Learning to love the one you’re with in Kabul social media. After all, if you don’t like yourself, how can others learn to like you? That said, many people believe that self-love is one of the purest forms of affection.
One wonders how Embassy Kabul “liking” its own videos fits with these Public Diplomacy Tweets:
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
The American Embassy in Baghdad remains a monument to American hubris, and American failure in the Middle East. In some far-future Planet of the Apes movie, it will be the remains of the embassy Charlton Heston’s character finds half-buried in the sand.
The embassy was designed in the go-go early years of the Iraq Occupation, with an school house on the grounds for diplokids, full-size kitchen appliances in all the apartments and conveniences like a swimming pool, tennis court, golf driving range and outdoor water misters. Better yet, the embassy was to be the center jewel in a constellation of USG outposts around Iraq. Completed some three years ago at a public cost of $700 million (most people figure the real price at closer to $1 billion by the time all the sub-contracts were totaled), the embassy compound is America’s largest and most expensive diplomatic installation in the world. Total expenditures for the US’ Iraq diplo mission run some $6.5 billion a year.
And now, even as American influence in Iraq wanes, it all just got more expensive.
The Washington Post reports that the State Department is planning to spend $115 million to upgrade the embassy compound in Baghdad.
The need to dump another $117 million down the hole is due to the “consolidation of satellite diplomatic facilities and property around Baghdad. The consolidation takes the overall diplomatic property in Baghdad down by one-third, but increases the personnel working and living on the Embassy compound.”
On the shopping list for the $117 million is a revamped central utility power plant, an underground fuel storage facility holding a 21-day supply and upgrades on water, sewer and telecommunications systems. Included is a classified data center.
(The Post article also details how the State Department spent $100 million on a Police College facility, building living quarters, a dining facility, an office building, a gym and a helicopter landing site. At year’s end, the facility will be turned over to the Iraqis because State did not get land rights use for more than one year. Oops.)
It is at this point that some grown up needs to step up and ask what the hell the State Department is doing in Iraq, and/or cut off their allowance until they can show they are responsible enough to handle money.
What are we paying for in Baghdad? Even State’s latest failed ambassador nominee for the job in Baghdad said the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, telling Senators at his confirmation hearing “There is no proportionality between our size and our influence. In fact, we spend a lot of diplomatic capital simply to sustain our presence.”
We have a white elephant of an embassy in Iraq, one that sucks up money, distorts the State Department’s personnel system with its out-of-proportion needs and accomplishes very, very little for America in return. Rule Number One is if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. It is time for Congress (the House Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations takes up the transition in Iraq from a military to a civilian-led mission this month) to stop State from digging any deeper in Iraq.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Susan Rice, our ambassador to the UN and someone on the short list to replace Hillary as SecState in 2013, continues to set new personal bests in terms of ignorant statements. Describing (in her acid riddled mind) what makes Obama’s foreign policy distinct from that of its predecessors, Rice mooed:
We just don’t have that Vietnam hangover. It is not the framework for every decision — or any decision, for that matter. I’m sick and tired of reprising all of the traumas and the battles and the psychoses of the 1960s.
I could just throw out the old “Those that don’t study history are doomed to repeat it” line here and hit the bar early, but Rice’s remark is so idiotic that I’ll skip happy hour for now (the sacrifices we make for country).
Tom Ricks starts us off:
Just because you weren’t alive during the Vietnam War doesn’t mean you won’t go down that road. I generally am a fan of the Obama administration, on both domestic and foreign policy. But the one thing that gives me the creeps is their awkward relationship with senior military officials. Mistrusting the Joint Chiefs, suspecting their motives, treating them as adversaries or outsiders, not examining differences — that was LBJ’s recipe. It didn’t work. He looked upon the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a political entity to be manipulated or, failing that, sidelined. That’s a recipe for disaster, especially for an administration conspicuously lacking interest in the views of former military officers or even former civilian Pentagon officials.
Anytime anyone tells me that the lessons of Vietnam are irrelevant, that’s when I begin looking for a hole to hide in.
Rice again now:
What frustrated me about the 2004 (John Kerry) campaign was, there we were, relitigating ‘Where were you in nineteen sixty-whatever?’ as the big freaking issue between Bush and Kerry — you know, ‘Did you serve, did you not serve, what did your swift boat brothers think?’ And I’m thinking, ‘What does that have to do with me and the world we’re living in today?’
