In an emergency meeting Monday, Serbia's cabinet adopted a "secret plan" for responding to Kosovo's seemingly inevitable declaration of independence. Though as Reuters reports, the plan really isn't all that secret:
[I]nformation leaked in the three months since the plan was first drafted point to several measures, including cutting off electricity supplies and blocking power routes for the province, which buys 40 percent of its power from Serbia, as well as a trade and goods embargo.
Serbia could also refuse to recognize Kosovo passports and force travelers to make a long detour to get to Western Europe. It might also withdraw its ambassadors from countries that recognize Kosovo as an independent state.
At first glance, all of these responses seem like plausible courses of action for Serbia—which is desperate to keep Kosovo from seceding but is essentially prevented from taking military action by the 16,000 NATO troops in the region—except for the plan to withdraw ambassadors. Given that the United States and most countries in the European Union plan to recognize Kosovo's independence, it seems unlikely that Serbia would want to risk antagonizing them and returning to the isolation and pariah status it suffered during the 1990s.
On the other hand, comments by new EU President Janez Jansa indicate that Europe may be backing away somewhat from supporting "total independence" for Kosovo, so Serbia's leaders may feel that there's still bargaining to be done. It seems increasingly likely that Kosovo will continue to languish as "undefined" for the foreseeable future.
Am I allowed to swear on a family-friendly blog? Because I have some choice words for Dutch diplomat Raymond Poeteray. This a$$h*l& and his wife, Meta, adopted a baby girl from South Korea seven years ago when they were posted in Seoul, and now they've gotten rid of her because she's inconvenient. Here are the facts:
This is a total disgrace. They think they can just cast aside a girl they've "raised" since she was only 4 months old? I'm not trying to belittle the possibility that Jade did indeed have emotional problems. But there are other ways of dealing with troubled adoptees. It's especially horrible that this incident is from a diplomat, someone whose job is to encourage good relations between nations. But the Dutch government is officially backing Poeteray instead of duly firing him for shaming his country.
Beyond the abhorrent behavior of the Poeterays, this incident has larger implications. It casts the entire concept of international adoption in a bad light. Before this incident, there were already troubling questions being raised about how Westerners conduct themselves when going to developing countries for adoptions. Take, for example, the controversy surrounding Madonna's adoption of her boy from Malawi. Supposedly, his birth father was not aware that he was giving up his rights. Then there was the case of the French charity that tried to evacuate 103 children from Chad earlier this year. Several French citizens were charged with kidnapping and fraud. And just earlier this month, Guatemala tightened its adoption rules over concerns that mothers would sell their babies for profit. It's really a tragedy that such a big part of international adoption has turned into an illicit industry. There are so many unwanted children, and so many loving and caring families willing to welcome them. Why isn't there a better way to make this work?
There will be 27 EU foreign ministers and, when they can agree, there will be one person expressing their point of view. The representative will have to represent what the views of the members states actually are, and it is sometimes difficult to squeeze out what those views actually are."
Yikes! That's Chris Patten, FP contributor and former EU commissioner for external affairs, explaining how policymaking will take place under Europe's new guidelines for a common foreign policy outlined in the Lisbon treaty, which is to be signed Thursday by the EU's 27 member states. The document is a watered-down version of what was once the EU's would-be constitution, now dead and buried thanks to a series of failed or indefinitely delayed national referendums.
Like everything in the EU, the details of the treaty tend to be complex and not altogether clear. A few practical changes, such as lengthening the term of the EU presidency from six months to two-and-a-half years, are straightforward enough. But most of what treaty means in the real world will be sketched out later, in true European fashion. It will also form, in Patten's words, an "Extremely High Rep, or whatever we are going to call him," who will be charged with running the common foreign and security policy.
Seriously, they don't know what the official will be called? I'd say deciding what to call the high officers would be a good start. At least then member states will know how to address the invitations for their Brussels cocktail parties. Instead, it's sip champagne first, and worry about the pesky details later. Ah, Europe.
(Hat Tip: James Forsyth)
I had lunch this week with Condoleezza Rice. OK, so it wasn't exactly an intimate tête-à-tête; the secretary of state was the keynote speaker at the Women's Foreign Policy Group's annual luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton, where she spoke to a crowd of about 400, including yours truly. Condi was pretty much as expected: polished, pleasant, unflappable, and on message.
Her speech began with a bland discussion of general U.S. foreign-policy issues. Yawn. Rice did draw laughs from the crowd when she got in a little dig at Thomas Jefferson, mentioning that the first secretary of state would have never anticipated that the 66th secretary of state would be an African-American woman. She had a little slip of the tongue, saying that when her 12 years in office were over, it will have been 12 years since a white male occupied the top office in Foggy Bottom. Then she laughed, said that it "only feels like 12," and gave a nod to Madeline Albright and Colin Powell, "trailblazers also in their own right."
Basically, there was not much of real substance to her speech, but at least the Q&A session, moderated by NBC's Andrea Mitchell, touched on some real items in the news. She refused to answer questions about the CIA interrogation tapes scandal, saying that she didn't know about their destruction in 2005, but not commenting on questions about what she knew about the actual interrogations, which occurred when she was national security adviser in 2002. Asked about Guantánamo later, she did mention, "no one would like to close it more than I and, I think, the president."
