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11 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:03 am

September 11, 2001

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was in New York City to interview some job candidates at my then-employer, Amnesty International USA.  As I walked from my hotel to the AIUSA office, I came upon  dozens of New Yorkers standing on the sidewalk outside a McDonald’s on the corner of 28th Street and 6th Avenue, staring at something going on downtown.

When I looked up, I saw that the North Tower of the World Trade Center was on fire.  Nobody around me knew what had happened.  I pulled out my cell phone and called a friend to tell her to turn on CNN.  As we were chatting, I started yelling into the phone — “Oh shit oh shit oh God oh no no no. . . .”  As I and all those around me watched in horror, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower.

Before the day was out, I saw first the South Tower and then the North Tower collapse.  I watched as a convoy of dozens of ambulances raced down 8th Avenue.  I stood in the door of a neighborhood delicatessen as hundreds of soot-covered residents trudged past.  I consoled friends and colleagues who lost loved ones in the collapse. I saw a city I loved turn into a silent ghostly shell of itself.

I also had spent much of the day desperately trying to reach friends in Washington to make sure they were okay.  When the attacks had just taken place, there were dozens of what later turned out to be false alarms.  CNN reported was that a car bomb had destroyed the northwestern corner of the State Department — which was where my office had been and where many of my friends still worked.

That night, as a result of a tip from a friend still in government, I managed to get on one of the few trains leaving New York for Washington.  Sitting across from me for the first two stops was a firefighter who had lost over half of the members of his company.  The trip took a lot longer than it normally did — we must have stopped at least a half-dozen times while engineers checked the tracks to make sure nothing was wrong.

That train felt like a refugee convoy – except these refugees wore suits, carried suitcases, and kept trying to use their non-functioning cell phones.  The trip turned into a discordant symphony of repeated “call failed” signals.

I returned home to a city under siege, with military police in armored personnel carriers patrolling the streets around the Union Station.  Although that worried me, my main emotion was relief that I made it home.  But when I got there, I couldn’t go to sleep.  Instead I stayed up almost all night, watching CNN replay the days’ events over and over and over again.

I am not a “survivor” of September 11.  My life was never at risk, and none of those I love died.  I have no right to speak on behalf of those who lost their lives or loved ones on that sad day.

For the next few months, that’s what I kept telling myself:  what happened to me wasn’t that bad.  But then I started to have trouble sleeping.  When I did manage to get to sleep, I dreamed of planes crashing into my apartment building.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but these were symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD is “an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened.”  Those suffering from PTSD often have flashbacks in which they believe the traumatic incident is happening again, as well as other symptoms.

That’s what happened to me.  That’s what the dreams were about: planes I could see coming but couldn’t stop.  I had no trouble getting on a plane or flying, but the sight of planes in the air freaked me out.  Living near the Potomac River, which is the approach path used by commercial airlines flying into Washington National, became a nightmare.  Planes come in low and fast, and often look as if they’re veering towards the city.  Every time I saw one, I would panic.  A couple of times, I had to pull off the road.

There were also other symptoms, ones that weren’t as obvious but which often manifested themselves in unexpected ways. I got angry a lot — irrationally and blindly angry — often for no reason.  I became moody.  I snapped at people –- no, I yelled at people.  Folks didn’t want to be around me.  I withdrew from the world.

The good news is that I got better.  Thanks to a wonderful therapist and caring friends (especially my future wife), I was able to understand what I was going through and start taking the necessary steps to get better.  After some bumps in the road, including one significant relapse triggered by a completely unrelated incident (also not uncommon among those with PTSD), I no longer have the dreams, get angry for no reason, or panic at the sight of planes over the Potomac.

What I wonder is whether my country — our country — also has gotten better.

There’s another moment that day that I still remember.  After I got off my cell phone that morning, when I and all those around me were still not sure what had happened, a woman next to me noticed the Amnesty pin on the lapel of my jacket.  She asked me if I worked for Amnesty and when I said yes, she said “Good luck.  You’re going to need it.  We’re all going to need it.”

I had no idea how right she was.

We have, over the past seven years, suffered from a collective form of PTSD, one from which we have yet to recover fully.  It manifests itself in many ways:  the fear of the other, the blanket hatred of Muslims and Arabs (and, for a brief period of deep insanity, even Sikhs), the irrational anger, the use of torture and other heretofore unspeakable acts.

Is it too soon to suggest that we need to move on?

We must find a way to continue mourning those who lost their lives but stop trying to revenge their deaths.  We must remember that we were wronged but stop using it as an excuse to inflict harm on innocents.  We must recognize that what happened that day, horrible though it was, cannot justify moral relativism or situational ethics.  We must accept that we do not honor the dead by undermining our values or abrogating our freedoms.

I believe that we as a nation can do these things.  I believe that we can get beyond the symptoms of our collective stress disorder and start living our lives again — without fear, without anger, and with acceptance.

But we’re not there yet.

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war, world at home | 0 Comments

10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:15 pm

The Foreign Service and America’s Diversity

Yesterday, Condoleezza Rice delivered a keynote speech at the annual conference of something called the White House Initiative on National Historically Black Colleges and Universities.   Here’s what she had to say.

I have lamented that I can go into a meeting at the Department of State — and as a matter fact I can go into a whole day of meetings at the Department of State — and actually rarely see somebody who looks like me. And that is just not acceptable. . . . Because when I go around the world I want to see black Americans involved in the promotion and development of our foreign policy. I want to see a Foreign Service that looks as if black Americans are part of this great country.

She’s right.  Off the top of my head, I can think of three African-American foreign service officers I’ve dealt with over the years.  That’s ridiculous.

I could offer a long explanation of why diversity in the foreign service is important, but Life after Jerusalem already has done a better job than I could do:

As an American Indian, I am painfully aware that there are only 35 American Indians in all of the Department of State. So when Secretary Rice says she can go through a whole day and see few people who look like her, I get it. I see none. And I don’t believe, and I doubt she does, that the reason for this is that “white administrators refuse to hire them.” I do think there are plenty of qualified African Americans and American Indians out there who just don’t know that the State Department is an option. I certainly didn’t, and never even considered it until my partner joined.

What I think she is saying, and I agree, is that we need to make a conscious effort to reach out to other communities. No one is saying to hire blacks or Indians for their color. But maybe we could recruit a little better at traditionally black or Indian universities to let them know of the opportunities at State. Because the Foreign Service SHOULD look like America. The Foreign Service has been accused of being “pale, male and Yale.” We should send men and women of all hues, religions, sexual orientations, etc., abroad to represent us because that is what America is.

I would only add that by looking more like America, a more diverse foreign service also would look more like the world.  Many folks around the world have no idea that the United States is anything other than white and black.

To cite one example, one of the things that made Harold Hongju Koh such an effective Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor is that other governments had a very hard time suggesting to him that the United States was racist. The Chinese, in particular, just hated the fact that they had to go toe-to-toe with an Asian American.

