State Department invades the blogosphere

The U.S. Department of State has apparently taken a page from David Miliband's book and started its own blog, the unfortunately named Dipnote. The blog's editors are State Department spokespeople Frederick Jones and Masharika Prejean, who make it clear that this new, hip, Web 2.0 State Department may not be what you're used to:

As the voice of this blog, Masharika has been given one point of instruction – there are no rules. The camera and the blog entries that are posted on this site are based on experiences that organically develop during her travels with Secretary Condoleezza Rice and her accompanying advisory support team...the purpose of this site is to provide a venue for the general public to receive a "behind the scenes" view of how U.S. diplomatic missions to foreign countries are carried out, the people that are involved, and the cultural aspects that make each destination uniquely its own.

Dipnote kicked off during last week's U.N. General Assembly meeting and has been providing periodic dispatches from the likes of Ambassador Karen Hughes and Assistant Secretaries of State Kristen Silverberg and Sean McCormack. I suppose you have to applaud the department's efforts to reach out, but most of the posts from the big shots consist of little more than summaries of their schedules. Readers looking for an insider's view of diplomacy are probably not going to be bowled over by prose like this:

So, here I am in the city that never sleeps – wait, isn't that Las Vegas? Here I am in the city that never stops negotiating. From Wall Street to the General Assembly, there's always a deal waiting to be struck.

Zzzz... It's also worth noting that gray text over a gray background is probably not the best choice for readability. I mean, I've seen MySpace profiles that are easier to navigate. And judging from the outright hostility of many of the commenters, the department's going to have its hands full getting the site taken seriously. Wonkette is, of course, having a field day.

I also couldn't help but notice the conspicuous absence of Passport from Dipnote's blogroll. Where's the love, State?

UPDATE: Passport gets results from Foggy Bottom! 


Jimmy Carter gets the kibosh in Darfur

AFP/Getty Images

Jimmy Carter is in Darfur today as part of the awkwardly titled "Elders" delegation of elder statesman. The former U.S. president was forcibly barred from visiting with refugees in the town of Kabkabiya by his Sudanese minders. After being told his visit "wasn't on the program," Carter protested by yelling, "I'll tell President Bashir about this." 

...uh, which will be a lesson in futility, Jimmy. I seriously hope Carter doesn't actually think that complaining about lack of access to victims in Darfur will make a difference to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. He presides over a government responsible for much of the violence and is expert at creating a news vacuum into which news about the horrific conditions in Darfur disappear. After all, why is there such a potent debate over the number of dead in Darfur? Because Bashir doesn't want the number to be established.

Carter's toothless threat brings to mind an episode from The Confidante, Glenn Kessler's recent book on Condi. When the U.S. Secretary of State traveled to Khartoum in July 2005 to meet with Bashir, there was nearly an international incident over the fact that Bashir's thugs refused to allow either Rice's aides or the press corps into the room where they were meeting. Eventually, after some shoving and yelling and impolite negotiations, press members made it into the room, but were told they couldn't ask questions. Kessler describes the incident in his book:

The reporters awkwardly looked at each other, wondering who would speak first, when NBC's Andrea Mitchell decided to take the plunge: "Mr. President, tell us why is the violence continuing?" One of the Sudanese officials started shouting, "No, no, no." "Why should Americans believe your promises" regarding Darfur, she continued in her best shouted television voice, when "your government is still supporting the militias?"

Bashir, with a smile frozen on his face, snapped at the guards in Arabic, "Don't let her." Mitchell kept yelling her questions. Bashir, looking increasingly upset, gestured with his arms. "Finished," he shouted.

The guards pounced, dragging Mitchell away by twisting her arms as [Rice aide Jim] Wilkinson shouted, "Get your hands off her!" When Mitchell started getting teary-eyed, one of the Sudanese officials smirked and loudly declared that she was drunk (which is how the official Sudanese news agency portrayed the incident). They hustled the rest of the reporters out of the room.

Watch Mitchell get hauled away here.

Perhaps Jimmy thinks that Bashir has had a change of heart based on the government's pledge today to devote $300 million in order to "rebuild and repair" Darfur ($200 million of it, by the way, will be a loan from China). But it's blood money. Four years in, and we're still talking about a guy responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people donating a nominal sum from his oil revenues to cover up the rest of his crimes. It doesn't sound like progress.