She handled a question about Iran with characteristic aplomb, and reiterated an offer to meet with her Iranian counterpart, anytime, anywhere ... as soon as Iran scaled back and complied with international standards. As far as the greater Middle East goes, Rice expressed her personal faith in Abbas and Olmert (conveniently not mentioning their weak domestic status in their respective homes), and said that peace talks would not have been feasible even three months ago.
What struck me the most about Rice's lunchtime talk was what she didn't say. She barely mentioned Afghanistan and Iraq. She never uttered the name "Osama bin Laden." In 50 minutes, the word "terrorism" crossed her lips but twice, and then only to muse about the challenges her successors would face. The war on terror has been the centerpiece of Bush's foreign policy, and yet she didn't mention it once in her prepared remarks. Could it be a reflection of a changing mindset inside the administration?
Last week, I noted the irony that Kosovo's bid for independence from Serbia has finally given Russia and Georgia an issue they can agree on. Both are wary of the precedent that an independent Kosovo would set for their own separatist movements.
The prospect of a "Kosovo precedent" is creating more strange bedfellows this week. Ethnically divided Cyprus is the one holdout preventing the EU from reaching consensus on recognizing Kosovo's independence. Spain, Slovakia, and Greece, all of whom contend with ongoing separatist movements themselves, were also wary about Kosovo but have apparently come around.
Perhaps most unexpectedly, an independent Kosovo may put Canada in something of a bind. In a column for the Toronto Star, political analyst Richard Gwyn worries that the 1995 "Clarity Act," enacted in response to Quebec's near-secession, will put Canada in the dubious company of Georgia and Russia:
This legislation proclaims that a pro-separation majority in any future referendum would not give a Parti Québécois government the right to declare independence unilaterally.
Instead, and as confirmed by the Supreme Court, any separation-bound PQ government would have to negotiate first with the Canadian federal government of the day.
Accepting Kosovo's right to declare independence unilaterally would ensnare us into accepting Quebec's right to do the same. [...]
Given a free choice, there's no doubt Canada would support Kosovo's independence.
Instead, we're going to stand among the naysayers, while looking embarrassed.
[Please read editor's note at the end.]
Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, who's currently visiting France, has erected a heated, Bedouin-style tent in which to receive visitors due to his claustrophobia. And it's not just government officials he seeks to meet. On his way to France he said:
I want my tent to be erected near Elysee Palace. I want to meet 200 attractive French women there.
His tent has ended up in the garden of Baron Gustave de Rothschild's former mansion. No word on whether any beauties have showed up.
[NOTE: An astute Passport reader alerted us that the aforementioned quote attributed to Qaddafi may actually come from the French satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné because an International Herald Tribune article attributes a similar statement to Le Canard Enchaîné. The Turkish newspaper Sabah, upon which this blog post was based, attributes the quote to a news program on France's Canal Plus TV channel. Passport attempted to contact Le Canard Enchaîné to verify the veracity of the quote, but the newspaper has not responded to us.]
[NOTE 2 (Dec. 18, 2007): Qaddafi is reported to travel with a posse of 200 female bodyguards called the Amazonian Guard, a few of whose members can be seen in this photo. Thus, Qaddafi may have been requesting 200 bodyguards, not beauties.]
Why exactly is Nicolas Sarkozy "calling to congratulate" Vladimir Putin on United Russia's widely discredited electoral victory? Putin always enjoyed a warm relationship with Jacques Chirac, but Sarkozy seemed to be less predisposed toward coddling dictators than his predecessor. This is certainly true of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose stern tone with Russia couldn't be more different from Gerhard Schröder, another of Putin's European defenders. (And indeed, when he left office, Schröder became board chairman for a Gazprom pipeline project that he had boosted as chancellor.)
Sarkozy has also put France at odds with the EU, which issued a statement on Tuesday saying that Russia's elections "did not meet international standards and commitments voluntarily assumed by Moscow." Even new Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, who has made improved relations with Moscow part of his platform, said, "we can't turn a blind eye when democratic standards are not respected."
Another interesting question: If Sarkozy is just playing realpolitik with the Russians, what does this say about the influence of Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in the president's administration? The left-wing humanitarian has been one of Europe's staunchest critics of Putin's crackdown on opposition groups in recent weeks. Has France found its Colin Powell?
On Wednesday evening at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley spoke broadly about freedom and the Middle East. His prepared remarks (pdf) weren't too surprising—the key point was that the time is right to push for peace because Israel is becoming more receptive to the idea of a Palestinian state, the Palestinians are being more cooperative, and Arab states are engaging in the debate.
Hadley did go off script a bit during the Q&A session, though. A SAIS student asked a question about why some Arabic states would support democracy in Iraq when those states are not democracies themselves. Hadley's answer was pretty standard until he began taking about elections in Iran. But Hadley replaced the "l" in elections with an "r" and instead began to speak about Iranian erections (The audio is here. Right click and save as. It's around the 38:30 mark).
There's been a lot of speculation over China's last minute decision to deny the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk and its escort ships entry into Hong Kong harbor for a long-planned port visit over the Thanksgiving holiday. Beijing later reversed the denial of entry, but only after the Kitty Hawk had already set a course for its home port in Japan and seas were too rough for the ship to sail into Hong Kong.
U.S. commanders have said that the decision left them "perplexed." But some people speculate that China's decision should have come as no surprise at all. The Chinese Navy had been conducting live-fire exercises off the Chinese coast using nearly 20 ships and several dozen aircraft. Sailing into Hong Kong would certainly have put U.S. ships (and their prying eyes) in a position that Beijing would consider too close for comfort. These exercises might also explain why the Chinese government had earlier denied safe harbor — a longstanding maritime courtesy — to two U.S. Navy ships seeking entry into Hong Kong harbor as shelter from a storm. It's just one theory. Other possible explanations, as McClatchy's Tim Johnson has pointed out, include continued Chinese anger over the U.S. lovefest with the Dalai Lama.