Like LAJ, I’m not suggesting that we should appoint people just because they are a certain gender, skin color, or sexual orientation.  Harold was A/S because he was the single most effective human rights advocate ever to hold the job, not because he happened not to be white.  By celebrating all that is American, we also demonstrate to the world much that is great about America.

Hat tip:  Life after Jerusalem

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9 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:15 pm

Compare and Contrast: Libya

Here’s what the State Department’s most recent human rights report has to say about Libya:

The Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is an authoritarian regime with a population of approximately six million, ruled by Colonel Mu’ammar al‑Qadhafi since 1969. . . .Qadhafi and his inner circle monopolized political power. . . . The government’s human rights record remained poor. Citizens did not have the right to change their government. Reported torture, arbitrary arrest, and incommunicado detention remained problems. The government restricted civil liberties and freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. The government did not fully protect the rights of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. Other problems included poor prison conditions; impunity for government officials; lengthy political detention; denial of fair public trial; infringement of privacy rights; restrictions of freedom of religion; corruption and lack of transparency; societal discrimination against women, ethnic minorities, and foreign workers; trafficking in persons; and restriction of labor rights.

Now here’s what our favorite government blog, Dippynote said after The Condi finished her Weekend at Moammar’s:

Libya’s journey to rejoin the community of nations came after a long process of reengagement. Its historic 2003 decisions to voluntarily rid itself of its WMD program and renounce terrorism created the foundation from which Libya has today become a leader in Africa and a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. . . .Today, Libya is a vital partner in the fight against terrorism, helping to stem the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq. It works closely with its neighbors to combat the growth of terrorism in the Sahara and Trans-Sahel regions.

Libya is also a leader on the African continent. It maintains a humanitarian corridor that provides much needed supplies to the people of Darfur. Working with the African Union Contact Group, it is helping to mediate the conflicts in Chad and Sudan. Additionally, Libya provides development assistance to other African countries. . . .

The U.S. and Libya have shared interests, but have also differed at times on some key policy points and use of diplomatic tools. Naturally, we would prefer to have their support on some of these issues, but it is noteworthy that Libya — which serves as a model to others — voted in favor of placing additional sanctions against Iran for its non-compliance with international efforts to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.  Libya has come a long way in its transformation from an isolated pariah to renewed membership in the international community.

One of these things is not like the other.

By the way, this is the sixth consecutive Dippynote post on Libya.  That’s more than the total number of posts on Iraq (five) since the beginning of April — and equal to the number of posts on Afghanistan (six) since Dipnote began.  And they wonder why nobody takes them seriously?

Here’s the best part:  it’s very likely that the two statements above were written by the same person — Amanda Johnson, a Libya Desk Officer in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA).  Ms. Johnson is identified as the author of the Dippynote piece, and since there was no diplomatic presence in Tripoli at the time of the last human rights report, it probably would have fallen to Ms. Johnson to prepare the first draft of that report.

This is what drives me bananas about the State Department. I have no beef with Ms. Johnson, who in all likelihood is a fine foreign service officer.  But given her age (she says in the Dipnote piece that she was born in 1977), she is in all likelihood a fairly junior one.  And junior foreign service officers — those without tenure — might as well be party apparatchiks for all the influence they have on the policymaking process:  they either toe the party line or find themselves out of a job.

In Ms. Johnson’s case, that means writing something highly critical of Condi’s creepy stalker boyfriend wannabe, and then, eight months later, being told to write something highly complementary.  It’s no wonder that foreign service officers get cynical about political appointees — and about the U.S. government’s commitment to human rights.

So which one is right?  Let me offer you the following hint:  the happier the tone, the bigger the lie.

| posted in foreign policy, politics, world at home | 1 Comment

9 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 am

Cuba and the United States: Politics over Principle

As I’ve noted before, I despise the Castro regime (both its Fidel and Raul editions).  I spent a year in the early 1990s documenting its use of psychiatric institutions to detain and torture human rights advocates and regime critics.  But I also oppose the U.S. embargo — I agree with the position held by many of the brave human rights and democracy activists on the island, who believe that it is one of the few things propping up the current regime.

So I have to say I was not surprised at the following report:

After days of pressure by certain Cuban exile leaders on the Bush Administration to temporarily lift travel and money remittance restrictions to Cuba to aid storm victims, the State Department has finally delivered a response.  The answer is no, the federal government will not lift restrictions that limit Cuban exiles to visiting close relatives in Cuba once every three years and sending up to $300 every three months.

In a statement issued Friday, the office of the State Department spokesman had this to say in direct response to the pleas for lifting restrictions: “We do not believe that at this time it is necessary to loosen the restrictions on remittances and travel to Cuba to accomplish the objective of aiding the hurricane victims.Non-governmental organizations on the ground in Cuba are already mobilizing to provide such assistance.”

The issue arose last week when three prominent members of the Cuban exile community, Ramon Saul Sanchez of the Democracy Movement and congressional Democratic Party candidates Raul Martinez and Joe Garcia called on President Bush to lift the restrictions. Then Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama endorsed the exile appeals. A bipartisan group of congressional leaders, four Republicans and three Democrats, issued a separate statement urging the U.S. government to send aid directly to storm victims. The Republicans included the two incumbents Martinez and Garcia are challenging: Lincoln and his brother Mario Diaz-Balart.

So let me get this straight.  The Cuban exile community supports the temporary lifting of the embargo to facilitate the delivery of relief to the victims of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, but the Bush Administration refused — in all likelihood because they’re trying to placate the Cuban exile community.

The ongoing stupidities of this Administration will never cease to amaze me.

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19 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:30 pm

State Department Watch: Fed up with Bush?

In my three years as a political appointee in the Clinton Administration, I often butted heads with foreign service officers over a variety of issues.  Let’s just say that desk officers didn’t necessarily share my Bureau’s belief that human rights should be a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy.  To be fair, they didn’t necessarily disdain such issues, they just thought other things like American economic interests should also be taken into account.

So I’m not completely uncritical of the foreign service.  There’s a lot that could be done to improve it.  But even when I disagreed with FSOs, I always felt that they were worthy of my respect.  Most Americans have no idea that our diplomats often work in harrowing conditions, risking their lives in order to advance American interests and serve their country.

In that context, I wanted to draw attention to a letter that will come out tomorrow from a group of former foreign service officers** known as Foreign Policy Professionals for Obama:

We are a diverse group of over 200 former Foreign Service officers. Each of us has had extensive experience in implementing the international affairs and national security policies of both Republican and Democratic administrations. We have first hand knowledge of the grave multiple challenges of the Cold War, a period of peril but one in which the United States wore with honor the mantle of leadership. In cooperation with other democracies, and dialog with countries that were not, our nation found solutions to problems which seemed intractable. Senator Obama can place our nation again in that position of trust, credibility and respect.