Ok Susan, you ignorant bonehead, here it is:
Vietnam echoes through everything we do because we are repeating mistakes. We should not invade countries that do not pose a threat to the US. We should not be in wars without a coherent objective. We should not create governments unsupported by their people and then kill Americans trying to prop them up. We should not spend our money and lives abroad when we have problems at home that need those resources. We should not borrow money to fund wars in ways that wreck our economy. We should not piss off the rest of the world unnecessarily with wars of choice. We should not see America’s power solely as the rampant use of military force. We should express a little more humility toward the world and be seen as a little less of a bully. We should stop inventing straw men (communists, terrorists) that feed the military-industrial complex and distract us from the real issues facing America. We should not ignore the lessons of history because they seem politically awkward in an election year.
Bonus: We should not employ as ambassadors to the UN people so ignorant of history and so ready to throw away lessons for political positioning. You are, to paraphrase Robert Reich speaking of the Clintons, “the arrogance of power combined with the inexperience of youth.”
Susan, this blog has spent a lot of time drawing lessons from Vietnam, so have a look before you ejaculate dumbness again.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
With thanks to regular reader Teri (not pictured) for the suggestion, I have spent the day mesmerized by the blog Dark Ages America by author Morris Berman (pictured, left). Berman wrote three books I now have on order about the changes in America: The Twilight of American Culture, Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire and Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline.
The titles tell the tale, and Berman’s blog is equally dark and straightforward.
His post from May 9, Slouching Towards Nuremberg (I can’t seem to link to it directly, so go to the blog and scroll down, we all need the exercise), sums up so many things I have been thinking about, and writing about, this past year.
In charting America’s decline in that article, Berman lists topics before diving deeply into each one:
– The creation of a political climate in which the police are out of control, arbitrarily free to intimidate anyone for virtually anything;
– The persecution of whistleblowers, protesters, and dissenters;
– The dramatic expansion of the surveillance of American citizens on the part of the National Security Agency (NSA);
– The corruption of the judicial system by means of show trials of Muslim activists;
– The construction of political detention centers, also known as Communication Management Units (CMU’s);
– The shredding of the Bill of Rights by means of the National Defense Authorization Act;
– Future scenarios: The “disappearing” of intellectual critics of the U.S. government?
Maybe this is one of those things where most of you already knew about Berman and his work and are now wondering what rock I’ve been living under. But if not, take a look at the article cited here and see if your eyes don’t open a little wider for the trouble.
Not convinced yet? How about another Berman quote:
When a country puts laws such as torture or indefinite detention or arbitrary assassination on the books, sooner or later it will use these legal instruments. They won’t just lie dormant, in other words. As in the case of technology, once the mechanisms are there, the temptation to employ them simply becomes too great to resist. That is what is happening today.
The Department of State, which apparently does not care whether anyone actually believes what they say, said this:
At the Human Rights Council (HRC), the United States has consistently placed special emphasis on the protection and promotion of the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, because we understand that these fundamental freedoms are essential to facilitating the exercise of other universal rights.
As activity in the economic, social, and the political realms gravitates from the offline world to the online world, we have an additional responsibility to ensure that human rights and fundamental freedoms are not eroded simply because they are being exercised in the digital realm. The United States is committed to the principle that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected in the online world.
Now, Welcome to My World
Imagine a world where your emails, web browsing, Facebook and Twitter are monitored, where you are threatened with prosecution at work, where government agents dig through your credit report and ask your neighbors and officemates for “dirt” (some, scared, try to supply it), and where sudden “compelled” interrogations shatter your life. Imagine being jerked out of your job of 24 years and placed on a Secret Service Watch List for publicly criticizing a government official, and then allowed back to work only in a capacity designed to humiliate you, and send a message to others to remain silent.
Welcome to my world.
Since writing a book and beginning this blog, all of the things listed above have happened to me, here, in the United States, and all done by my employer, the Department of State. The same organization that speaks out for the rights of bloggers in Syria, offers sanctuary to dissidents in China and promotes web freedom in Iran, has used all of the security tools at its disposal to silence a minor critic within its own ranks.
Mine is a simpler version of the current Administration’s war on whistleblowers. It illustrates the way that the government uses the tools of security to silence dissent and punish whistleblowers. As those tools continue to increase in power, and as the definition of troublemaker continues to expand, it is safe to say you might be next.