Whatever the reason, the result was that 8,000 U.S. sailors spent Thanksgiving afloat in the South China Sea. The real victims here, though, are the sailors' families. Several hundred had ponied up thousands of dollars to spend a long weekend with their loved ones in Hong Kong. Nearly 300 families were already on the ground there when the Chinese decided to pull the plug on the visit. One wife of a Kitty Hawk officer says she spent nearly $2,500 on airfare and hotel rooms. The Navy had booked discounted rooms for sailors and their families. But when the port of call was canceled, the families were left paying full price.
There's just no way to put a positive spin on China's actions here. Live-fire exercise or not, the port visit was planned well in advance. Families were counting on it. As one Navy officer told Power Line blog: "[T]here is not much more China could do to hurt military-to-military relations with the US than a stunt like this."
When Lebanese President Emile Lahoud's term expires on Friday, Lebanese democracy will face a stern test. Political factions there are deadlocked over the selection of a new president, and Lebanon could see the formation of two parallel governments -- or, worse, the outbreak of civil war.
In the context of the current political stalemate, the [Bush] administration cannot afford to view the possible selection of a consensus candidate acceptable to Hezbollah as a greater danger than the failure to select anyone at all.
I would even go further than Exum and McInerney, though.
Lebanon's political crisis has everything to do with the changing makeup of the country. The Shiites have long demanded their fair share of political power and the Christian and Sunni populations that back the current government don't trust that their interests would be represented in a system of "one man, one vote" (rather than the present system of sectarian proportional representation). More than anything else, Lebanon needs a new political bargain that updates the Taif Agreement of 1989, which formed the basis for ending the civil war. A lot has changed since 1989, and Washington is making a huge mistake by discouraging the so-called "March 14th forces" aligned with Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri from cutting a pragmatic deal. But the longer they wait, the more the sectarian balance in Lebanon changes in the Shiites' favor, to say nothing of Hezbollah's military might.
More broadly, Lebanon is just one more example of a mistaken U.S. approach to foreign policy that dates back decades and across administrations of both parties. Here's how it works: The United States says it supports democracy, but ends up backing pro-Western leaders when push comes to shove. Take the case of Pervez Musharraf, whom U.S. President George W. Bush described Tuesday as "somebody who believes in democracy" despite the fact that the Pakistani leader has suspended the Constitution, thrown many of his opponents in jail, and gone after independent media outlets. Or consider the Palestinian territories, where the White House called for elections and then blanched when the distasteful Hamas won them fair and square. Is it any wonder that U.S. rhetoric on democracy isn't taken seriously?
This is not to say that there aren't some tough choices confronting U.S. policymakers. But it would be better, in my view, to either dial back the grandiose democracy rhetoric or else be more consistent about supporting democratic "rules of the game" rather than always backing the more pro-American side, win or lose, and calling it "supporting democracy." If you want to get more in depth on this topic, Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment, which publishes FP, offers some practical suggestions here.
Forgive for a moment a short trip down memory lane: Back in the last half of June, Hamas had just kicked Fatah out of Gaza, the surge wasn't working, a huge truck bomb decimated a Baghdad mosque, early leaders of the "Anbar Awakening" were killed in a suicide bombing, and one of U.S. President George W. Bush's steadfast Republican supporters broke ranks with him on Iraq. Not a great month by anyone's count, least of all President Bush.
Amidst these dismal headlines, the White House managed to regain control of the headlines with a big announcement on June 27. That day, Bush declared that he would appoint the first U.S. envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a group of 57 countries that promotes "solidarity and cooperation among Islamic states."
Bush's aims for the appointment were simple:
[T]o "listen and learn" and share U.S. views with delegates from Muslim nations. The appointment is intended "to demonstrate to Muslim communities our interest in respectful dialogue and continued friendship," [Bush] said.
Great, right? A small gesture, but nice all the same. Except for the fact that five months later, nada. Zip. Zilch. No envoy.
The gesture is obviously symbolic, a band-aid for a deeply wounded U.S. image in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world. But why even bother to announce such an appointment, which is supposed to express the United States' intention to reach out to Muslims and at least appear interested in their points of view, and then not do it? It seems so careless. I asked the White House's press office when we might be able to expect an announcement, and I was told in true Yogi Berra fashion, "when we announce it, we'll announce it." I got the feeling they forgot.
June, 2007, was the month of unfulfilled promises, it seems. On June 5, Bush declared that he'd ordered Condoleezza Rice to cable every U.S. ambassador in an unfree nation with the following message: "Seek out and meet with activists for democracy. Seek out those who demand human rights." Sounds nice, right? The Post's Jackson Diehl checked in on the status of the cable in early August. It still hadn't been sent.
Fred Kaplan over at Slate recently asked readers to write in with suggestions on how the United States can improve its image in the world. Everyone ought to read the results, because they are a powerful illustration of just how little we as Americans understand about how the world sees us.
"To Know Us Is To Love Us," Kaplan declares in his headline. It summarizes the dominant theme of the more than 100 suggestions from his readers: If only all those angry foreigners could meet more real Americans through travel and exchange programs, they would like us better. It's a variation on a refrain any traveled American has heard a thousand times: "We like Americans, but hate your government."