With him, we call for a return to the successful reliance on bipartisan cooperation at home and close coordination on the use of active diplomacy with our friends and allies abroad, to face the challenges posed by those who are neither. We have watched with profound regret the frequent, costly failures of the current administration to apply these fundamental principles.

We, the undersigned, are firmly convinced that new American leadership is critical at this juncture in world history. We urge Americans, regardless of party affiliation, to select as our next president Senator Barack Obama, a leader with courage, intelligence, energy, a fresh perspective and a focus on the future. We believe based on our long foreign policy experience that he has the qualities needed to restore American leadership, credibility and respect in the world, the persona to make bipartisanship a possibility once again, and the judgment and vision to set our nation on the path to a better future.

As far as I know, FSOs are not overwhelmingly Republican or Democratic (if anyone knows differently, please diabuse me).  As public servants, they understand that their job is to implement, not interpret, a given President’s foreign policy.  But if you asked most, they would tell you that they prefer Presidents who build consensus at home and abroad.  That is, after all, the nature of diplomacy.

With that in mind, take a second look at the following sentences:

[W]e call for a return to the successful reliance on bipartisan cooperation at home and close coordination on the use of active diplomacy with our friends and allies abroad, to face the challenges posed by those who are neither. We have watched with profound regret the frequent, costly failures of the current administration to apply these fundamental principles.

In the world of diplomacy, that’s about as close to a smackdown as you’re ever going to see.  To call out a current President for his foreign policy blunders is just not done.  Usually, people who want to do that resign first.

I want to emphasize again that these are former officers, so the analogy isn’t perfect.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if a large majority of current FSOs share the sentiments expressed in this letter.  Just as U.S. troops currently deployed abroad have donated more money to Obama than McCain by a 6:1 margin, I would bet good money that FSOs currently serving overseas have similar giving patterns.

If I’m right, that marks an enormous sea change in less than eight years.  Most folks have forgotten now, but when Colin Powell arrived at the State Department in 2001, he was welcomed as a hero:

When Colin L. Powell took charge in Foggy Bottom last month, the new secretary of state delivered a rousing speech to his staff, promising an ambitious and expensive agenda for modernizing a department that has long complained it is strapped for cash.  The hundreds of employees who were present applauded and cheered.

Madeleine Albright was not a popular figure at State.  Many FSOs viewed her as remote, unsympathetic to their plight, and uninterested in the nuts and bolts of Department management.  A number of security snafus during her time there — which in turn led to some draconian new security measures — didn’t help matters.  (Just to be clear, I served under Albright and did not share all of these concerns.  But then again, I wasn’t a foreign service officer)  So when Powell came on board, he inherited a building ready for and willing to change.

But in the aftermath of September 11 — and particularly after the invasion of Iraq — not much new money came State’s way.  Modernizing diplomacy took a back seat to going to war.  The near-blank check given to DOD didn’t help; neither did the money poured into the new Department of Homeland Security.  But perhaps the greatest problem was that Powell ended up outside the decisionmaking process, frozen out by Cheney, Rumsfeld, and other key decisionmakers.

Few presidencies have ever demonstrated the contempt for the State Department, its employees, and its role that the Bush Administration does.  Only Nixon was worse.  Ironically, since the Eisenhower years, only two Secretaries of State have had a genuinely close working relationship with their President: Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice.

Powell (and Rice, to be fair) did devote some time to management issues, and as a result, the building has become a better place to work.  The Department has solved some of its computer issues; adjusted staffing at key posts to reflect the realities of the post-Cold War era (fewer FSOs in Germany and more in India, for example); and changed some of the outdated guidelines concerning FSO advancement.

But morale continues to sag, in large part because these largely cosmetic reforms cannot paper over Foggy Bottom’s profound unhappiness with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.  And as I have noted elsewhere, the post-Kenya/Tanzania/9-11 security-first mentality has made it far more difficult for FSOs stationed overseas to do their jobs.

The fundamental question, then, is will a President Obama (and his Secretary of State) pay enough attention (and devote the necessary resources) to fixing what ails Foggy Bottom?  Because if he doesn’t, he’s going to find it almost impossible to achieve his ambitious foreign policy goals.

Big honkin’ Tip of the Hat to Gerald Loftus at Avuncular American for pointing me to this story.  If don’t yet read his blog, check it out.

**Full disclosure:  I am not a signatory to the letter, as I’m not a former foreign service officer.  That said, I strongly agree with its sentiments and would be happy to sign it.

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14 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:45 pm

State Department Watch: The Bizarro Blog

I have found this blog’s Bizarro, its Spock with a beard:  the State Department’s blog.  Believe it or not, it’s called Dipnote.


I couldn’t make that up if I tried.

Is Foggy Bottom completely lacking in irony?

The main problem with Dipnote is that it’s boring, boring, boring, boring.  Watching paint dry is more interesting boring.  Ferris Bueller’s teacher droning on and on is better boring.  PTA meeting is less torture boring.  Tax audit is more fun boring.

Sorry, thought I was in one of those Yoplait commercials there for a second.

Almost none of Dipnote’s features are interesting or revealing (except in the sense that it shows the degree to which the Department can grind the originality out of anything).  I’m guessing that the mandarins at State have put so many clearance filters on this thing, that almost nothing of any value can get through.

Earlier this week, as Russia was pounding Georgia and Dubya was ogling volleyball babes visiting Beijing, Dipnote led with. . .wait for it. . .a story entitled “Youth Questions Lead to Environmental Action.”

Today is International Youth Day, and this year’s theme is appropriately titled, “Youth and Climate Change: A Time for Action.”

A few weeks ago the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science, Claudia A. McMurray, spoke to a group of about 400 high school students. These kids were from a number of different countries, as well as throughout the United States, and were one of several groups this summer that have come to the State Department to hear policy speeches on the U.S. government’s top issues. Assistant Secretary McMurray highlighted our Bureau’s work on climate change, illegal wildlife trafficking and illegal logging. She spoke about the U.S. commitment to developing a global solution to climate change that is both environmentally effective and economically sustainable, an agreement that would include participation from all major economies, including the United States.

That’s right:  to the State Department, having an Assistant Secretary talk to high schoolers is considered action on climate change.  Whoa.  What risk takers.

Those poor, poor kids.  They may never hear the words “State Department” again without screaming.

So what exactly does State think they’re accomplishing here?  The material is virtually unreadable.  Most of the posts appear to have been written by interns, fellows and junior public diplomacy officers (although, to be fair, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Sean McCormick has put his name on a few pieces).  About a third are merely a rehash of The Condi’s statements and op-eds. And almost all the comments come from about a dozen regulars, most of whom are Americans. And some of the commenters would be regarded as trolls on any other site.

It’s not really clear who their audience is, why they’re writing, or what they think they’re accomplishing.  I presume this must be a public diplomacy initiative, since it is still illegal for the U.S. Government to disseminate its “propaganda” domestically.  Yet they don’t seem to be reaching very many people (or at least they’re not showing up on Technorati or Google Analytics — something they might want to try to fix).