For me, it began simply enough, with my book We Meant Well that chronicled my experiences leading two State Department Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq, supposedly helping to reconstruct that country after years of war, hearts and minds stuff. Instead, I found a vast sinkhole in the desert, filling with American money while my bosses sought propaganda pictures and feel-good stories to bump up their own chances of promotion.
What is revealing about my case is not so much that the government has renewed zero tolerance for dissent (the Obama Administration has begun prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act against twice as many whistleblowers as all previous administrations combined), but that the tools used to silence that dissent are all security-related. Slightly more benign in practice (for now), in theory this is little different than the Soviets executing dissidents as spies after show trials or the Chinese using their courts to legally confine thinkers they disapprove of in mental institutions. Turn the volume up and you’ve jumped from vengeance to totalitarianism. It appears that America’s goal is to become East Germany.
On Becoming East Germany
It has become common wisdom within the Department of State that when senior officials want to deep six an employee for no officially allowable reason (i.e., writing a book and blogging in my case), they turn the case over to their internal police, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS). Originally created to protect diplomats overseas, DS has emerged in recent years more as a new world Stasi, with greater and greater emphasis on its internal security function over its traditional, more benevolent, role.
In my case, DS was supposedly summoned first because of an accusation (made by the Human Resources office) that a link on my blog to another web site displaying Wikileaks documents constituted a breach of security. As absurd as the accusation was (if linking was the standard of guilt the whole Internet stands accused), it was good enough internally to invoke DS doing a deep dive into my life in search of “evidence” to terminate me. Once that door was opened, DS commenced forensic analysis of my computers, the aforementioned monitoring and three separate interrogations, a total of six hours in a windowless room with a good cop and a bad cop crudely hammering away. The tools of security are many: DS claimed my interrogations were “compelled” as a condition of employment and thus took place without the Fifth Amendment protection against self incrimination. When I refused to answer their questions about charities I donate to, medicines I take or my finances, they charged me with impeding an investigation and “lack of candor.” In a perfect Catch-22, one can either incriminate oneself, or be punished for not incriminating oneself.
Your, er, my choice.
Handling personnel problems using security tools has other advantages for the government. The official Report of Investigation in my case contains significant redactions, as if parts of my own life cannot be revealed to me. Facts can be hidden from Freedom of Information Act requests and even court-ordered discovery in the name of “security,” and thus manipulated to document pre-determined outcomes. What is called an investigation morphs into an indictment, where the goal is to keep fishing until something, anything, comes up. Actions by Diplomatic Security at the State Department occur without any independent review, and are largely not appealable to the Courts. Diplomatic Security, unlike its counterparts at the Department of Defense and other agencies, even refuses to use the “substantial evidence standard” mandated by the Administrative Procedures Act.
As another commenter put it, “That freedom from oversight (the quo) is the plausible deniability factor that allows the State Department to use every dirty trick imaginable to terminate anyone, deserved or not (the quid). Diplomatic Security leadership gets the kind of absolute power that the corrupt enjoy absolutely, in exchange for using that power, when desired, to eliminate the problem employee of the day.”
Gay Bashing as Precedent
The use of security as the bully boy at the State Department is not new. Sad precedent shows that security investigations were used regularly up until about 1992 at State to out gay and lesbian employees. It began with a McCarthy-era campaign known as the “Lavender Scare” in which more than 1000 State Department employees suspected of being gay or lesbian lost their jobs even as the US also pressured United Nations and NATO allies into joining the campaign. The thought in those days was that hidden sexuality made one vulnerable to blackmail, while of course being openly gay made one unsuitable for employment, another Catch-22. Hundreds of men and women lived false lives in fear, sometimes labeling partners as domestic servants to hide relationships from Diplomatic Security. A well-known very senior official traveled with her partner on the manifest as a “valet” to keep the fiction alive. Whispered accusations of homosexuality to DS ruined many careers.
The seminal example of use of security at State to destroy bothersome employees comes from the 1950’s, again during the dark McCarthy years. John Paton Davies, in a new autobiography called China Hand, tells of his own termination from the State Department. Davies was one of a generation of brilliant scholars and diplomats known collectively as the “China Hands” during WWII. He predicted that Mao would win the Chinese Civil War and advocated better relations with Communist China to counter Soviet influence. Davies, of course, was prescient in his advice, though being right did not save him. Instead, for his views counter to popular policy that saw all Communist countries as a caliphate, Davies faced nine Diplomatic Security investigations between 1948 and 1954, all of which failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, in 1954, under political pressure from Senator Joe McCarthy, the gutless Secretary of State John Foster Dulles asked Davies to resign. Davies refused, and Dulles terminated him, claiming he had “demonstrated a lack of judgment, discretion and reliability,” charges that curiously echo the ones against me for poor judgment, lack of candor and mishandling classified material I never once handled.