It's comforting to think that Americans don't get blamed for everything their government does. But the next time someone in a foreign country tells you this, remind them that it was Americans—ordinary ones—who died on 9/11, not their government or government leaders. As Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami puts it, "it is of Americans and their deeds, and the kind of social and political order they maintain, that sordid tales are told in Karachi and Athens and Cairo and Paris. You can't profess kindness toward Americans while attributing the darkest of motives to their homeland."
Part of the problem with Kaplan's experiment is that many of those writing in are Americans living overseas who see the world through the one-dimensional prism of wherever they happen to be. For instance, Kaplan writes, "Several readers emphasize that many foreigners, even those with high levels of education, have no concept of American life. They don't know that most Americans are religious people." Whoever said that must never have been to Europe, a secular continent where the United States gets viciously mocked for being overly religious. Meanwhile, in the Arab world, America is hated for the decadence and infidelity it represents. We can't win, friends.
And there's the real problem with the suggestion, "to know us is to love us." It ignores reality. One Dutch student wrote to Kaplan: "America must (re-)consider itself an ordinary country—special and of great importance, but not playing in a league of its own." Sorry, but America, by virtue of the power of its economy, military, and culture, does play in a league of its own. Being huge inspires hatred; just ask the Yankees, Wal-Mart, or Microsoft. Pretending that isn't so will hardly fix anything.
For now, America must bear the burden of being both loved and hated at once. Our embassies will at once be blown up and packed with locals seeking visas. I'm all for exchange programs, but they aren't enough to cure this ill. If you heard Karen Hughes or Condi Rice tell you that the solution to the U.S. public diplomacy problem is that foreigners just don't understand how wonderful Americans are, wouldn't you laugh her out of the room? You ought to do the same with Kaplan's experiment.
(Hat Tip: James Joyner)
Today was the deadline for U.S. foreign service officers to volunteer to fill 48 open positions in Iraq or face so-called "directed assignments" to Embassy Baghdad and provincial capitals. But, apparently thanks to a high volume of FSOs stepping up and volunteering for these positions, the State Department has decided to extend the deadline until at least the end of the week. As of yesterday, more than half of the positions had been filled with volunteers and an additional 12 posts were tentatively filled, leaving just 11 remaining posts. The hope at State is surely that these remaining posts can be filled with volunteers and the whole kerfuffle over assignments at Embassy Baghdad will soon go away.
Many FSOs spoke out against "directed assignments," including here at Passport. This prompted some in the punditocracy to call them wimps. "[G]row a freakin' pair," blustered Wired's Noah Shachtman, for one. No one appears ready to lay off, despite the fact that FSOs are volunteering to fill the posts. In today's New York Times, neoconservative commentator Max Boot takes yet another shot, calling forced assignments to Baghdad a "baby step" and "a long-overdue response to complaints that diplomats aren't pulling their weight in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Boot goes on to suggest that forced deployments of FSOs ought to be the tip of the iceberg. He wants bureaucrats from other government departments sent to Iraq as well. Boot also suggests that municipal police officers be forcibly drafted and sent to Iraq, along with "lawyers, judges and prison guards." I'm not so sure that exporting America's entire criminal justice system is such a good idea, given that we're in the midst of a surge in violent crime and all—to say nothing of what would happen were terrorists to strike here at home while all of our cops, lawyers, judges, and prison guards were overseas.
After five years of failed policies in Iraq, are we really to believe that the problem is that not enough American civilians and diplomats are on the ground over there? You can send diplomats to Iraq in huge numbers, along with cops, lawyers, judges, plumbers, electricians, and dog catchers. But assuming that they can, by their sheer presence, force Iraq to be a successful democracy proves only that we have learned nothing.
Days after King Juan Carlos of Spain told Hugo Chávez to "shut up" at the Ibero-American summit (after Chávez called former Spanish PM Jose Maria Aznar a "fascist"), Chávez has fired back from Caracas, comparing the king's treatment of him to the persecution of Jesus:
Should he accept the king's injunction to shut up, "the stones of the people of Latin America would cry out", said Chávez, paraphrasing a comment by Christ in Jerusalem shortly before his crucifixion. The Venezuelan information ministry issued press releases identifying the relevant part of the Bible.
The king of Spain told Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to "shut up" Saturday during a heated exchange that soured the end of a summit of leaders from Latin America, Spain and Portugal.
Chavez, who called President Bush the "devil" on the floor of the United Nations last year, triggered the exchange by repeatedly referring to former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar as a "fascist."
Aznar, a conservative who was an ally of Bush as prime minister, "is a fascist," Chavez said in a speech at the Ibero-American summit in Santiago, Chile. "Fascists are not human. A snake is more human."
Spain's current socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, responded during his own allotted time by urging Chavez to be more diplomatic in his words and respect other leaders despite political differences.
The phrase used by the king, "¿Por qué no te callas?," is one that a parent might use on a disobedient child. Watch the exchange here:
Throughout the week, we've been posting e-mails from U.S. foreign service officers on their reaction to the State Department's controversial decision to "draft" FSOs for service in Baghdad. Yesterday, the State Department's official blog, Dipnote, got into the act by posting a letter from Anbar-based FSO John Matel. Matel advises his fellow employees to cowboy up and consider how ridiculous they look to those in uniform, who were never asked for their opinions about being sent to Iraq:
I will not repeat what the Marines say when I bring up this subject. I tell them that most FSOs are not wimps and weenies. I will not share this article with them and I hope they do not see it. How could I explain this wailing and gnashing of teeth? I just tried to explain it to one of my PRT members, a reserve LtCol called up to serve in Iraq . She asked me if all FSOs would get the R&R, extra pay etc. and if it was our job to do things like this. When I answered in the affirmative, she just rolled her eyes.