The posts are all over the place, displaying no common viewpoint or perspective, except maybe “look at this nice thing the State Department is doing.” That’s too bad, because I think there is potential value in the Department having a blog.  But it has to be more than this.

And I’m not sure they really understand the purpose of either blogging or social media.  On July 17, Editor-in-Chief, Heath Kern Gibson posted the following:

U.S. State Department and Social Media:  Tell Us What You Think


Last year, along with the creation of the Department’s own YouTube Channel, this blog signified the Department’s foray into social media. Since then, the Department has created a Flickr photos profile, began microblogging using Twitter, distributed audio and video podcasts to iTunes and others using ten RSS feeds, and last week, launched the Department’s first official Facebook page. We encourage you to explore these products and let us know how we can better utilize them.

There have been many books and articles written on the relationship between traditional media and foreign policy, with the question often asked as to what degree the news media influences foreign policymakers and vice versa. What has not been discussed as much is the impact of social media on policymaking and the foreign affairs community.

It may not be quite clear yet as to what impact social media will have exactly on foreign policymaking. What is evident, though, is that foreign policy does not operate in a vacuum, and it must incorporate or respond to changes in communications. We are interested in your thoughts on how social media — how these changes in communication — will affect foreign policymaking in the years ahead.

Two words I never thought I’d see together:  diplomats tweeting.

Unfortunately, Gibson almost immediately got smacked down for even posing the question.  Five days later, Gibson’s boss, Assistant Secretary Sean McCormick responded:

Many of you raise an important question about the ability to influence large organizations, in this the case the State Department, through social media. Of course, there are a variety of ways this happens every day on sites not related to the government. We are different because of the relatively closed nature of the policy-making process (this applies across different administrations) so we acknowledge our limits up front. What that does not mean, however, is that you or we should accept those limits as immutable. One way in which I hope this blog evolves to involve you more is in bringing to our attention events (breaking or slowly unfolding). When we receive such information, it is my hope that we can internalize, analyze, and, when possible, act on the information. We are a ways from that model now, but over time culture changes. When I refer to culture in this case, I mean the State Department. It is an inherently conservative (and by that I mean slow to accept and implement change) culture. In less than a year, though, I see change with more posters coming forward to us with material they want to share with you.

I will work with you on the flip side of the equation, in which your feedback or suggestions make their way in to our decision-making processes. I’m reading a great book now, Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies . While the book is directed at use of social technologies in business, I can see some parallels on which we can draw, especially in modifying internal processes.

In other words, don’t get your hopes up — nothing in this building is going to change anytime soon.  And if you want it to change, it’s your responsibility to push us to change, because we won’t do it on our own.

That does not bode well for either the future of this blog or the ability of the Department to respond to evolving technology.  Good luck, Mr. Gibson.  You’re going to need it.

Photos:  Wikipedia, via a GNU Free Documentation License

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11 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:48 pm

Terrorism, Security, and the Foreign Service

I have long believed that Americans fail to understand or appreciate the heroism and courage of our foreign service officers (FSOs).  Spending three years in the bowels of the State Department only reinforced that conviction.

If you ever enter the State Department via its main (C Street) entrance, you should look for large green marble plaques at each end of the lobby.  Each lists those American diplomats who have lost their lives in the service of their country.  As then-Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead noted in 1988,

In the State Department lobby, just inside the C Street entrance, there are two large plaques, where the names of ambassadors and others who have died while serving their country are inscribed. It is a grim list, but a proud list, too; a list of those who defended peace and freedom to the very end.

Much to my surprise, there is no page on the State Department website that reproduces the list or provides brief biographical information.

That’s a tragedy, because each of these individuals deserve greater recognition. But equally sad, the plaques include only Americans who have died — foreign nationals, such as those killed in the 1998 Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, are not honored (at least not there).  That also is a fundamental — and almost criminal — oversight.

But the purpose of my post today is not merely to recognize the courage and heroism of those who have given their lives in the pursuit of American foreign policy, but also to ask whether Americans recognize the risks that diplomats must take to promote and protect American interests.

Most Americans think of our diplomats — if they think of them at all — as glamorous Cary Grant types, wearing black tie, attending parties, and sipping martinis.  Certainly such representation duties are a part of a foreign service officer’s job, but only on rare occasions.  Most of a typical FSO’s work involves tracking developments on the ground and then reporting back to Washington.

These days, that job is much harder, in large part because of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s fortress mentality — particularly their demand that FSOs work and live inside supposedly impregnable walls, often miles from a city center.

I fear that this emphasis on security at all costs has had a deeply corrosive impact on America’s ability to understand and interact with the world.  But it also makes it harder and harder for the average foreign service officer to do their jobs.

Part of the problem is that our government does not think of diplomats the way it thinks of members of the military:  as people who are willing to take certain risks to protect American interests.  Instead, FSOs are treated like museum pieces that must be kept behind multiple layers of protection.

I do not mean to make light of the very serious threats that our diplomatic outposts face or the risks taken by those, foreign national and American alike, who choose to work in them.  But is the greater security really worth the negative impact on American interests?  And by wrapping our foreign service officers in a false cocoon of security, aren’t we isolating them from the very people with whom they should be meeting?

Reversing this trend is not going to be easy.  Were a President or Secretary of State to instruct Diplomatic Security to stop building isolated citadels, sooner or later, terrorists (or an angry mob, as happened in Pakistan in 1979) would attack an embassy or consulate and kill Americans (and foreign nationals, lest we forget).  That will result in months of finger-pointing, accusations and counter-accusations, and Congressional hearings on why we failed to protect our diplomats.

But chances are that another catastrophic attack will occur regardless of whether we decide to move our diplomats out of the fortresses and back into city centers.  I didn’t check the Googles, but if memory serves me, there have been serious attacks on American diplomatic outposts in Serbia and Turkey in recent months.  Chances are that there are more I don’t remember, and that DS has succeeded in preventing a few as well.

In the end, we need to ask ourselves which is worse:  putting our foreign service officers at greater risk so that they can do their jobs, or turning them into diplo-hermits, so isolated that they cannot really understand or appreciate what is happening on the ground?

The time has come to recognize the courage of our foreign service officers.  I have had the honor to know many FSOs, and without exception have found them to be deeply dedicated to their work and their country.  They are nothing like the right wing stereotype, which paints them as disconnected East Coast elitists who share noting with the average American.  In fact, most are themselves average Americans whose profession just happens to be promoting American foreign policy rather than building cars or writing code.

But the time also has come for Diplomatic Security to stop forcing American diplomats to hide behind blast-proof walls and let them interact once again with the local populace.  Representing the United States means being seen by individuals who haven’t had to go through three layers of security — people whose assumptions about and stereotypes of Americans are only reinforced by such measures.  Yes, that will put FSOs at greater risk, but that is the nature of service to our country, whether it be in the armed forces or the diplomatic corps.

