of People in the Foreign Service

Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that applicants for government security clearances will no longer have to declare whether they sought mental health counseling after serving in combat zones. He emphasized while talking to reporters at a new PTSD center at Fort Bliss, Texas, that the troops’ psychiatric counseling for wartime mental health problems is "not going to count against them" if they apply for national security clearances for sensitive jobs. The announcement received wide media coverage. You can read the coverage by AP, WaPo, and Air Force Link by clicking on each hyperlink here.

The new policy revises the infamous Question 21 on the SF-86 Questionnaire for National Security Positions. The revised question excludes counseling related to marital, family, or grief issues, unless related to violence by the applicant. It also excludes counseling for adjustments from service in a military combat environment. You can read the official guidance from the Office of the Secretary of Defense dated April 18, 2008 here (the link will open as PDF file). The WaPo report also indicates that this change will apply not only to military and civilian employees of the Department of Defense but also to all applicants for security clearances.

Hmm …. I’ve looked at that guidance from OSD and it was only addressed to all military components . I’ve scoured the net for a similar guidance from OPM addressed to other Federal agencies but so far have come up empty. I’ve searched – nada (could not also find any easy reference to post traumatic stress disorder there).


The group referred to in the second question runs an open blog called, Dead Men Working and they have written about the security clearance and PTSD recently here and here. This issue was a gut-wrenching read because anyone in the FS could easily imagine oneself in such a position, have friends who've been through this and could not rule this out as a potential affliction in everyone's card.


Considering that State has its own clearance process and is a separate agency from DOD, I’m waiting for revised guidance for State Department personnel from Secretary Rice herself. Uhm, no offense intended; the guidance from “M” or “DGHR” or “DS” is fine but I don’t think that really cuts the cake here.

I’d like to see the Department of State, at the highest level of the 7th Floor, affirm and strongly endorse the practice of seeking professional help to address all health related concerns, including mental health. The press guidance above only refers to service in Iraq and Afghanistan, but what about service in the rest of the FS hardship assignments? The emotional toll of constant moving and relocation coupled with dangerous and challenging assignments is not something that we can or should ignore. Depression is a real cloud in our midst and unless we want a bunch of dysfunctional individuals running around trying to do their jobs, we must ensure that people get appropriate help without fear that their jobs could be jeopardized.

This issue impacts me personally. When you join State, you are required to fill out a questionnaire for your security clearance. On it is a question asking if you have ever received counseling for any reason. Lots of people who know better that I did just lie...they don't check that box even if they have received counseling. But silly me, I thought having recognized I needed help dealing with a problem and seeking that help would be seen as a good thing. Silly me.

The result of my checking that box, admitting I had sought counseling more than 15 years earlier, resulting in my having to have a telephone "interview" with a psychologist where I had to discuss very personal issues. She asked during the interview how I was feeling and I said annoyed. She seemed surprised and asked why. I said, "You are asking me to talk with a complete stranger about extremely personal issues, issues I dealt with and dealt with successfully 15 years ago. Issues I would not ordinarily discuss with a complete stranger. And then that complete stranger, based on talking to me for 45 minutes on the phone, gets to make a major decision about my future. And I find that annoying."

She admitted it would be.

Ultimately, she decided in that 45 minutes that I was fine, something I already knew. But it doesn't end there. Because we renew our clearances every five years, and because I was honest and checked the box, I will have to check it again. and I will have to go through that again. I heard a story at the party the other night of a woman who sought counseling after the death of her child. She had to discuss losing that child every single time she was up for her clearance renewal even though she had lost the child 30 YEARS earlier. How insane is that? Never mind inhuman is that?