In the topsy-turvy world that now is our new reality, the Obama administration charged former CIA officer John Kiriakou under the Espionage Act after he blew the whistle on the waterboarding of al-Qaeda suspects and refused to participate in torture. His sociopathic CIA counterpart, Jose Rodriguez, meanwhile, is proudly promoting a new book in which he brags about torturing the same people and gloats over destroying the video evidence of his actions. The Espionage Act itself favored by the Obama people harkens back to dark times in American history, having been used against the government’s political opponents. Targets included labor leaders and radicals like Eugene V. Debs, Bill Haywood, Philip Randolph, Victor Berger, John Reed, Max Eastman, and Emma Goldman. Debs, a union leader and socialist candidate for the presidency, was, in fact, sentenced to ten years in jail for a speech attacking the Espionage Act itself.
The First Amendment
To understand what this all means, it is important to take a step back. Here’s the First Amendment, in full:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Those beautiful words are the sparse poetry of the American democratic experiment. The Founders purposely wrote the First Amendment to read broadly, and not like a snippet of tax code, in order to emphasize that it should encompass everything from shouted religious rantings to eloquent political criticism. The Founders would retch to see what has become of the spirit of the Enlightment that drove them, simply because America got frightened after 9/11. Our nation was founded by bigger men, to be stronger than to casually throw away hard-won rights.
The effect of all these security-as-bully-boy-personnel-tactics is to chill free speech within government. Government is different than private business. If you don’t like McDonald’s because of its policies, go to Burger King, or eat at home. You don’t get the choice in governments, and so the critical need for employees to be able to speak informs the Republic. We are the only ones who can tell you what is happening inside your government. It really is that important.
James Madison understood these dangers, and warned “The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.” As the tools of security increase in quality and quantity, and the courts continue to pay false deference to anything tagged as “security related,” the line between actions directed against enemies abroad and perceived enemies at home continues to blur. Many of the illegal things Richard Nixon did to the famous Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg are now both legal under the Patriot Act and far easier to accomplish with new technologies. There is no need, for instance, to break into anyone’s psychiatrist’s office looking for dirt, as happened to Ellsberg, when the National Security Agency can penetrate your doctor’s electronic records as easily as you can read this page. The use of those security tools expands, from true enemies of the state to bothersome employees of State.
Yes, welcome to my world indeed. Criticize any government you like, as long as it isn’t the one at home.
I met another one yesterday, on the subway. He was with his family visiting DC as tourists and they all stood swaying like happy but confused cows in front of Washington’s impossibly confusing subway fare map. I helped them figure it out, and learned they were from Montana, were in a “big city” for the first time in a long time and were a bit overwhelmed. The son was 26, in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, lost his leg near a city in Iraq whose name he awkwardly mispronounced. I doubt if an Iraqi would have recognized the name given how he said it, but it was where he got shot in a war that made no more sense than the subway map. The charts say he has sixty more years in that chair, three more lives. Almost 12 stops on the subway, too.
Somewhere along the way the US killed off over 100,000 Iraqis while 4480 American soldiers died alongside of them. No one can really count how many were wounded, like the guy on the subway. It was a war purely of choice, a war of desire, launched with an invasion into a country that did not attack or threaten the US. That was 2003, when “men” like Colin Powell, Condi Rice and the Bush clan lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It is important to go over those things once in awhile, because government fibbers are always poking around– Syria, Iran, Pakistan– with more false or exaggerated claims. Let’s agree to ask a few questions next time.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite whatever reasons they started, morphed into nation building, where the US sought/seeks to create neat little democratic allies. That is a fool’s errand, and an expensive one in terms of lives and dollars, so it is important to check in to see where these things are going once in a while.
In the same week that we learn of Iraq’s plan to shut down the majority of major media outlets, Musings on Iraq, one of the most dispassionate and apolitical sites on the topic, offers this pocket assessment of today’s Iraq:
Recently, the United Nations and the State Department issued reports on human rights within Iraq. Both said that the country had a poor record. Freedom of the press, assembly, and expression, along with women and minority rights were all threatened, and the country lacked a functioning justice and prison systems. This was due to not only the on going violence within the country, but corruption and government dysfunction. Both organizations believed that the situation would continue. Not only has the government’s promises of improving its human rights situation proved hollow, but no official has ever been punished for their actions, while insurgents still carry out their daily terrorist attacks.