I think that most FSOs would agree with me, but I doubt their political masters (or DS for that matter) will ever have the guts to make the changes necessary.

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war, world at home | 1 Comment

8 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:54 am

Beyond November: Lora Lumpe

The Connect U.S. Fund has launched a new two-year initiative to help shape debate during the upcoming Presidential transition.  As part of this effort, they’ve asked leading thinkers and advocates to talk about what should be the top two or three foreign policy priorities for the next President.  They’ve also kindly allowed us to cross-post the responses here.

Today, we’ll hear from Lora Lumpe.  The series will then resume next week and appear weekly from now to the convention.  Thanks again to Heather Hamilton and Eric Schwartz over at the Connect U.S. Fund for making the cross-postings happen.

One of the most urgent foreign policy priorities for the next administration is to take on the MIPC.

That’s not a new South American Maoist group. Nor is it a fast spreading virus from Asia.  It’s President/General Eisenhower’s Military-Industrial-Complex, 50 years later and fully integrated into the political life of the nation.

Why would the next President want to touch that, you ask?!  Well, because there is near unanimity among America’s foreign policy thinkers of both parties that we have got to build up the atrophied non-military components of U.S. foreign policy-namely diplomacy and development.  The U.S. Global Leadership Campaign (which includes not only the development and humanitarian biggies, but also Boeing and LockMar), Secretary Gates, Chairman Mullen, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden and Ranking Republican Dick Lugar all agree.

I work for a Quaker lobby group, and we are definitely down with that!  We are all about preventing deadly conflict, and in fact we have had two full time lobbyists wandering the halls of Capitol Hill for the past 5 years trying to sell the idea that it’s cheaper-and better policy-to have adequate numbers of superbly trained diplomats and a cadre of technically skilled development specialists than it is to have wars.

Nevertheless, according to the State Department’s own recent estimate, there are still more than 1,500 diplomatic positions currently unfilled, and a vacancy rate of more than 13% in our embassies around the world.  At the same time, the DOD has issued directives and is moving forward with plans to enable it to carry out even more development functions, as a hedge against the (quite likely) inability of State Department to garner adequate resources from Congress to do the development jobs that need doing.*

But, as long as politics are in play, Members of Congress-9 times out of 10-are going to respond to pressures to give the Pentagon pretty much whatever it wants, in order to maintain bases, manufacturing jobs, etc. in state or in district.  They face zero negative political impact if they vote against funding State Department “bureaucrats” or “wasteful and inefficient” development programs.

Until the development and diplomatic community disperse across the country and can create political pressure (ie, jobs) in 435 Congressional districts-or at least in a dozen or so states-they will always be at a disadvantage when it comes time for Congress to vote on
the annual appropriations bills.

Relatedly, when I lobby on the Hill, I very often meet with military legislative aides who are “Fellows” on loan from one of the military services.  One such, an Air Force Fellow, told me that the USAF alone had 41 Fellows on the Hill this year, so there are probably nearly 200 in all.  These folks will return to the Pentagon and work “Leg. Affairs”-and do so with great savvy and with loads of personal connections. The result-of both the Fellows’ training and the dispersed jobs and military bases is that the DOD is the most effective lobby in town, bar none.

In the State Department, by comparison, Legislative Affairs is viewed as somewhere near the seventh circle, middle ring of the Inferno.  While there are a few offices and individuals who are quite effective at using the media and/or Hill contacts, in general State Department is woeful at advocating and advancing its legislative goals.

The next President needs to direct the State Department to study the Pentagon’s skillful approach, but he is also going to have to expend a good deal of political capital to persuade folks on Capitol Hill that they should ignore pork barrel prerogatives in favor of the good of the nation and the world and fully fund the diplomatic and development corps that everyone agrees we have let go to seed.

The second imperative for the next administration, in order for the republic to have a healthy-or healthier-foreign policy, is for the admin to encourage Congress to take back more power.  While it may seem paradoxical-even unlikely-that the admin should or would urge the Congress to exercise its prerogatives more fully, it is imperative that Congress get back into the practice of oversight.

During the past decade, you can count on half of one hand the Committees of  Congress-House or Senate-that engaged in oversight of U.S. foreign policy.  Instead, the body has largely become a rubberstamp-especially for the military aspects of foreign policy-which, as outlined below, encompass many previously civilian-led functions, like development, democracy-building, etc.

The breakdown in oversight is related to the extreme partisan politics that has befallen the Capitol, but also to the infatuation that the U.S. public and policy world have with all things military.  The “can do” attitude of the military is mythologized, while billions in waste, fraud, and abuse are overlooked and the Pentagon is given more and more authorities with little or no examination of costs, benefits, or counterproductive repercussions.

Most Congressional committees gutted their investigations staffs in the late 1990s, as inquiries like Iran-Contra, BICC and others were considered pesky and partisan.  Oversight became, if not a dirty word at least a forgotten art, and external groups, like the Project on Government Oversight, now hold seminars for congressional staff who are
interested in learning how to do oversight….

While difficult to enact these changes, it will be impossible to revitalize America’s foreign policy tool kit without taking on these deeply rooted institutional and political problems.

*DOD Directive 3000.05 of 28 November 2005 states that some of the DOD’s core tasks, as part of its new “stability operations” mandate” include:
4.3.1.  Rebuild indigenous institutions including various types of security forces, correctional facilities, and judicial systems necessary to secure and stabilize the environment;
4.3.2.  Revive or rebuild the private sector, including encouraging citizen-driven, bottom-up economic activity and constructing necessary infrastructure; and
4.3.3.  Develop representative governmental institutions.”

As FCNL’s Legislative Representative for Conventional Weapons, Lora Lumpe lobbies and campaigns for more responsible U.S. arms export policies—including a ban on U.S. use and export of cluster bombs and anti-personnel landmines. She coordinates the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines on behalf of FCNL and represents FCNL on the steering committee of the global campaign to achieve a universal Arms Trade Treaty.
Before joining FCNL’s staff in September 2007, Lora served for six years as a consultant for Amnesty International USA. She also worked as a consultant in recent years for the Open Society Institute, Small Arms Survey, the United Nations, AFSC, Swiss Government, and numerous other organizations.

| posted in foreign policy, politics | 0 Comments

7 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:55 pm

Ten Years Ago Today. . .

. . .America’s entry into the age of terror began when truck bombs destroyed part of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.  It was the first major attack by al Qaeda on the United States, killing at least 212 people and injuring somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 more.  Among the dead were 44 individuals working at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi — 12 Americans and 32 foreign nationals. (Diplopundit has a list of those killed and injured.)

During my years at Freedom House, I was a frequent visitor to both embassies.  A few of the people I worked with either died or were injured that day.  I hope you’ll join me in remembering them and honoring their service.

