Sunday, August 31, 2008

I'm Back and Gons is Gone

Just got back from vacation last night and am working my way through any interesting Foreign Service news I may have missed while I was gone (dial-up access does not make for easy web searching, so I didn't bother trying).

This morning I learned that our "friend" Gons Nachman was sentenced for his sexual encounters with children while representing our country overseas in the foreign service. I'm pleased with the outcome. You can read the whole story here, but I have quoted some of it below:

Ex-US diplomat gets 20 years for child porn
By MATTHEW BARAKAT, Associated Press Writer

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - An ex-U.S. diplomat who admitted taping his sexual encounters with teenage girls while stationed in Brazil and the Congo was sentenced Friday to 20 years, the maximum possible prison term.

Gons G. Nachman, 42, had sought leniency, claiming among other things that cultural differences in those countries made sex with teenage girls more acceptable.

But U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee took the unusual step of imposing consecutive 10-year terms for the two counts on which Nachman was convicted.

"I reject out of hand completely the idea that I should take into account cultural differences," Lee said. He said even if such differences exist, Nachman was answerable to U.S. standards and U.S. law while working as a diplomat on embassy grounds.

Nachman pleaded guilty earlier this year to possessing child pornography after admitting he videotaped his sexual encounters while working as a consular officer. He also pleaded guilty to misuse of a diplomatic passport.

The case also included allegations that he pressured attractive female Brazilian visa applicants for sex, though he was not charged with that.

Nachman, a naturalized U.S. citizen who came to the U.S. from Costa Rica when he was 17, admitted that he recorded his sexual encounters with a 17-year-old girl in 2004 and a 14-year-old girl in 2005 while stationed in Kinshasa. One of the tapes was labeled "Congo 2004 Sexual Adventures."

He also admitted recording his sex acts with a 16-year-old Brazilian girl while stationed in Rio de Janeiro in 2006.


Nachman wept after hearing the sentence. His attorneys had suggested the six months he has already spent in prison would be sufficient.

In court, Nachman apologized to his victims and the U.S. Foreign Service.

"I've had this self-centered streak that has caused me to be where I am," he said.

His apology stood in contrast to letters he wrote after his guilty plea to the Foreign Service director seeking intervention on his behalf. He said he was unfairly targeted because he had been active in the nudist community and threatened to take the story about the "injustice" of his case to the international press.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Temporary Hiatus

My posts will be pretty limited for the next week, primarily because I currently only have dialup.

See you next week when I am back on DSL.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Yet Another Small Victory for MOHs

This past week, I told you about Members of Household (MOHs) being allowed to take some limited training, including some language training. Now, they are also allowed to assist their partners if that partner is med-evaced from a unaccompanied post.

In English, that means IF a Foreign Service Officer or Specialist is serving at a post where family members are not allowed to join them (unaccompanied post) and gets injured or ill and has to be evacuated to better medical facilities; and IF that officer or specialist requires the assistance of a family member; and IF the same-sex partner has a medical or durable power of attorney for the officer or specialist (Eligible Family Members, such as opposite sex spouses do not need to meet this last criteria because they get the right to make medical decisions by virtue of their marriage...just one of those more than 1200 rights married people get that same-sex spouses don't, but I digress...), THEN the Department will fly that person out to whereever the officer or specialist was evacuated to in order to assist that person in getting their medical needs met.

It is a small step, and a humane one. Infuriating that it has to be so spelled out, but at least it is a move in the right direction.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Former Diplomats Endorsing Obama

I have avoided discussing the upcoming presidential elections for obvious reasons.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter professionally. As Foreign Service Officers, our job is to carry out the foreign policy of the president, no matter who that president is. It is one of those deal breakers. If you can't do it, regardless of your own opinion, look elsewhere for employment. What this means is that every single foreign service officer either has or will serve under a president with whom he or she doesn't agree. It is the nature of our service, and most of us, me included, are okay with that. It also, in my experience, has meant that some of the most civil and intelligently argued political disagreements I have had have been with other FSOs. It is one of the things I like about the service. Politics are not neccessarily personal.

That said, I didn't feel like I could not mention something discussed on several of the blogs I read regularly. There is now a new group of more than 200 former Foreign Service Officers who have started Foreign Policy Professionals for Obama. Among them is Avuncular American, who I regularly read and occassionally quote, and WhirledView, who falls into that same category for me, has been asked to sign on as well. Undiplomatic endorses it but hasn't signed on because he was a political appointee and not an FSO.