If these guys at the town hall meeting do not want to come to Iraq , that is okay with. I would not want that sort out here with me anyway. We have enough trouble w/o having to baby sit. BUT they are not worldwide available and they might consider the type of job that does not require worldwide availability.
We all know that few FSOs will REALLY be forced to come to Iraq anyway. Our system really does not work like that. This sound and fury at Foggy Bottom truly signifies nothing. Get over it! I do not think many Americans feel sorry for us and it is embarrassing for people with our privileges to paint ourselves as victims.
A shorter version of this post was written on Matel's personal blog last week. It's strange that Dipnote would choose to publicize departmental infighting this way. My initial assessment of Dipnote as a collection of glorified press releases might have been premature. Karen Hughes has only been gone for a week, and already this supposed tool of public diplomacy is being used to browbeat State's own employees. I doubt that Dipnote will be posting the other side's views any time soon, but they have proven us wrong before.
Passport, on the other hand, is still interested in hearing from FSOs on both sides of the debate. Keep those e-mails coming.
UPDATE: DipNote Bloggers write in:
DipNote was started to provide a forum for dialogue with the public and provide greater transparency into the Department. Given his perspective as a PRT team leader in Al Anbar Province, we thought our readers would benefit from hearing about Mr. Matel's experiences in the field. Mr. Matel has his own blog, so we asked if he'd like to blog for our site as well as his own. Since the issue of directed assignments is in the news, we thought his post on the issue was particularly timely and decided to post it. We would not characterize his post as "browbeating" his colleagues; he's expressing his opinion in a forum for open discussion. That's what blogs are for, right?
As for Dipnote iteself, initial reactions to have been ...shall we say, varied. At first, some commenters indicated that the blog would be nothing more that a "collection of glorified press releases." Ironically, others later indicated that, "It's strange that DipNote would choose to publicize departmental infighting this way." We understand the ratoinale behind both of those sentiments, but are not allowing polarizing comments to sway us from our mission to provide a fair and objective forum.
As we stated in our first post, we hope to cut through the opacity of the Department and provide an open forum. If directed assignments are what people are taking about, we'll blog about it. We're always open to anyone who wishes to contribute a blog entry expressing varying points of view and we'll run it on Dipnote.
Tonight, Nicolas Sarkozy will address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Yesterday, a few of us from FP attended Sarkozy's address to the French-American Business Council, where the French president touched on a number of themes you're likely to see in tonight's speech. The bottom line? Here's a man on a charm offensive.
While he praised the United States, Sarkozy's overall message, like that of many recent French presidents, is one of restoring France to its former position of international grandeur. But this French leader brings a new twist:
If you want to be an example, you have to behave like an example. We've fallen too far behind, but we're catching up."
Editor's Note: This post coauthored by Joshua Keating.
One U.S. foreign service officer, responding to our request for comments on Embassy Baghdad and the mission in Iraq, wants people to know that diplomats are no wimps. They're "more 'forward deployed' than any military force," this State Department official contends:
[W]e are used to being misunderstood and mischaracterized. We are just beginning to see the latest vilification of our people. But we know that our men and women are more 'forward deployed' than any military force, with little or no 'force protection' in some of the most dangerous, unstable, austere environments in the world. We take casualties year in and year out, and per capita our Corps sustains grievously high numbers of deaths from terrorism, assassination and other violence.... We have no equals when it comes to serving in harm’s way in the farthest corners of the earth.
We are called to serve in Iraq in totally unprecedented numbers, and the public should know why. We do. It is because those numbers are artificially inflated, with no justification or reasoning apparent for anyone to see. The requirement for vast numbers of diplomatic officers and specialists is based on the continuation of an ad hoc series of incoherent plans, not on a clear, articulated purpose. This demand for ever-increasing numbers of diplomats is evidently based on a political desire to demonstrate State’s institutional support for an occupation with no articulation of what these numbers will accomplish.
What is most disgraceful about this state of affairs is that the Foreign Service and the rest of the State Department gave this administration an excellent, well-researched and solid set of plans for the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, shortly before the invasion. Our work and participation was explicitly and dramatically rejected by the Secretary of Defense and the White House, particularly including then-National Security Advisor Rice.... Now the very actors who refused to hear the inconvenient counsel of the nation’s diplomatic service blame that service for their own mess. Why on earth should we volunteer in constantly increasing numbers to perform assignments that serve no purpose other than to show our institutional loyalty to a disastrous mismanagement of foreign policy that will surely get more of us killed in the process?
The Secretary of State has shown her level of support of the Foreign Service quite clearly by her detached and disdainful attitude towards the concerns recently expressed about this pointless waste of talent.... Sending officers into this failed, hideously violent exercise with no language training, no military liaison training, no arms or means of self-defense, no area training or expertise, no continuity of personnel, no internal support, and no post-deployment assistance of any substance is, in fact, as stupid as it appears to be. I would prefer that we have some senior officers speak out now, rather than begin our own collection of Ricardo Sanchezes who will say years from now, after many more dead and maimed, 'I told you so.'