And the flip side to all of this is that I later made the choice many make once in the department. When I was robbed at knife point, the post nurse asked if I wanted to talk to the regional psychiatrist. And my answer was, "Oh hell no." (Luckily, I found three weeks of R&R at the beach were the best therapy anyway!) I didn't (and don't) feel I needed traditional therapy for the incident, but I shudder to think about the folks who do, particularly after serving in places like Baghdad, who don't feel they can without jeopardizing their careers. It seems to me that this puts us all in danger

Sunday, May 04, 2008

If there's going to be a coup...

I'm convinced that the reason I stay in the foreign service is because of the friends I have made and the conversations we have.

A friend from Jerusalem had a party yesterday and everyone there was a friend from one of the posts were she had served (or a significant other of one of those). And as usual, we got talking about the great stories you get while in the service. Not just consular stories but all kinds of stories. We talked about our clearance interviews (some stories were funny, some were just sad). But my friend T really topped it.

She was in Manilla, out having dinner with some friends and local folks. And there had been talk of a coup. But some of the local folks were leaving dinner and going to a bar, and they invited her along. She was tempted to was a nice night and she was having fun. And then she thought, perfectly calmly, "You know, if there is going to be a coup, I should probably go home."

Now where in the real world do you come up with lines like that!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Consular Fiction?

Diplopundit has a post that is tagged as fiction, but it sounds like it could have been someone I dealt with as a consular officer (it isn't the obligatory naked American story, which we all have, but I think the American being watched by aliens is also pretty common - I have one of those too...)

You can read Diplopundit's story here.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Remarks From AFSA's Memorial Plaque Ceremony

Remarks From The American Foreign Service Association's Memorial Plaque Ceremony

By John D. Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of State
Washington, DC
May 2, 2008

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: As is customary, we pause during Foreign Affairs Day to remember the men and women of the Foreign and Civil Service who made the supreme sacrifice for their country while serving overseas. It’s my privilege to share with you a message from President George W. Bush, and I quote:

"I send greetings to those gathered for Foreign Affairs Day at the Department of State. Those who serve in the Foreign Service and the Civil Service and as Foreign Service nationals are performing their duties during a defining moment in our country's history. Through hard work and determination they advance America's founding ideals. As emissaries to the world, these fine individuals bring pride to our nation and help extend hope around the world.

This event is an opportunity to pay special tribute to those who have given their lives in service of our nation. We remember Tom Stefani and John Granville, two men who made the ultimate sacrifice while striving to bring peace to troubled lands. We lift them up in our prayers and ask for God's blessing on them and their families.

I appreciate all those who helped make this event a success. I also applaud the Foreign Service, the Civil Service, and the Foreign Service nationals for your loyalty and dedication to duty. Your devotion to the universality of freedom is an inspiration and helps make America a light to the nations.

Laura and I send our best wishes on this special occasion. May God bless you and may God bless America."

That is the end of the President's message. The American Foreign Service Association organizes this ceremony each year to honor our Foreign Affairs family who lost their lives in the line of duty. Each name on these memorial plaques represents a story of bravery and sacrifice.

Today, sadly, we honor two more: Steven Thomas Stefani, IV and John Michael Granville. Steven Thomas Stefani, a U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service employee, on voluntary assignment with the Foreign Agricultural Service in Afghanistan, was serving as an agricultural advisor on a Provincial Reconstruction Team when he was killed in an explosion on October 4th, 2007 in Ghazni Province. Tom, as he was known to his family and friends, was 28 years old and he had just requested an extension of his service. We are honored to have his parents, Barbara and Steven Stefani III and one of his two brothers, Jason, here with us today. Tom loved life, dreamed big, and was always eager to share his knowledge with others. He developed leadership skills early in 4-H and as a Boy Scout. As a college student, he returned to his hometown to give back generously to the kids and the organizations that had given so much to him.

To his colleagues at the Forest Service and in Afghanistan, Tom was known for his fairness, his integrity, and his effectiveness. He kept his word and he got things done. Tom's contributions, while serving in Ghazni, will have a lasting impact on the people and the agricultural economy of Afghanistan. Many of his colleagues from Afghanistan's PRT are with us here today. Thank you all for your service.

