For those of you who don't subscribe to the bimonthly print edition of Foreign Policy, you're missing a great feature: the FP Quiz. It has eight intriguing questions about how the world works.
The question I'd like to highlight this week is:
How many ambassadors to the United States are women?
a) 3 b) 15 c) 25
Answer after the jump ...
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Michael Crowley has an excellent article in this week's New Republic, "Reset Button," assessing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's public breaks from official U.S. policy. He runs through her out-of-line statements on Kim Jong-il's successor in North Korea, human rights in China, and Israeli settlement-building, as well as her snapping at an audience member during her trip through Africa and calling North Korea an "unruly teenager." He questions whether these incidents were the gaffes of an independent-thinking, fallible, and very tired diplomat, or cannily constructed political statements designed in concert with the White House to express something otherwise taboo.
The article is cast in black and white, told through the dialectics of candidate and victor, ally and enemy, on message and off, either and or. Crowley opens the article describing the schizophrenic reaction to Clinton's naming as secretary; some, he argues, thought it "nuts" and some a "stroke of genius." A Democratic operative says of Clinton's out-of-bounds statements, "Sometimes that's helpful, sometimes it's not." Crowley also discusses an "old Hillary duality" -- her "disdain for the media" (making herself available for questions just once on a weeklong trip) and "occasional efforts at outreach" (bringing the hungry traveling press bagels).
Throughout, he flip-flops between calling the secretary "Hillary" and "Clinton," to heighten the point -- Hillary being the strident and frank candidate and Clinton the hyper-controlled political tact-machine.
Eventually, Crowley blows over his own either-or straw-woman, noting that the idea of Clinton as some sort of infallible policy robot is absurd. She, like all politicians, has mucked up dozens of times in the past. But he sadly doesn't plumb the idea much further.
It follows from the conception of her as a complex person that her perceived missteps are similarly complex. She speaks publicly on literally a world's worth of issues every day. She makes mistakes, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not, sometimes with effect, sometimes without. To paint with black and white is to miss a very colorful picture. And ultimately, it is the press that paints her in such egregiously schizophrenic, love-her-or-hate-her terms.
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On Sunday, the NYT's Peter Baker noted that only 304 of 543 appointed positions have been filled by the Obama administration after nearly a year. Though some of the hold-up has been from petty pork-barrel politics in the Senate, much more has resulted from the White House's incredibly tough preemptive vetting of its own appointees.
This vetting, which has already stopped Paul Farmer from heading USAID, has been defended by the White House, which argues it is ahead of the historical precedent. Why isn't that reassuring?
Even less reassuring is David Herbert's report in the National Journal that the State Department struggling to get security clearances for its interns in time for the periods they were supposed to be working.
One would-be intern, a graduate student at Tufts, came to Washington in May for a summer gig working on development issues. But he never got his security clearance and never started his internship. He's driving home to New York today after spending a frustrating summer spent calling his congressmen for help and wondering what happened.
"With the clearance process, as an applicant, you don't know anything," he said.
Not only are some going home without ever starting, the State Department actually takes this into account when choosing its number of interns. Don't we need to attract more talent into civil service, not scare it off with bureaucracy?
Even worse, the prospective interns most likely to run into delays are those who have spent time living or studying overseas, according to Daniel Hirsch, co-founder of Concerned Foreign Service Officers:
The Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which handles clearances, farms out most investigations to contractors, who are more efficient at processing applications than the bureau's agents, he said. But when an applicant has lived or traveled extensively overseas (as Buniewicz and others interviewed have), Diplomatic Security (DS) takes over. "Most DS agents consider [personnel security background investigations] to be beneath them, and security clearance investigations are a very low priority item for most overseas DS agents, so they probably sit on the back burner for a while," Hirsch said.
So it is harder to get an early jump on a career at the State Department if you already have international experience. No wonder Paul Farmer gave up on the bureaucratic route.
As a side note, why do interns require such significant security checks? The old joke about interns running everything notwithstanding, are they really handling that much classified material? Any State interns out there, let us know.
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