During my travels to Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, I was a frequent guest in the home of Kiki Munshi, who then served as the USIS public affairs officer Dar.  It was that residence, which I remember as a lovely beachfront idyll far away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Dar, that subsequently became the temporary U.S. embassy — not because it was large, but rather because it was remote enough to be secure.

It was also ten years ago today that American foreign policy changed irrevocably — and not just because the Clinton Administration started to focus on al Qaeda.  The embassy bombings had a second and equally important impact:  they marked the day that U.S. Embassies turned into remote fortresses, and that the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) began to dictate how our diplomats interacted with the world.

That is not to say that Embassies weren’t built like bunkers before that day, or that previous attacks had not had an impact.  But after the Dar and Nairobi bombings, DS pushed for new embassy construction to focus on isolation from rather than proximity to the local populace.

That change, which virtually guaranteed the isolation of our diplomats, has had almost as much to do with America’s increasing isolation as the Bush Administration’s bad policy decisions.  Our foreign policy professionals don’t walk around foreign capitals anymore.  The nearly simultaneous destruction of our public diplomacy capacities also hasn’t helped.

One other thing strikes me about this day.  Can you imagine the tenth anniversary of 9/11 passing without notice?  But that is exactly what is happening today.  Is that because Americans have no appreciation of the foreign service, or because the vast majority of casualties were not Americans?  Either way, that too is a tragedy and disgrace.

I’ll have more tomorrow on the how the bombings have changed the foreign service.

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

22 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:30 pm

Don’t Leave Home without It….

Is this the future of passports?

Today, the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security issued a joint statement announcing that the previously-announced “Passport Card” is now in “full production” and available for use when traveling to and from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.

The only problem is you can’t use it for air travel.  But hey, if you plan on swimming to Bermuda, you’re all set.

Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in foreign policy, globalization | 0 Comments

22 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:00 am

Wonk’d: The ALDAC “Controversy”

Time to introduce another periodic feature here at Undip:  Wonk’d, an attempt to explain some of the more arcane inner workings of our government’s foreign policy infrastructure.  Think of it as a complement to our Diplospeak Translator:  whereas the DT converts convoluted diplomatic language into plain English, Wonk’d demystifies the arcane rules, procedures, and traditions that often govern the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.

Let’s start with what are known as ALDACs.  The word “ALDAC” is an acronym for “All Diplomatic and Consular Posts.”  They are cables sent by the Department of State to every U.S. Government outpost around the world.  (By the way, “cable” is a euphemism these days.  Everything is sent electronically via an encrypted, tightly controlled channel used exclusively for that purpose.  Think of it as a special type of email.)

Read the rest of this entry »

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19 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:34 pm

More on “The 300″ and Obama’s Experience

So I’ve gotten some interesting feedback, mainly via email, about last night’s post on The 300.  My good friend Steve Clemons at The Washington Note, agrees with me that the Times piece is a misfire. Not sure I agree with him, however, that Obama is “colonizing” the DC foreign policy community.  If he were, I doubt he would have only 300 folks in the network.  Or consciously exclude people like Richard Holbrooke and Zbigniew Brzezinski even if the former is Tony Lake’s rival and the latter has some outside-the-mainstream ideas on Middle East peace.

I know that to some of you, this may seem like little more than inside baseball.  Who really cares how many people are advising Obama?  Shouldn’t it matter more what kind of advice he’s getting?  To which I can only offer one response:


But the problem is that the mainstream media — and to a lesser degree some of my friends in the blogosphere — seem determined to portray Obama as “inexperienced” on foreign policy.  Just today, The Washington Post has a front page story with the following headline and sub-head:

Obama Going Abroad with World Watching
Foreign Policy Credentials Are At Stake

Huh?  Obama’s future credibility will be determined by what he does on a single week-long trip to Europe and the Middle East?  A trip that doesn’t include China, India, Japan, Latin America, Africa, or a whole bunch of other important places?  A trip that his opponent kept criticizing him for not taking until he started criticizing him for taking it?

Let’s acknowledge the reality here.  The trip is window-dressing.  Yes, it is designed to show Americans that Obama knows something about foreign policy.  But the only reason it’s getting this kind of coverage is that it’s late July and the media doesn’t have anything better to do than speculate on whether Obama’s entire candidacy will hinge on a few photo-ops.

The real story here is that the media continue to embrace a deeply corrosive — and oh yeah, completely wrong — meme that is, after all, little more than a a set of McCain campaign talking points.  “Obama is over his head.” “Obama doesn’t have the experience to be commander in chief.”  “Obama doesn’t know anything about foreign policy.”  “Obama is a rookie and we can’t have a rookie in charge right now.” “Obama is very very scaaaaary.”

What utter nonsense.  On issue after issue — Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and more — Obama has taken positions that have proven to be far more sensible and realistic than those taken by either McCain or Bush.  He is more thoughtful, more realistic, more pragmatic, and perhaps most importantly, more often right than John McCain.  The only thing he isn’t is more experienced.

But if “experience” were the only prerequisite for the presidency, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney (ARGH! MY EYES!), Joe Biden, and Bill Richardson would be our candidates.

So instead of asking who is more experienced, maybe the media should ask who has the better ideas.  Maybe they should look at who has been more adaptive in responding to changing conditions on the ground.  And maybe they should stop mislabeling flexibility as flip-flops.

Nah.  That would require reporters to think.  Wouldn’t want that.  Making stuff up is a lot more fun.

| posted in foreign policy, media, politics | 2 Comments

18 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:22 pm

The 300 is… Me.

One of the downsides of having been largely offline over the past 36 hours is that I’m just now getting caught up on the news.  So I know I’m late to this story, but I think I’ll make this worth your time.

In case you missed it, the New York Times had a big exclusive today:  it turns out that there are three hundred people advising Barack Obama on foreign policy!!


I don’t know which part of this amazed me more:  that the Times regarded this as news or that the blogosphere swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

You see, I have a little different perspective on all of this.

I am… wait for it… cue the movie music…


Yes, you may touch the hem of my robe.

But wait a second.  Something is wrong here.  Where is my crimson robe?  My spear?  My six pack abs?  If I’m going to throw myself off a cliff, I want my six-pack abs!

Oh wait, wrong 300.

But I’m pretty sure I am one of that other 300 — the Obama 300.  Well, maybe not after this post.

About nine months ago, I contacted some folks who I knew were already involved in the Obama campaign. I let them know that I was willing to help out on policy.  A little while later I got an email thanking me for my interest and assigning me to a team of other people interested in the same issues. Every few weeks, the team leader sent out an email asking us to draft or comment on something.  He also passed on a request from the campaign for us to volunteer for the ground campaign, which I and many others were more than happy to do.

More recently, we’ve started to organize ourselves a bit more, and have been tasked to write some briefs on specific issues.  We’re even dividing into more specialized subgroups.

But I have absolutely no illusions about this.  We are not Barack Obama’s “mini State Department,” as the Times claims.  In fact, one of the main purposes of these teams is… to keep us out of the way of the people actually making the decisions.