Obviously, I make no recommendations about Foreign Policy Professionals for Obama other than to remind current FSOs that this is a group for former FSOs and they should carefully read the Hatch Act before becoming involved with any political campaign. But if you would like to read more about the group, you can do so here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Another Small Victory for MOHs

This week, the Director General of the Foreign Service sent out a cable making a few more training opportunities available to Members of Household.

Now Members of Household, including same-sex partners of Foreign Service Officers and Specialists, are allowed to take Distance Learning and FAST language course at the Foreign Service Institute on a space-available basis. Included in this will be access to the pre-deployment course for the spouses of those going to Iraq.

They are small victories, to be sure, but still significant. I think the general 10-week FAST courses are particularly important, in that they give the MOH the ability to function a little better in country. Not a full language course like spouses can get, but certainly a start.

One step at a time.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

PC: America: Prone to War, Not Diplomacy

I found this today at Political Cartel.

America: Prone to War, Not Diplomacy


As for larger issues, such as the rise of China, an approach that advocates the position taken by international theorist John Ikenberry should serve as a model for future U.S. foreign policy. Instead of antagonizing a rising China by focusing on a build-up of arms and an increase in military spending, the U.S. should seek to encourage and cradle China’s absorption into the Western institutional mold. Unlike any time in history, a rising superpower will face a well-established international order with existing institutions and well-established norms. This provides the world (specifically the U.S.) with the opportunity to prove wrong the hegemonic stability theory in favor of a peaceful absorption. The international world doesn’t have to change. There exists already the necessary tools and institutions to make China’s ascension to superpower status a peaceful and relatively harmonious event. Instead of viewing China’s rise of a threat, and thus a reason to spend more on military aggrandizement, the U.S. should seek to expand its diplomatic corps and work to bridge cultural gaps and mend ill feelings.

Let it be known that this write-up isn’t a dove advocates apologetic. I understand that the pressure for a strong and large military is perceived as a must for the United States and, in many ways, a necessity. But the disproportional figures between military spending and diplomatic investment are staggering. I can only hope that future administrations, whoever they are, will put a renewed focus on the virtue of engagement and breathe a new life into American diplomacy.

You can read the entire piece here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Charleston Post-Courier: Pay More for Diplomacy

This piece is a little dated, but the Charleston Post and Courier is a paper that is near and dear to my heart, so I had to post it.

Pay more for diplomacy
Monday, July 21, 2008

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been rightly warning the president, Congress and the nation since last year that U.S. policy in developing nations places too much reliance on the military and not enough on diplomacy.

He repeated that advice last week in a headline-grabbing speech warning of the "creeping militarization" of American foreign policy. According to The Washington Post, Mr. Gates said that in the next 20 years, "The most persistent and potentially dangerous threats will come less from emerging ambitious states, than from failing ones that cannot meet the basic needs — much less the aspirations — of their people."

"We cannot kill or capture our way to victory" in future campaigns against terrorists and other destabilizing forces, he said. "Broadly speaking, when it comes to America's engagement with the rest of the world, it is important that the military is — and is clearly seen to be — in a supporting role to civilian agencies."

The defense secretary's assessment was echoed two days later by a non-governmental aid organization, Refugees International, in a report saying that American aid to Africa is becoming increasingly militarized and short-term in its priorities at the expense of longer-term development.

Mr. Gates, in his speech, returned to a theme he first expounded in a speech last year at Kansas State University. There he said, "We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military. There is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on civilian instruments of national security — diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development."

This week he observed that the budget increases for the State Department and the Agency for International Development since 2001 have largely been eaten up by the costs of heightened security for embassies and other missions, and by the declining dollar.

"America's civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long — relative to what we traditionally spend on the military, and more importantly, relative to the responsibilities and challenges our nation has around the world," Mr. Gates said.

Mr. Gates's complaint has been frequently heard in the past 60 years. What makes his comments particularly arresting is that they come from the head of the defense establishment, not from the Foreign Service.

They should get the full attention of the next president and Congress, recognizing that when diplomacy succeeds, armies don't have to fight.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Kristof: Make Diplomacy, Not War

This was in yesterday's NY Times op-ed section:

Make Diplomacy, Not War


Iraq and Afghanistan are the messes getting attention today, but they are only symptoms of a much broader cancer in American foreign policy.