Tom's generous spirit will continue to touch Afghan lives even though he is gone. His mother, Barbara, is working to realize a dream that her son had while serving in Afghanistan: to build a playground for the children he saw playing in the streets. Barbara has collected donations of playground equipment, enough to furnish eight playgrounds. And the State Department is currently working with USAID and the Department of Defense to transport the equipment to Afghanistan and make Tom's dream his legacy.

Today, we also honor John Michael Granville. While serving as a Democracy and Governance Officer with USAID in Sudan, John was killed in Khartoum on January 1st, 2008, along with his Sudanese driver, Abdelrahman Abbas Rahama, when their vehicle came under fire. He was 33 years old, a Buffalo native, and he leaves behind his mother Jane Granville, Sister Katie McCabe and her family, as well as many close friends and colleagues.

John was an extraordinary man who touched the lives of people from Buffalo, all the way to remote villages in Cameroon, where he served for two years with the Peace Corps. While there he helped build and support a bilingual elementary school that provides education and hope for scores of children. He later returned to Cameroon as a Fulbright scholar and had served in Kenya before his assignment to Sudan.

One of John's Cameroonian friends said this at John's funeral, and I quote: "John did not stand from a distance to watch us. He was one of us. He spoke our language, ate our food, observed and practiced our traditions, respected our ways, and worked with us, even when he disagreed with us. He always placed himself in the shoes of the people he worked and lived with. He tried to see the world through our eyes, through their personal experiences."

John was a model officer and his many friends and colleagues with us today are a tribute to a kind, generous spirit. We will never forget John, Tom, and the other men and women who have given their lives for our country. Their memories will be a source of pride and inspiration for us to continue serving the cause, for which they died, protecting our country, bettering the lives of all Americans, and sharing America's blessings of peace, security, and freedom with the world.

And now, if we could stand for a moment of silence, please.

Belarus May Close US Embassy

This piece ran in today's Russian daily online news site Kommersant. I know one of the folks facing being PNG'd, so I am particularly interested. But if you read the Associated Press article this piece quotes, you might decide that it has overstated it slightly.

Belarus May Close U.S. Embassy

The U.S. State Department has demanded that Belarus close its embassy in Washington and consulate in New York. An anonymous Associated Press State Department source said that the U.S. embassy in Minsk will be closed as well. The Americans want the Belarusians out of their premises there by May 16 and promise to have their Minsk embassy closed by May 2.

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey officially denied that the U.S. administration has decided to close the American embassy in Minsk or demand the closure of the Belarusian embassy and consulate. Casey said that a “full range” of responsive measures were being considered, but no decision has been made yet.

Two days ago, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry informed the U.S. charge d'affaires in Belarus Jonathan Moore that the staff at the Belarusian embassy in Washington would be reduced to six people on April 30, as the U.S. had been advised of in advance. Because of the Americans' refusal to follow the Belarusian Foreign Ministry's recommendation to cut its Minsk embassy staff accordingly, Moore was given a note by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry and a list of American diplomats that were being declared personae non gratae.

Relations between Belarus and the U.S. have been tense since the U.S. imposed additional economic sanctions on the Belneftekhim enterprises last autumn. The U.S. State Department froze the Belarusian state corporation's financial accounts and prohibited U.S. companies to do business with it after Belarusian authorities refused to release opposition members from prison. The current tensions, with the recall of the ambassadors, is due, however, to the State Department's explanation of its decision to impose sanctions on companies controlled by Belneftekhim.

Here is an excerpt from the AP piece. You can read the entire piece here:

US warns Belarus on embassy closure

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States has warned Belarus that it may order its embassy in Washington and consulate in New York closed, and shut down the U.S. Embassy in Minsk in an escalating tit-for-tat diplomatic spat, officials said.