Of course one must ask if that’s the best we could do with 4480 American lives and several trillion dollars, what hope do we have in America’s other endless wars of choice and desire?
If you have the stomach for it, read a more detailed look at the state of modern Iraq on Musings.
If you missed my article on Obama’s Ultimate No-Fly List, targeted drone killings, and how they relate to his leaking of good news, prosecuting those who disclose bad news strategy, it is now available on a variety of outlets:
(If the video clip isn’t embedded above, see it here)
The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) published its summer reading list, and was kind enough to include We Meant Well alongside books like Michael Hastings The Operators, Drift by Rachel Maddow and Black Banners by Ali Soufan.
The whole list is worth reading and, packed on to your Kindle and digested over the summer, provides a tidy snapshot of the current state of the War of Terror.
One of the few books I have not read on the list is Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Timesby Eyal Press. The book tries to explain what impels ordinary people to defy the sway of authority and convention and become whistleblowers, protesters and heroes. The conclusion tracks with my own experience and the experiences of the other whistleblowers I have come to know, that acts of dissent are often carried out not by radicals seeking to overthrow the system but by true believers who cling to their convictions.
See the whole list of summer reading over at POGO.
One definition of mental illness is doing the same thing over and over, but somehow expecting different results. Such as it is in our never-ending gobsmacker reconstruction work in
Vietnam Iraq Afghanistan.
From another well-meaning but naive contractor in Afghanistan comes yet another well-meaning but naive tale of how US reconstruction money is being spent to buy chickens for widows. The US buys the chickens, the widows raise the chickens as a source of food and income, and hearts and minds are won. Photos of kids with our brave troops are included.
We’ve seen this before of course, in Iraq, where our failed reconstruction efforts featured at various times cows for widows, goats for widows, bees for widows and in my book, sheep for widows. Noah himself couldn’t have brought more animals to more widows.
Civic action is not the construction of privies or the distribution of antimalaria sprays. One can’t fight an ideology; one can’t fight a militant doctrine with better privies. Yet this is done constantly. One side says, “land reform,” and the other side says, “better culverts.” One side says, “We are going to kill all those nasty village chiefs and landlords.” The other side says, “Yes, but look, we want to give you prize pigs to improve your strain.” These arguments just do not match. Simple but adequate appeals will have to be found sooner or later.
The question in my mind is this: Can we in Viet-Nam, or anywhere else, save (or improve) the administrative or governmental structure? The answer is obvious, and there is no other effort really worth doing. There are no easy shortcuts to solving the problems of revolutionary war. In fact, I would like to close with one last thought, which applies, of course, to everything that is done in the armed forces, but particularly to revolutionary war: If it works, it is obsolete. In Viet-Nam and in many other similar situations we have worked too often with well-working but routine procedures and ideas. It is about time that new approaches and–above all–ideas be tried; obviously, the other ones have been unequal to the task.
Take the stock photos from Afghanistan and recolor the ground the gray tan of Iraq’s sand, or the red brown of Vietnam’s clay and it is the same picture.
Counterinsurgency wars are not fought successfully by handing out livestock, or winning merit badges. One fights an idea with a better idea, and by protecting the people (and not obliterating their wedding parties) and by creating and protecting a local government.
One SEAL living real counterinsurgency in virtual Quang Tri province, Afghanistan, gets it:
Let’s rewrite our metrics of success to reflect our effect on the population, with measures such as: economic activity at bazaars, unsolicited enemy reporting from villagers, and longevity of local officials; as opposed to the input metrics of enemy killed, dollars spent, and Afghan troops trained.
Another COIN warrior wrote in the comments below:
All our coin efforts fail because we never do a soil compaction test (i.e., check for a stable, supported local government) before we attempt to build a structure (nation).
But oh, say the $200k a year contractors as they round up more goats or dig better privies, what we are doing must help a little. Yes, yes, it must, in the same way that jumping up brings you closer to the sun. True, but it does not matter. After eleven years of animal giveaways in Afghanistan, you’d think someone would be coming to that same conclusion.
A story this blog follows closely is the case of very special State Department Diplomatic Security Agent Deedy (pictured in his mug shot), who appears to have shot and killed a man in Hawaii while Deedy was there protecting someone or something else during the last APEC meeting. You can get the backstory here.