A few glimpses of this larger affliction:

* The United States has more musicians in its military bands than it has diplomats.

* This year alone, the United States Army will add about 7,000 soldiers to its total; that’s more people than in the entire American Foreign Service.

* More than 1,000 American diplomatic positions are vacant because the Foreign Service is so short-staffed, but a myopic Congress is refusing to finance even modest new hiring. Some 1,100 could be hired for the cost of a single C-17 military cargo plane.

In short, the United States is hugely overinvesting in military tools and underinvesting in diplomatic tools. The result is a lopsided foreign policy that antagonizes the rest of the world and is ineffective in tackling many modern problems.

After all, you can’t bomb global warming.

Incredibly, the most eloquent spokesman for more balance between “hard power” and “soft power” is Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Mr. Gates, who is superb in repairing the catastrophe left behind by Donald Rumsfeld, has given a series of astonishing speeches in which he calls for more resources for the State Department and aid agencies.

“One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win,” Mr. Gates said. He noted that the entire American diplomatic corps — about 6,500 people — is less than the staffing of a single aircraft carrier group, yet Congress isn’t interested in paying for a larger Foreign Service.


With the Olympics unfolding in China now, the Navy and the Air Force are seizing upon China’s rise as an excuse to grab tens of billions of dollars for the F-22, for an advanced destroyer, for new attack submarines. But we’re failing to invest minuscule sums to build good will among Chinese.


Then there’s the Middle East. Dennis Ross, the longtime Middle East peace negotiator, says he has been frustrated “beyond belief” to see resources showered on the military while diplomacy has to fight for scraps. Mr. Ross argues that an investment of just $1 billion — financing job creation and other grass-roots programs in the West Bank — could significantly increase the prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian peace. But that money isn’t forthcoming.


The next president should absorb that lesson and revalidate diplomacy as the primary tool of foreign policy — even if that means talking to ogres. Take Iran. Until recently, the American officials in charge of solving the Iranian problem were not even allowed to meet Iranians.

“We need to believe in the power of American diplomacy, and we should not believe a military conflict with Iran is inevitable,” said Nicholas Burns, until recently the under secretary of state for political affairs and for three years the government’s point person on Iran. “Our first impulse should be a serious and patient and persistent diplomatic effort. Too often in our national debate we focus on the military option and give short shrift to the diplomatic option.”

So here’s a first step: Let’s agree that diplomats should be every bit as much of an American priority as musicians in military bands.

You can read Kristof's entire piece here.

Connecting the Dots shares Kristof's (and Digger's) frustration with the staffing levels of the Foreign Service when compared with the military, particularly as we have seen increasing threats to global stability in Pakistan and the Republic of Georgia. CDT notes: "All of this will require foreign-service brains, expertise and experience but, as Kristof points out, the US has more musicians in its military bands than diplomats."

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Honoring Those Lost

Ten years ago today, terrorists bombed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. At least 213 people, including 12 Americans, died in Nairobi, and another 4000 or so people were injured. Forty four of the dead were American Embassy employees (12 Americans and 32 Foreign Service National employees). Eleven people died in the Dar es Salaam explosion, and at least a hundred were injured there. Neither embassy had a setback. Had it not been for the bravery of unarmed FSNs in Nairobi keeping the terrorists outside the embassy compound, many more would have died.

The Department is having a memorial ceremony this morning to honor their sacrifice. There will also be ceremonies honoring the victims at both of the embassies. You can read more about those ceremonies here.

You can read more about the attacks at Diplopundit and Dead Men Working. Diplopundit's post contains the names of each of the victims and links to more information about them. Great Diversions reminds us that 9/11 was not our wake-up call. It came three years earlier.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

But MOHs Need Not Apply

Great Diversions mentions the good news that the State Department finally got some money to hire more diplomats than the rate of attrition:

The Department of State finally received a little extra funding that can be used toward hiring. A State cable (or telegram…yes…we still use telegrams) came out recently announcing how the Department will use some of the funds it received from the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2008. The good news, especially if you’re looking to join the Foreign Service, is that some of that money will be used to hire 140 new Officers above attrition rates.

This increase in hiring represents the first increase over attrition in FSO generalists since 2004. In an age where even the Secretary of Defense says we need to hire more diplomats, this comes as welcome news and hopefully is a sign of more money in the future. In addition to hiring more FSOs, some of the money will be used to hire over 100 Eligible Family Members (the spouses and adults children of diplomats overseas) into new positions.