The State Department was poised to announce those steps on Thursday but the decision was abruptly put off just minutes before Belarus was to be informed they were being taken in retaliation for the expulsion of most of the U.S. embassy staff in Minsk, the officials said.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte had signed off Wednesday on the decision to close the Belarusian missions in the United States and the U.S. Embassy in Belarus. Only Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has the authority to reverse such an order.

The moves were delayed to give Belarus time to consider reversing the expulsions, the officials said. The change in plan came so late that the top U.S. diplomat in Belarus, Charge D'Affaires Jonathan Moore, was already at the Foreign Ministry in Minsk to make the notification when he was told to stand down, according to three State Department officials.

Whether we have warned them or made the decision, I can't say (though I admit I am more inclined to go with the AP version). Either way, I know the folks in Minsk are a bit stressed about having 72 hours to get out (no way they are taking all of their belongings with them). Somehow I don't think this is what Americans have in mind when they think of our cushy lifestyle.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Cherry Blossoms

Since I finally got a new computer, I was finally able to download some pictures we've been taking. Here is one I thought I'd share from the Cherry Blossom festival.

Foreign Affairs Day, May 2

And speaking of the dangers diplomats face in the service of our country, tomorrow is Foreign Affairs Day. Thanks to Diplopundit for this piece:

Foreign Affairs Day Tomorrow

Here is something that came out from AFSA: The AFSA Memorial Plaque Ceremony will be held on Friday, May 2 at 10:25 a.m., in the C St. lobby of the State Department in front of the west plaque.

The ceremony takes place during Foreign Affairs Day to honor those Foreign Service personnel who have lost their lives while serving their country overseas in the line of duty or under heroic or other inspirational circumstances...

Deputy Secretary John Negroponte will preside over the ceremony. He will read a message from President Bush and pay his respects to the families of the two employees whose names we will be adding to the plaque, bringing the total to 227.

Steven (Tom) Stefani was a USDA Forest Service employee on voluntary assignment with the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service in Afghanistan. He was serving on a Provincial Reconstruction Tean as an agricultural advisor when he was killed in an explosion on October 4, 2007 in Ghazni Province. He had recently requested an extension of his service. He was 28 years old, and is survived by his parents and two younger brothers who live in the Auburn, CA area. Many of his colleagues from the PRTs in Afghanistan plan to attend the ceremony.

John Granville was a Democracy and Governance Officer serving with USAID in Sudan. He was killed in Khartoum on January 1, 2008, along with his driver, Abdelrahman Abbas Rahama, when their vehicle was fired upon as they were returning from an official reception. Mr. Granville was a former Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon who later returned there as a Fullbright Scholar. He served in Kenya prior to his assignment in Sudan. He was 33 years old, and leaves behind his mother and sister, who reside outside Buffalo, NY, as well as many devoted friends and colleagues.

The solemn ceremony offers us an opportunity to remember and honor our fallen colleagues who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and to remind us of the extremely dangerous and difficult conditions that our Foreign Service personnel face today in many parts of the world. Our deepest sympathies and heartfelt gratitude go out to all their loved ones.

Deputy Secretary Negroponte will give the keynote address in the Dean Acheson Auditorium to the over 500 retirees who will be attending this year's Foreign Affairs Day, prior to the Plaque Ceremony.

Catching Up

Diplopundit rightly pointed out to me today that I had been silent for a few days. Blame the arrival of my new toy, my much anticipated laptop (I zapped the motherboard in my old one in December, and between waiting too months on the repair that ended up being impossible, the replacement that came with a bad motherboard, waiting to find that it could also not be fixed, and finally ordering and receiving my new one...I have been waiting 4 months. So I naturally wanted to load it up immediately).