Rather than retype it all, I will redirect you to a much better blog that follows Deedy’s case very closely. That blog is here.
If you have the attention span of Justin Beiber and just want the shortest version, it is: On June 15 Honolulu judge Karen Ahn has removed from her calendar a hearing on a motion by the attorney for Christopher Deedy to dismiss the murder charge. This means despite the attempts of Deedy’s lawyer to have the charge thrown out, Deedy is still scheduled to stand trial in Ahn’s court on September 10 on charges of second-degree murder and use of a firearm.
There’s a lot more fluff surrounding the case, so better read the full story.
Alec Ross will introduce himself to you as an “innovator.” A close confidant of Hillary Clinton and a veteran of the 2008 Hope and Change Obama charade, instead of finding a job he got himself appointed as the State Department’s “guru” (their word, not mine) of social media. Alec just loves social media; he so “gets it” so darn much that he can’t stop himself from advising the State Department about having more social media. It is what he does.
For today’s lesson in public diplomacy at the State Department, we feature one of Alec’s own Tweets, crafted by the hand of the master himself:
If Alec would ever answer my emails, Tweets or Facebook messages (I guess he is just so busy, right?), here’s what I’d like to ask:
What is the freaking point of this Tweet? Are you working on the Ben Franklin campaign now?
Where can I get a “Fact o’ the Day” desk calendar like you have so I can make Tweets like this?
Why did thirty people “retweet” this, sending a pointless message to others. Are they all on your staff? Why do you have such a big staff?
Or do you have 30 dummy accounts you control?
When Time Magazine named @AlecRoss one of the best Twitter feeds of 2012, did they have their head up their ass or is there some other Alec Ross Twitter feed they looked at? Does it cost a lot of money to buy your way on to those kind of lists and can you use Paypal?
Would it be possible to convince you to say stand on the roof in a thunder storm this weekend with wet feet and try and repeat Franklin’s historic experiment? You know, for science and all.
For perhaps the first time, ambassador nominee Brett McGurk has withdrawn himself. In a letter sent Monday to Obama and Hillary, McGurk said he was removing himself from consideration for the job with a “heavy heart.” He said he was doing so after consulting with his most recent wife, Gina Chon, because he believed it was in the “best interests of the country, and of our life together, to withdraw my nomination and serve in another capacity.”
And with that pull out, we conclude our double-entendre jokes in this matter.
Brett, all joking aside, I feel for you man. I know how it is to have State turn on you, push you out of a job and all that. Despite some water under the bridge between us, I think maybe we could get along, you know, maybe hang out now that both of us have afternoons free. Whattaya say, we leave the wives at home and hit a few rooftop bars, see what comes up, um, goes down, aw dammit, I just did it again didn’t I?
But we’re moving on. Who’s next to claim the head job at the world’s largest and most expensive embassy? The previous landlord, Jim Jeffrey, quit the job so quickly that he didn’t even wait for his replacement to arrive. Now everyone else in Iraq falls under a State Department policy requiring the outgoing person to stay on for a week overlap with his/her replacement, but like lots of things at State, that only applies to the little people.
So who will it be? One rumor is that Obama will nominate Meghan O’Sullivan. Sully, like McGurk, is another Bush administration left over covered in Iraqi blood. She was an assistant to Paul Bremer in the Coalition Provisional Authority, Senior Director for Iraq at the National Security Council and Special Assistant to Bush and Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan. Like McGurk, she was deeply involved with all the wonder and goodness that US accrued in nine sad years of occupation in Iraq.
Let’s collectively hope the rumor isn’t true. While there is certainly some cosmic karmic justice in making all the bright young things that dragged us into the Iraq War clean up their own mess out there, isn’t there anyone Obama can find who might bring some new thinking to the task? Right now we have a white elephant embassy that is too expensive ($6.5 billion a year), too huge (16,000 staff) and too useless, because the Iraqis want no part of us and it is too dangerous for State’s warriors to leave campus and visit nearby Baghdad. At the same time Iraq has devolved into a de facto Malaki dictatorship, with growing ties to Iran at no extra charge.
Oh– and if anyone has any saucy Meghan O’Sullivan emails to share, please forward them to the usual suspects.
It probably hasn’t been the most popular thing to do, but I’m glad that TomDispatch has been one place that has continued to focus on the “collateral damage” of our recent wars and is the only website that has kept a count of one of the more shocking aspects of those wars: the obliteration of wedding parties by the US using aerial strikes.