Another foreign service officer, responding to our request for comments on Embassy Baghdad and the potential of forced deployments there, wants to know why fewer than 20 percent of his colleagues have served in Iraq. Are you an FSO with something to say on the issue of Embassy Baghdad? E-mail Passport.
As someone who served in Embassy Baghdad early in my career I believe that Secretary Rice has not only the right but the duty to direct Foreign Service Officers to serve assignments in Iraq. I was there ... during perhaps one of the worst periods of violence throughout the country.
[T]hat year spent there gave me invaluable insight into the fact that nearly every other agency and department in the U.S. government is focused on the Global War on Terror and the fight in Iraq, whereas the State Department is not. Soldiers have been sent over to Iraq by the hundreds of thousands to die, whereas Foreign Service Officers have been asked to go in the hundreds. True, we only number 11,000 strong with officers and specialists combined, yet to date less than 20% of State Foreign Service personnel have served in Iraq. Why is that?
For those officers who say they don't want to serve in Iraq, perhaps they should think back to their first day in A-100 [introductory training], where immediately we took the oath for entry to our positions. We also retook that oath upon graduation from A-100. Each of us will serve apart from our families, loved ones and even (God forbid) pets. However barring serious medical conditions those with skills who can contribute to the war effort should because it is their duty. Tell your spouse, partner, children, parents, other family that you'll be back, put your multiple cats up at some animal farm and step forward to serve the cause to which you signed up because that is our reason for being: to serve the President of the United States, the Secretary of State and ultimately the American people wherever in the world we're told.
The bottom line is there are two choices: go to Iraq if chosen or resign your post and make room for those who will serve their country when called.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill, speaking in Seoul on Friday, had this to say about sanctions levied against North Korea for its nuclear test last year:
The sanctions are there until the DPRK (North Korea) gets out of the nuclear business. That is when they ought to be revisited.
Taken at face value, Hill's comments are an enormous hedge on the agreement with the North. The sanctions will stay in place at least until North Korea's nuclear program no longer exists—a process that could take years. A U.S. team is beginning to disable North Korea's Yongbyon reactor today and is expected to complete its work by the end of 2007, but "gets out of the nuclear" business is a broad phrase that could be interpreted any number of ways.
There is also some interesting subtext to Hill's quote. In early September, Israel destroyed an alleged Syrian nuclear facility that was thought to have been built with North Korean help. It looked to many like the North Koreans were negotiating with Hill in bad faith, threatening to torpedo the six-party talks. But anonymous Bush administration officials told the New York Times last week that the Syrian site had existed as early as 2003; hence, cooperation between Syria and North Korea existed long before the current diplomatic breakthrough with Pyongyang. As the Times' William J. Broad and Mark Mazzetti put it:
If North Korea started its Syrian aid long ago, the [Bush administration] officials could argue that the assistance was historical, not current, and that diplomacy should move ahead.
This hasn't been enough to ease concerns that the United States is treating Pyongyang with kid gloves. Hill's comments might be an attempt to assuage critics of the North Korea deal. First, they make clear to North Korea that providing nuclear assistance of any kind would violate the deal. Second, Hill implies that sanctions will not go away until Pyongyang's nuclear program is completely nonexistent—and even then, the sanctions will merely be "revisited," not lifted automatically. Whether this will be enough to reassure those who believe the United States is taking it easy on North Korea is unclear. I get the sense that some people in the U.S. government won't be happy until the deal with North Korea is dead and buried.
In this post last Friday, we asked U.S. foreign service officers to send their thoughts on Embassy Baghdad and the possibility that they might be forcibly deployed there. A couple of the responses we've received thus far are posted below. And we'd like to hear more. E-mail us with your views.
I have mixed feelings on the directed assignments to Iraq. I believe fundamentally in worldwide availability and in serving at hard-to fill and hardship posts.... I'm not afraid of danger -- I served two years in Pakistan. I accepted the daily risk of a terrorist attack on my home, office or vehicle because I thought our mission there was important and my work made a difference....
So why haven't I volunteered yet? For starters, I'm not an Arabic speaker. I have no desire to learn Arabic, and that comes from my impressions of how women are treated in the Arab world.... I've served in three other Muslim countries and found meaningful ways to promote U.S. policy and programs, but I'm just not interested in learning Arabic unless I am told I have to.
However, had I been on the list of Prime Candidates, I would have contacted my CDO [Career Development Officer] and taken my assignment. Immediately. Without all the fuss. I think the "death sentence" comment was a bit dramatic. We haven't lost diplomats in Iraq (versus six FS deaths in Karachi in the last decade-- and I would happily serve in Karachi).... Worldwide availability means worldwide, and if the Secretary deems this a policy priority, we signed up to support that mission.
And the second:
I have twice volunteered for Iraq Service, but not been selected.... It is pointless to argue whether or not the United States should be in Iraq; we are there and must be constructive if possible.... In my opinion, Ambassador Crocker's staffing requests are absurd and purely based on the politics of looking like you are trying. I do not believe there is enough work -- that can feasibly be accomplished -- for 40 mid-level political, economic, and public affairs officers at Embassy Baghdad....
The Secretary has failed to bring our Service along with her. She was quoted as being disappointed with the staff in Baghdad after a trip there. She calls on the service, on Embassies around the world, to make sacrifices to give the Administration's adventure in Iraq a prayer of succeeding. But at the same time she demonstrates neither the courage nor the effort to seek adequate resources -- not before from a Republican Congress, and not now with Democrats....