So I am trying to do a bit of catching up, and Diplopundit has several pieces I want to call your attention to. This One, on State Magazine's "Post of the Month" series, is particularly interesting. I like the idea of a "Post Crisis of the Month" page. We all know the realities of our life, and that we don't live the cushy existence most outsiders think we do. And most of us think "Post of the Month" is a joke (we all laughed at one particular one, where the pictures were all from other places and the author's biggest selling point was how many places nearby were good to travel to). I think a "Post Crisis of the Month" would call attention to the hard work and risks people take to serve. Diplopundit, if you start the internet petition, I am in.

In the meantime, here is some of her post. You can read the entire post here.

Wanted: Post Crisis of the Month Page

The May issue of State Magazine contains an account of a two-day siege in February that Chad (N’Djamena) endured as rebels battled government forces in an attempt to topple President Idriss Deby Itno. In February 2, U.S. Embassy family members and non-essential personnel were evacuated by the military but the ambassador and essential embassy staff remained. ... You can read the entire piece here.


The "Post of the Month" has tarried beyond its welcome, to put it nicely. To continue to give it such prominence in this day and age is incongruent with the realities of our times. Consider the following facts: 1) unaccompanied posts have more than quadrupled in recent years, 2) it's only April and we already have xx number of posts evacuated. If you think something as harmless as the "Post of the Month" is trivial, you can think again after reading this piece from the Weekly Standard, whose author accused FS people of Living in a Dream World. I'm not advocating this change to make the writer happy and have him become the FS's BFF, mind you, but I do think that the change is necessary to reflect the current realities within the Service and in the world where we are living. If State starts soliciting contribution to the "Post Crisis of the Month" page, I can't imagine it running out of material anytime soon.

I went and took a look at that article, and it convinced me even more that Diplopundit it right. Here is a sample:

Here's a classic from the June 2004 State: The economic-commercial officer at the U.S. embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka, writes that "What's been billed as 'the best place in South Asia to live' is also the site of a brutal 20‑year war that's left approximately 64,000 dead." Still, "if Sri Lanka could settle its conflict peacefully, it could be a model for the region and the world."

Indeed. And if North Korea gave its people freedom and embraced democracy, it could be as successful as South Korea.

Certain diplomats evince a strange nostalgia: "Armenia was once considered the Silicon Valley of the Soviet Union, providing advanced avionics for Soviet aircraft and supercomputers," the public affairs officer in Yerevan explained in February 2005. Ah yes, things were great for the Armenians under Soviet rule. Housing for diplomats under communism? Less great.

Take Mongolia: "Until 2002, embassy staffers lived mainly in a Communist-era apartment block near the chancery affectionately known as 'Faulty Towers.' Today, almost all staff members live in Czech-designed townhouses or apartments in a modern, gated housing compound 15 minutes from the embassy," the political and public affairs officer wrote in a June 2007 feature. Diplomats there, we learn, can even enjoy pizza delivery.


Not all in State is fluff, though. The bearers of the American standard are vigilant for democratic progress. Like the crucified in Monty Python's Life of Brian, they are in a quest requiring that they always look on the bright side of life: In a February 2007 feature on Cambodia, the family member of a diplomat noted that "Cambodia is enjoying a measure of peace and stability it has not seen in more than a generation"--a low hurdle, if ever there was one. Yes, Cambodia is in the bottom tier of Freedom House rankings, but "criminal charges were dropped against some political opponents."

You can read Michael Rubin's entire piece here. And I ask you consider what this sort of perception means for us in a time when we are strapped for funding and personnel and when Americans accuse us of whining and being unpatriotic for publically protesting assignments to Iraq. I think it is high time we show Americans, even in our own in-house publication, what life is really like for us and that we are not nearly as out of touch as they think. And to let Americans continue to think so is only to our detriment.

Nothing New Here

We got a new cable today on employment of Eligible Family Members (EFMs) and Members of Household. Here is the pertinent paragragh:

"8. If no U.S. Citizen EFMs apply, or if none is fully qualified after the HR eligibility and qualifications review and interview with the supervisor, then HR may staff the position with a U.S. Citizen Member of Household(MOH) or other Ordinarily Resident U.S. Citizen eligibleto obtain the required security clearance. HR may staff the position for a fixed term of two years, or the maximum amount of time local labor law allows termination without cause (without a reason). At the end of the fixed-termposition, HR may readvertise the position open only to USEFMs."