The US recently killed 18 Afghan civilians (including nine children) at a wedding in a village in Logar Province. This — and TomDispatch has been counting over the years — is at least the seventh wedding party eviscerated by a US air strike since 2001.
Why weddings? The US also has a policy of striking funerals, probably for the same reasons. The “policy” angle is that weddings and funerals are gatherings of important
people targets at a known place and time. Killing Bad Guy No. 167 means wiping out the rest of the guests at the same time collaterally.
TomDispatch, in an article subtitled Till Death Do Us Part, looks deeper into the shame of accepting such collateral damage, positing the use of armed drones inside the US as a way of making the murky ethics of all this clearer.
An important article, read it online now at TomDispatch.
If you placed every article on the US’ war of terror end-to-end, it would be a very long string of bullshit. So, it is important when somebody– a Yemeni named Ibrahim Mothana in this case– just shows up and tells you the whole story in a few words. Mothana wrote in the New York Times:
Dear Obama, when a US drone missile kills a child in Yemen, the father will go to war with you, guaranteed. Nothing to do with Al Qaeda… Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants; they are not driven by ideology but rather by a sense of revenge and despair.
Anti-Americanism is far less prevalent in Yemen than in Pakistan. But rather than winning the hearts and minds of Yemeni civilians, America is alienating them by killing their relatives and friends. Indeed, the drone program is leading to the Talibanization of vast tribal areas and the radicalization of people who could otherwise be America’s allies in the fight against terrorism in Yemen.
Certainly, there may be short-term military gains from killing militant leaders in these strikes, but they are minuscule compared with the long-term damage the drone program is causing. A new generation of leaders is spontaneously emerging in furious retaliation to attacks on their territories and tribes.
This is why al Qaeda is much stronger in Yemen today than it was a few years ago.
Only a long-term approach based on building relations with local communities, dealing with the economic and social drivers of extremism, and cooperating with tribes and Yemen’s army will eradicate the threat of Islamic radicalism.
Best to read the entire article now online.
Michele Obama, if you are reading this, please clip out the article above and leave it on Barack’s pillow, thanks.
Gina Chon, previous mistress of ambassador-to-sleazeland Brett “The Stick” McGurk, for some ridiculous reason (probably because Dancing with the Stars was booked) did an interview with the Washington Post.
The article states:
Chon said in her message that the leaked e-mails were promoted to news outlets by a “disgruntled” employee on the eve of McGurk’s confirmation hearings, apparently in an attempt to undermine his nomination. She did not identify the State Department employee.
I hope she isn’t referring to me, for I am not disgruntled in any way. Quite happy to be here, had a decent career with State until fairly recently, a career that I entered through a very competitive process and maintained over 24 years of up or out promotions– unlike McGurk who has been appointed to all his Iraq jobs.
OK. But what about those emails Gina?
She described her relationship with McGurk as “a fairly simple tale of two people who met in Baghdad, fell in love, got engaged and later married.” Their e-mails, she said, “reflected flirtatious banter and nothing more.”
Of course Chon resigned/got fired for sharing her stories with McGurk ahead of publication, something known as “unethical” in the universe she and Brett don’t live in.
But really, wow. Lots of people spent a year (or several) in Iraq and managed to stay married. Most of their flirtatious banter isn’t the sophomoric crap her emails reveal, with talk of blue balls and masturbation and sexy time hookups whilst ditching one’s spouse. There are also reports that Ms. Chon cheated on her spouse with a second dude.
Added the disgruntled Chon:
The question I continue to have is when will the conversation return to issues?
Good idea. Let’s have a conversation about the unparalleled success of McGurk skateboarding America through nine failed years of war and occupation in Iraq. Take a look at his crap from 2006-2007, newly discovered blog posts, where he spinelessly defends the Bush policies and predicts happy sunshine for Team America in Iraq.
Let’s also talk about whether not speaking any Arabic is a good or bad thing for McGurk. Let’s ask what experience he has had managing a $6.5 billion enterprise with 16,000 employees. Let’s ask what job if any he has held other than appointed political hack. Let’s talk about how many Iraqi groups see him as so close to PM Malaki that they initially refused to even work with him. Let’s talk about the little paid-for nooky at Harvard. Let’s talk about whether using US Government email to conduct an extra-marital affair suggests you have the discretion, maturity and personal credibility to be an ambassador. Let’s talk about John McCain’s objections. Let’s talk about Inoufe’s objections.