The Foreign Service has been painted into a corner, and watch what happens next: we will be again criticized as unpatriotic elitist cowards.... We will come out looking lousy, even if only because we did not sign up, get trained, prepare, or develop skills to serve in a war zone. Perhaps it is giving the Secretary and [Director General Harry Thomas] too much credit to suggest this is done on purpose; to throw the Foreign Service under the bus.... It was particularly disgraceful when DG Thomas asked about a time when "88 percent of people thought slavery was fine." At a minimum, this official should never speak in public if he cannot stay near the message. His defensiveness before the "Human Resources" he allegedly manages suggests that his first priority is policy. Not people. The contrast to Secretary Powell's time, when we were his "troops," is stunning.
Passport welcomes additional comments. Your identity will be kept strictly confidential.
Dear Foreign Service Officers,
Much is being made of the U.S. Secretary of State's plan to forcibly deploy some of you to Baghdad. Passport wants to hear what you have to say on the matter: Is Secretary Rice making the right call? Or is it morally wrong to make diplomats risk their lives for a war that many at State warned against? Would you grudgingly go to Baghdad were orders delivered at your door, or would you take your skills and walk? Can the business being conducted at Embassy Baghdad rightly be called "diplomacy" at this point? Should the Embassy even remain open?
Tell us what you think! E-mail Passport with your thoughts. We will post your comments as they come in here.
Your name and title will be kept strictly confidential, but we ask that you include them in your e-mail. (We reserve the right to edit submissions for clarity and length.)
Speaking of Uganda and child soldiers, it so happens that Yoweri Museveni (pictured at left) was in Washington this week. In meetings with President Bush and Congress, the Ugandan president focused primarily on resolving the decades-long conflict in northern Uganda between the government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army. The two parties signed a peace deal last year, but the LRA leadership remains at large. Some hopeful signs emerged Tuesday when LRA negotiators agreed to meet with Museveni in Kampala for the first time since the war started.
But at the Wednesday reception for Museveni hosted by insurer AIG and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, all the talk was of investment and development. Sounding like he'd be thumbing through his C.K. Prahalad on the plane, the Ugandan leader hit all the right buzzwords about how to spread development and financial services into rural areas:
We have to make it much easier for our people to access capital… Even the poorest possess assets that can be monetized under the right conditions."
He described Africa as the "forgotten continent" in the business world, a condition he blamed on misperceptions of the continent's stability:
Investors don't know that there are better business opportunities in Africa than in China, potentially. Investor ratings consistently exaggerate the continent's problems and they assume that what is true of one or two countries is automatically true of all the rest. ... To oversimplify and say, 'oh there are all these problems in Congo, all of Africa has problems,' is really ignorance."
Museveni might be more convincing were he not in town mainly to brief the White House and Congress on an armed rebellion that has decimated a large portion of his country and claimed thousands of lives, not to mention the spillover effects on surrounding countries. True, Uganda consistently registers at least 5 percent economic growth and attracted $307 million in foreign investment last year, but the country's economic situation is hardly a separate issue from the ongoing violence in the north. The war has cost Uganda $1.7 billion over 20 years or 1.1 percent of GDP every year, and perhaps more when you account for its lingering effects on a terrorized population. Until it is finally resolved, there's no way to really know what Uganda's potential might be.
For all the grief Passport has given Karen Hughes, I'm sorry to see her go. As Mark Silva reports, she tried her best as assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy. But it's hard to sell a rotten product.
Well this is certainly creative:
WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of State in partnership with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts premiered “Welcome: Portraits of America,” a multi-media initiative to welcome international visitors to the United States. The donation from Disney included a seven-minute film and hundreds of still images, featuring American people from all regions and walks of life. Disney commissioned the project as part of the Rice-Chertoff Initiative, which seeks to secure America’s borders while welcoming legitimate visitors to the United States.
"We greatly appreciate Disney’s significant contributions to our efforts to make America’s embassies and airports more welcoming to our international guests. Disney’s creativity and excellence wonderfully capture the essence of America, which is embodied in the diversity and values of our people,” said Karen Hughes, Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Department of State.
“Travelers form their first impressions of America when they arrive at our borders. Our global reputation therefore depends on making visitors feel every bit as welcome as they feel secure,” said Stewart Baker, Assistant Secretary for Policy, Department of Homeland Security.
You can watch the video here if you have Flash installed on your computer. I'm sure some folks are already mocking this as desperation, but you know, it's not a bad idea. People do love Disney.
Most of the press on Vladimir Putin's historic trip to Tehran has focused on his warning to the U.S. not to attack Iran and the possibility of some sort of strategic partnership between the Kremlin and the ayatollahs. One could almost be forgiven for thinking that the meeting that Putin attended was some sort of trans-Caspian "death to America" summit. In fact, the real substance of the meeting was about the distribution of the Caspian Sea region's energy resources. On this front, almost no progress was made and more was revealed about Russia and Iran's differences than their agreements.
The Kremlin still views the Caspian as Russia's "near-abroad," and Iran's growth as a regional power is troubling to the Russians as well. The two countries didn't really see eye to eye at the summit, as the AP explained:
Iran, which shared the Caspian's resources equally with the Soviet Union, insists that each coastal nation receive an equal portion of the seabed. Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan want the division based on the length of each nation's shore, which would give Iran a smaller share.