You see, every four years, every presidential campaign is inundated with officeseekerwannabes, some idealistic, some not so much.  There are newbies who have never before been involved in a campaign, worker bees who have served in mid-level policy positions in previous administrations, and Prominent People who don’t have much time but want to help where they can.  All of them have some sort of expertise on a given issue.  All of them want the candidate to win.  And almost all of them know that if you want a job in the next administration, you have to put in your time.

So what is a campaign to do?  You can’t have three hundred people advising a candidate, no matter what the Times may think.  If a campaign is smart (and that certainly is true of the Obama campaign) they do what any sensible organization does:  they form committees.  Except they call them “foreign policy advisory teams,” invite all the officeseekerwannabes to join, and then (for the most part)… ignore them.

Am I being cynical here?  A little.  But my disdain is for the Times’s breathless reporting, not the process.

Here’s the thing.  Four years ago, I co-coordinated one of these groups for the Kerry campaign.  I was one of two people who designated roles, set deadlines, assigned responsibility for drafting, and held conference calls.  Lots and lots of conference calls.  It was our job to get stuff done when the campaign needed it.  I wrote two of the five “core” position papers as well as a few smaller ones and the relevant sections of the platform and the debate prep book.

I’m not trying to brag — I just want to give you a feel for what was (and is) involved.  There were plenty of other people who did even more.

Did we have any influence on the Kerry campaign?  I have no idea.  I know that the people managing foreign policy for Kerry — Rand Beers, Dan Feldman, and Susan Rice, among others — did a good job of making us feel like we were being heard — just like I was trying to do with the people on my team.  But I never actually heard a talking point I wrote come out of Kerry’s mouth.

Our team had 50 people on it.  There were 20 teams.  Now think about that for a moment.  Do the math.

So why weren’t there reporters covering the number of people on the Kerry team four years ago?

Oh.  Wait.  There.  Were.  Took me five minutes on the Google to find the stories.  Except back then, we were called a “mini-NSC” instead of a “mini-State:”

“I’ve put together for Kerry a small group of mostly younger foreign policy advisers, a sort of mini-NSC,” says [Dan] Feldman, 36. Feldman says he helped pick the group by the expertise of its members to mirror the various directorates within the National Security Council, including experts on areas like the Middle East or Africa and on topics such as counter-terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.  “We have a weekly conference call, write position papers, and do opposition research on the Bush administration,” says Feldman.

Nice going Times.  You just ran a front-page story that is virtually the same as one reported by you and others four years ago.

And no matter what the Times may think, Obama doesn’t have The 300 because he is a neophyte on foreign policy.  In fact, from my experience, he is better briefed on national security issues than either Bill Clinton or John Kerry were at this point in their campaigns.  The core group of people — the ones actually advising him — have done their jobs well.  But you know what?  He’s pretty smart too.

That core group also happens to have done this before on previous campaigns.  They know a process like this works.  But they also know that it happens to be a great way of putting together a pool of… potential candidates for jobs that need to be filled quickly, given the fact that we’re fighting two wars and everything.

And do you think Obama is the only candidate in this cycle to put together such a team?  Hillary Clinton had as many people helping her, and no one suggested she was inexperienced.  I have a friend who was going to play a similar role for Mark Warner before he decided not to run.  I know people who were trying to do something similar for Richardson, and I’m sure Edwards did too.  And what about all the stories about Giuliani’s scary brain trust?  Remember them?  Were they there because Giuliani was a neophyte?

In fact, I would be suspicious of a candidate who doesn’t have something like this in place.

Paging John McCain.  Senator McCain, flashing red courtesy phone please.

McCain said today that he doesn’t have — or need — a similarly sized group.

I don’t believe him.  He is either

  1. lying;
  2. oblivious; or
  3. the first candidate in twenty years not to have at least 300 people in the national security community trying to line themselves up for a job.

And given his string of gaffes on things as basic as the existence of Czechoslovakia and the difference between Sunnis and Shiites, he should think about adding a few more.  Say, I don’t know, maybe 300?

I’ll have more on stupidities of the Times story tomorrow.

| posted in foreign policy, globalization, politics, world at home | 0 Comments

16 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:35 pm

State Department: Not Even a PC, Much Less a Mac

One of my goals for this blog is to start a discussion on whether the rapid evolution in technology has had an impact on the practice of foreign policy. It should be an interesting topic, given the U.S. Government’s absolutely inept response to emerging trends like email, podcasting, and oh, I don’t know, the wheel.

Let me be clear:  I’m not an expert on either technology or security.  But this is too important an issue not to touch upon.  Furthermore, it’s is not a partisan issue:  modernizing our foreign policy infrastructure should be something that both McCain and Obama should agree on.  Then again, given McCain’s own fear of/wonder at the intertubes, I may be wrong.

There are two problems.  The first is that the State Department and other government agencies are not equipped to adapt quickly to emerging technologies.  If you’ve never been to the State Department, much less worked there, then you probably don’t know that it’s notoriously behind the times.  Part of the problem is security — they’re still coming to terms with how to manage classified data.  Another factor is that, as far as I know, the foreign service does not include awareness of technology in its hiring criteria.  A third issue is that the government can’t compete with the private sector in terms of attracting the talent it needs to stay close to the curve, much less ahead of it.

But those issues don’t tell the full story.   When I arrived at State ten years ago, they were still getting around to replacing the Wang terminals they had bought in the early 80s. For those not in the know, Wang was an early leader in PC technology that used its own OS.

Although it was in many ways more sophisticated than the IBM PC, the Wang’s inability to run MS-DOS meant that it quickly lost market share and eventually went out of business — leaving behind thousands of machines in the Department.  The fact that it took the Department nearly ten years to replace them tells you enough about the internal challenges.  I’m guessing things have gotten better since then, but during a recent visit to the Department, I think saw a Wang terminal sitting in a corner.

The second problem is that many people currently responsible for managing our foreign policy don’t “get” technology any better than John McCain does.  Before I worked at State, I was at a small NGO with about twelve staff.  We had Windows, and everybody taught themselves how to use it.  When State made the transition from Wang to Windows, all Department staff were required to go to the Foreign Service Institute to learn how to use it.

Now we’re not talking rocket science here.  Windows, Word, and Excel are fairly intuitive.  And frankly, I knew more about them than the guy teaching us.  Yet in my class, the only people who had had any experience with what by then already was a ubiquitous system were the ones who had had other jobs before coming to State.  The foreign service officers were lost.  WYSWIG mystified them.  And like many people confronted with something new, their response was largely hostile.

But this isn’t just a question of computers, or even of individual capabilities.  I don’t mean to pick on FSOs.  Just look at the government’s efforts to create satellite teevee networks.  Al Hurrah’s incompetence has gotten the most attention lately, but it’s not like they’re the only problem station:  TV Marti, the US effort to broadcast to Cuba, has been a joke for decades.