Of course, Members of Household don't count as Eligible Family Members. So none of those 100 jobs will be open to same-sex partners of diplomats. In fact, same-sex partners of diplomats when applying for any job at a consulate or embassy where their partner is serving must first allow EFMs to apply and if there is no qualified EFM available, must compete with every other ex-pat in the community. Even though they are in country because their partner is serving the country, something not true of most ex-pats.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The One That Got Away

I hope they catch him and lock him away forever. Or lock him in a room with the families of those lost. Or in a room with anyone in the Foreign Service.

Kenya: U.S. embassy bomb suspect flees raid

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) -- One of the FBI's most wanted terrorists escaped a raid over the weekend, Kenyan police said Monday.

Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, indicted in the United States for alleged involvement in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, managed to evade police in a raid Saturday morning in Malindi, along Kenya's coast, said police spokesman Eric Kiraithe.

The United States calls Mohammed a senior al Qaeda operative in East Africa.

U.S. officials accuse him of being an architect of the embassy bombings that killed 225 people.

They also believe Mohammed was involved in attacks on an Israeli-owned hotel and airliner in Kenya in 2002.

You can read the entire piece here.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Gates Seeking "Eggheads"

This is an extension of the human terraine mapping teams, which hires anthropologists and other social scientists to work with the military to better understand the folks in Afghanistan and Iraq. I was asked to apply for one of the positions. But given that one of my anthropology professors had already referred to me joining the Foreign Service as "going to work for the government's war machine," and given that the anthropologists working on these teams and getting these grants have trouble ever working in anthropology again, I opted against it. Anthropology got a bad rep for working with governments to the detriment of the people they were studying at the inception of the discipline. So this raises alarm bells in the anthropological community. And I'd like to be able to go back there someday. But as one of those "eggheads," I found the article interesting.

Military's Social Science Grants Raise Alarm

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is calling on "eggheads" to help the military unravel questions about the recruitment of terrorists, the resurgence of the Taliban and messages delivered in militant Muslim religious schools.

Many eggheads are wary.

The Pentagon's $50 million Minerva Research Initiative, named after the Roman goddess of wisdom and warriors, will fund social science research deemed crucial to national security. Initial proposals were due July 25, and the first grants are expected to be awarded by year's end.

But the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, which includes professors from American and George Mason universities, said dependence on Pentagon funding could make universities an "instrument rather than a critic of war-making."

In a May 28 letter to federal officials, the American Anthropological Association said that it was of "paramount importance . . . to study the roots of terrorism and other forms of violence" but that its members are "deeply concerned that funding such research through the Pentagon may pose a potential conflict of interest."


You can read the entire article here.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Massachusetts lets out-of-state gay couples marry

Of course, the Foreign Service will still not recognize these folks as married, but hope springs eternal. You can read the entire Associated Press piece here.

Massachusetts lets out-of-state gay couples marry


Supporters of the repeal of the law, which banned couples from marrying in Massachusetts unless their unions would be legal in their home states, say lifting the ban was not only fair but will have economic benefits.

A state study estimates that more than 30,000 out-of-state gay couples — most of them from New York — will wed in Massachusetts over the next three years. That would boost the state's economy by $111 million and create 330 jobs, the study estimated.


Patrick, the state's first black governor, said he was proud to sign the bill repealing the law, which some say had its roots in trying to block interracial marriages.

Massachusetts in 2003 became the first state to rule gay couples had a right to marry; California recently legalized gay marriage, without a residency requirement.

"In five years now, the sky has not fallen, the earth has not opened to swallow us all up, and more to the point, thousands and thousands of good people — contributing members of our society — are able to make free decisions about their personal future, and we ought to seek to affirm that every chance we can," said Patrick, whose 18-year-old daughter recently revealed publicly she's a lesbian.


Opponents said the ban prevented Massachusetts from interfering with the decisions of other states — the overwhelming majority of which specifically bar same-sex marriage. The old law had been invoked by then-Gov. Mitt Romney, who said repealing it would make Massachusetts the "Las Vegas of gay marriage."


Asked if the change in Massachusetts might create legal problems for couples returning to states with gay marriage bans, Patrick said: "What we can do is tend our own garden and make sure that it's weeded, and I think we've weeded out a discriminatory law."