Another back story behind the summit is CIA Director Michael Hayden's unexplained recent visit to Baku, Azerbaijan where he met with President Ilham Aliyev. Azerbaijani analysts have speculated that the U.S. is preparing to use the country as a staging ground for a war on Iran, though the Azeris and the Iranians continue to enjoy strong cultural and economic ties. But Hayden's visit might also have had something to do with the construction of a trans-Caspian natural gas pipeline to bypass Russia, a deal the Russians have wanted to scuttle from the beginning. Witness Putin channeling Al Gore here:
Projects that may inflict serious environmental damage to the region cannot be implemented without prior discussion by all five Caspian nations," Putin said, apparently suggesting each capital should have a virtual veto on energy transport.
The governments of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan are somewhat wary about that proposal as they seek to navigate a middle ground between Russia and the West. In the end, the five countries failed to come up with a formula for sharing the Caspian's resources—which was supposed to be the point of the whole summit—and could agree only on a resolution banning foreign military action from the region. That doesn't look like success to me.
Plenty of smart people, such as Steve Clemons, have hailed China's adept use of multilateral diplomacy, supposedly in contrast to the bumbling, often hostile approach of the United States.
But how does it look when China refuses to attend a meeting about Iran because the U.S. Congress chose to give the Dalai Lama an award? I'll tell you how it looks to me: like the world's most populous country can't take criticism.
Then there is Taiwan. Every time Taiwan does something provocative, we hear ad nauseum about how the entire Chinese nation is "angry" and its feelings are hurt by, say, Taiwan's bid to join the World Health Organization. I don't deny these feelings are real, but suffice it to say that if China really wants to sit at the grownups' table, it is going to have to be have like an adult on the world stage. These temper tantrums are unbecoming of a major world power.
It used to appear that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice enjoyed trading verbal barbs with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Chávez would call President George W. Bush "a donkey." Condi would fire back that Chávez was "really, really destroying his own country." It was good fun. But sometime around March, the Bush administration's tactics began to change. These days, when Hugo acts like an impetuous toddler, the Bush administration treats him accordingly: by ignoring him.
The 180-degree turn in tactics was on full display yesterday when Condoleezza Rice spoke about Latin America with members of the Council on Foreign Relations. Chávez had just boycotted the U.N. General Assembly and had given an interview to the AP in which he said the U.S. was "hunting" him and wanted him dead. But in her appearance yesterday, Rice didn't bite. She didn't mention Chávez by name once, instead referring only to "exceptions" to democracy in Latin America who "may be noisy ... but are heading in the opposite direction of the hemisphere as a whole." This was hardly the Power Condi of 2005 who showed up at Wiesbaden Army Airfield wearing knee-high leather. In fact, Rice went out of her way yesterday to check the tough talk at the door. Though her remarks were typically laden with language about the transformative powers of democracy, she also made it clear that, when it comes to picking allies in the hemisphere, "the U.S. charges no ideological price for our partnership."
At least by Rice's account, the change in tactics is working. After Bush refused to mention Chávez's name on a tour of Latin America in March, Condi says, "Chávez was going around saying, 'Why will not President Bush mention my name?'" "There is actually, frankly, nothing that he likes better than to have the United States responding to him," Rice added. That may be so, but I'm still going to miss the fireworks.
Earlier this week, Passport speculated as to why the mood of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il improved so dramatically from Tuesday to Wednesday during his summit with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun. On Tuesday, Kim looked sullen and glum, but on Wednesday, he was all smiles, even asking Roh if he wanted to extend his stay for a few more days. Was Kim putting on a show for the international community? Was he happy about the agreement to end the decades-long Korean War, or relieved about the agreement to dismantle nuclear weapons?
None of the above. Knowing Kim is a film buff, Roh gave him a stack of DVDs of South Korean movies and television shows. One was "Jewel in the Palace," a television show about a cook for the Korean royal family back when the peninsula was unified. It stars Lee Yong-ae, rumored to be Kim's favorite actress. For a guy who loves movies so much that he once kidnapped a director and actress and forced them to fulfill his cinematic vision, it's a nice gift.
It's also ironic, considering Pyongyang prohibits DVDs from the South. Here's how the government enforces the ban, according to Reuters:
A routine tactic used by North Korean police is to cut the electricity to apartment blocks before a raid and then go to each home to check what is on video tapes or DVDs that have become stuck inside players.
The downside for Kim is that he's going to have to enjoy his DVDs on an old television. It was rumored in the South Korean press that Roh would present Kim with a flat screen TV. That idea was scrapped - the TV would have violated UN sanctions prohibiting luxury good exports to the North.
As Blake noted yesterday, the U.S. State Department's disappointing new blog Dipnote does not mean that the new genre of diplomatic blogging has no potential. To see how it's done right, check out the site of Sherard Cowper-Coles, the UK's ambassador to Afghanistan.
Cowper-Coles has been blogging regularly from Kabul since Sept. 26, including four self-made YouTube videos. He has conducted interviews with a British military commander and the staff of an Afghan TV station, and shared some of his observations on Afghanistan's culture and current events. Cowper-Coles is an engaging writer and comes off as genuinely excited by the potential of the medium.
Is it just PR? Of course. But Cowper-Coles proves that public diplomacy doesn't have to be limited to boring photo-ops and go-nowhere initiatives. The UK Foreign Office currently has six officials blogging, including Foreign Minister David Miliband, though none of the others seems to update as regularly. One hopes they'll take a page out of Cowper-Coles's book.
(Hat tip: David Steven of Global Dashboard)
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.