Furthermore, the Department still doesn’t know how to operate in internet time.  Its clearance process, created for the drafting of cables to far-off posts, can take so long and be so ponderous that it makes it difficult to draft press guidance or formal responses.  In addition, the clearance process favors those willing to play dirty:  if you’re trying to get language cleared for the spokesperson before his 12:00 briefing, and it’s 11:45 and the Turkey desk won’t clear your draft, you have two choices:  cave and go with their language, or fight and get the spokesperson angry at you.  It’s a no-win situation and favors those who want to play it safe.

When it comes to social media, things are even worse.  You may have heard that the CIA regards use of everything from Facebook to World of Warcraft as disqualification for employment in the clandestine service.  And there are few blogs more lame than Dipnote, which I keep on my blogroll largely out of a mix of pity and masochism.

In other words, our foreign policy apparatus continues to display the same combination of hostility towards and incomprehension of technology that characterizes much of the rest of the government. Let me put it another way: Were Apple to make one of their “I’m a Mac” commercials about State, the PC character would be played by John McCain.

What do you think?  Please share your observations in the comment section below.  And while you’re thinking, here’s a hilarious iPhone parody from E! Television’s The Soup.  It’s not really germane to the topic — except to bet that State and CIA probably don’t allow their employees to use iPhones — but hey, it made me laugh.  Enjoy….

| posted in none of the above | 0 Comments

4 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:38 pm

Jesse Helms

Jesse Helms died today.  I want to offer his family my condolences.

I know a lot of other bloggers are gloating over this.  I don’t plan on doing that.

But not gloating doesn’t mean that we should pretend to honor his legacy.  Certainly, Senator Helms will be remembered as one of the most destructive and toxic Senators in the history of the Republic.  His retrograde stance on civil rights, his notorious “you lost your job because of a quota” ad, his obstructionist micromanagement of foreign policy in the Clinton years, his abuse of Senatorial privilege, and his attacks on public funding of the arts are only the short list — basically what I remember off the top of my head.

I never met Senator Helms, but I dealt extensively with his staff.  I would like to offer three observations regarding his time in office — one good, one bad, and one mixed.

Observation one:  Senator Helms was actually quite good on certain human rights questions, particularly those regarding China and Cuba.  As Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, and other groups can tell you, when it came to those countries, no Senator was a stronger advocate.  No Senator spoke out more frequently or more passionately for dissidents and others jailed unfairly.  To be clear, he was completely inconsistent, never applying a similar standard to say, Mexico, Zaire, or other U.S. friends.  But on China and Cuba, no one was better.  To paraphrase Roosevelt, he may have been a bastard, but he was our bastard.

Observation two:  it’s hard picking the worst thing Senator Helms ever did, but one that should rank in the top five — one that most people overlook — is his willful destruction of the United States Information Agency.  Today, almost everyone recognizes that the United States is woefully unprepared to win over hearts and minds in the Arab world. (For more on the challenges facing U.S. public diplomacy, check out two blogs that do a terrific job of covering it regularly: Abu Aardvark and Mountain Runner).  What most people don’t know is that Jesse Helms is one of the main reasons we’re in this mess.  In the late 90s, Helms forced the Clinton Administration to dismantle USIA.  Actually, he gave Clinton a choice:  USIA or USAID, and the Administration chose USIA.

Before USIA was folded into State, USIA personnel had operated separately from State both here in D.C. and abroad.  That meant that USIA country directors (known as Public Affairs Officers or PAOs) headed their own offices in foreign capitals (usually called American Centers and housed, unlike embassies, in office buildings in or around the center of the city).  They were not completely independent of the Embassy/Ambassador, but they did have a lot of leeway to chart their own course.

In my travels overseas, I always make an effort to meet with PAOs, as I find them, even today, to be fonts of information that second and third secretaries — cloistered behind the walls of the fortress embassy — could almost never match.  PAOs often walked freely around the city, taking advantage of incredibly talented local staff who knew all the right people — including dissidents.

All that has changed as a result of the “merger” (and to be fair, the 1998 Nairobi and Dar embassy bombings).  I was in the State Department at the time.  In fact, I represented my bureau (Democracy, Human Rights and Labor), in a department-wide working group that was responsible for deciding how best to “integrate” USIA personnel into State.  What in fact happened was a scramble to acquire the staff and financial resources USIA represented; in the process, the public diplomacy process was largely eviscerated.  Public diplomacy personnel in DC were used for whatever was necessary in each the bureau; public diplomacy became an adjunct to other bureau concerns.  PAOs came under the thumb of Ambassadors.  As a result of the bombings (and 9/11), many former USIA staff were moved into the Embassy compounds, and the U.S. closed many American Centers and Libraries.  The director of USIA became Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, which in both the Clinton and Bush Administrations has been a revolving door, usually given as a reward to those too burned out to keep working in the White House (see Evelyn Lieberman and Karen Hughes).

Not all of this can be laid at the feet of Senator Helms.  Certainly the cowardice of the Clinton Administration played a role, as did the perception that the United States didn’t “need” public diplomacy after the end of history.  The triumph at embassies of security over outreach didn’t help; neither did the fact that the merger was viewed by a resource-starved State Department as little more than an opportunity for plunder.

Today, we’re picking up the pieces.  Almost everyone thinks we need to reestablish USIA as a separate agency.  That will take millions of dollars and innumerable years.  What can’t be recovered is much of the institutional memory.  And most of this disaster is the direct result of Senator Helms’ myopic view of foreign policy.

Observation three: Senator Helms may have passed away, but his legacy will live on through the many people who worked for him over the years.  Many are in the current Administration.  They represent the next generaton of neocons (and paleocons).  President Bush’s current chief speechwriter, Marc Thiessen, was for many years Senator Helms’ spokesman (and one of the most powerful staffers on Capitol Hill).  Before working for the President, Marc held the same job for Donald Rumsfeld.  Roger Noriega, Helms’ Latin Americanist (and the chief architect of the Helms-Burton act), served as U.S. Ambassador to the OAS and as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.  Mark Lagon is currently a U.S. Ambassador, heading the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.  Before that, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Organizations.

Over the years, I’ve dealt with all three, and have found them smart, likable and formidable opponents.  Marc and Roger were part of the U.S. delegation to the ICC talks in Rome in 1998, and we battled regularly.  I’ve found Mark to be one of the more effective officials at State, even when I’ve disagreed with him.

They represent only three examples — I’m sure there are more.  But you can bet that they and others will continue to implement the Senator’s vision long after his death.  And that doesn’t even take into account those like John Bolton who, while never working directly for the Senator, have assumed his ideological mantle.

So Senator Helms is dead.  Long will live his legacy, unfortunately mostly for ill.

Edit:  I had no idea how big the photo was — I took it out.  It was ridiculous.

| posted in foreign policy, politics, world at home | 0 Comments

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