So basically this means that Members of Household (same-sex partners, unmarried opposite sex partners, adult children of the employee, etc) will continue to not be allowed to apply for any job which a qualifed EFM wants, even if the MOH is MORE qualified. And they will be given NO PREFERENCE over ordinary Americans living in the country, even though they are at post not because they wanted to live somewhere other than America but because their partner (and them by extension) is serving the country. And bear in mind that folks living overseas with the FS are on a government salary, so often these kinds of jobs make a huge difference in terms of the income of a family (gay or straight).

Just one more way that gays and lesbians are treated as less than their straight collegues even in the service to the country.

Well That's Another Way to Put It

Foreign Policy Passport discusses an issue I mentioned a few days ago, the fact that we will still have folks living in trailers at AmEmbassy Baghdad.

New Baghdad embassy will be part trailer park

Two weeks ago, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker announced that diplomats and staff could finally move into the massive, new U.S. embassy as early as May. But thanks to a gross underestimation of housing needs, some embassy staff will be forced to remain in their trailers until more rooftop-protected housing can be secured inside the compound.

Apparently this snafu resulted from housing figures, calculated in 2005, that failed to predict the more than doubling in embassy staff that occured between the start and end of the embassy's construction.

To make matters worse, a portion of the staff that will remain in the trailers, currently parked behind Saddam Hussein's former palace (turned U.S. command center) will not be provided with rooftop reinforcement. They will receive some "enhanced protection," though (read: sandbags).

Without rooftop coverage, the Green Zone's looking like an awfully rough place to be these days.

Diplopundit commented on the news too, and included a link to a Newsweek article on it: You can read her entire post here.

Iraq's Unsafe Haven

Yesterday in a Newsweek web exclusive, Lennox Samuels has a piece about Baghdad 's Green Zone as the latest battleground in the struggle for Iraq and writes in part:"More than 1,000 State Department and military staffers work in the American Embassy...Most live in trailers on the palace grounds, and many of them began sleeping in the embassy when the bombardments began and have yet to return to their trailer beds. "There have been cots all over the embassy and people sleeping in stairwells and hallways," says a State Department analyst who would not be named discussing embassy matters. Many are afraid to sleep in their cramped metal containers, which are considered flimsy and inadequately protected. The trailers sit next to each other in rows of two, three or more. A rocket destroyed a row of trailers and people were "just freaked out," says the embassy staffer. "If somebody had given me a gun and told me 'five guys are coming to kill you,' that would have been preferable to going to sleep in this tin can not knowing if you're going to wake up," adds the embassy analyst.


Meanwhile, diplomats are taking no chances. As the attacks continued into Monday afternoon, with a projectile apparently landing near the U.S. Embassy grounds, staffers there were issued a memo discouraging them from driving around the Zone and recommending that they keep "Personal Protective Equipment" readily available in living quarters. "Personnel should minimize time outside as much as possible," the memo said. "… It is recommended you spend as much time as possible in hardened facilities with overhead cover. It is also recommended that you sleep in hardened facilities with overhead cover … If you decide to sleep in your trailer, please remember that your ability to quickly react could save your life." Click here to read the entire article.

Well There Go My Vacation Plans...

Foreign Policy Passport has this interesting piece:

Lesbians upset
I am not making this up. Some people from the Greek island of Lesbos are suing to prevent a gay rights group from using the word "lesbian":

The man spearheading the case, publisher Dimitris Lambrou, claims that international dominance of the word in its sexual context violates the human rights of the islanders, and disgraces them around the world.

He says it causes daily problems to the social life of Lesbos's inhabitants.