Let’s talk about all those issues, and whether they add up to someone who deserves to be an ambassador.
And as if to make sure the story drags on for another news cycle, Chon also spoke to CNN. Better yet, some apology email Chon sent to her “friends” ended up leaked to CNN by one of them. The embattled spouse told CNN:
People have jumped to unfair and inaccurate conclusions using our own words against us.
Oh, the old “using our own words” defense. We call that taking responsibility for what you say and write. And this woman worked for a major newspaper?
Bottom line: If you did it yourself, you can’t claim yourself as the victim. The issue is not the leaking of the emails, it is the content of the emails and the fact that McGurk and the State Department tried to hide them from the Senate and the American People. I’m sorry it took a sex scandal to rouse the Senate from its nap to pay attention to this nominee, but it needs to pay attention to this nominee.
Hang on Gina, your 15 minutes are about to end, and the reality TV offer can’t be far behind. Is that Bristol Palin on line one already?
Bonus: with the Arab press all over this story (see here and here as examples) how effective could McGurk hope to be as ambassador anyway?
(This article originally appeared on TomDispatch, on June 12, 2012)
White is black and down is up. Leaks that favor the president are shoveled out regardless of national security, while national security is twisted to pummel leaks that do not favor him. Watching their boss, bureaucrats act on their own, freelancing the punishment of whistleblowers, knowing their retaliatory actions will be condoned. The United States rains Hellfire missiles down on its enemies, with the president alone sitting in judgment of who will live and who will die by his hand.
The issue of whether the White House leaked information to support the president’s reelection while crushing whistleblower leaks it disfavors shouldn’t be seen as just another O’Reilly v. Maddow sporting event. What lies at the nexus of Obama’s targeted drone killings, his self-serving leaks, and his aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers is a president who believes himself above the law, and seems convinced that he alone has a preternatural ability to determine right from wrong.
If the President Does It, It’s Legal?
In May 2011 the Pentagon declared that another country’s cyber-attacks — computer sabotage, against the U.S. — could be considered an “act of war.” Then, one morning in 2012 readers of the New York Times woke up to headlines announcing that the Stuxnet worm had been dispatched into Iran’s nuclear facilities to shut down its computer-controlled centrifuges (essential to nuclear fuel processing) by order of President Obama and executed by the US and Israel. The info had been leaked to the paper by anonymous “high ranking officials.” In other words, the speculation about Stuxnet was at an end. It was an act of war ordered by the president alone.
Similarly, after years of now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t stories about drone attacks across the Greater Middle East launched “presumably” by the U.S., the Times (again) carried a remarkable story not only confirming the drone killings — a technology that had morphed into a policy — but noting that Obama himself was the Great Bombardier. He had, the newspaper reported, designated himself the final decision-maker on an eyes-only “kill list” of human beings the United States wanted to destroy. It was, in short, the ultimate no-fly list. Clearly, this, too, had previously been classified top-secret material, and yet its disclosure was attributed directly to White House sources.
Now, everyone is upset about the leaks. It’s already a real Red v. Blue donnybrook in an election year. Senate Democrats blasted the cyberattack-on-Iran leaks and warned that the disclosure of Obama’s order could put the country at risk of a retaliatory strike. Republican Old Man and former presidential candidate Senator John McCain charged Obama with violating national security, saying the leaks are “an attempt to further the president’s political ambitions for the sake of his re-election at the expense of our national security.” He called for an investigation. The FBI, no doubt thrilled to be caught in the middle of all this, dutifully opened a leak investigation, and senators on both sides of the aisle are planning an inquiry of their own.
The high-level leaks on Stuxnet and the kill list, which have finally created such a fuss, actually follow no less self-serving leaked details from last year’s bin Laden raid in Pakistan. A flurry of White House officials vied with each other then to expose ever more examples of Obama’s commander-in-chief role in the operation, to the point where Seal Team 6 seemed almost irrelevant in the face of the president’s personal actions. There were also “high five” congratulatory leaks over the latest failed underwear bomber from Yemen.
On the Other Side of the Mirror
The Obama administration has been cruelly and unusually punishing in its use of the 1917 Espionage Act to stomp on governmental leakers, truth-tellers, and whistleblowers whose disclosures do not support the president’s political ambitions. As Thomas Drake, himself a victim of Obama’s crusade against whistleblowers, told me, “This makes a mockery of the entire classification system, where political gain is now incentive for leaking and whistleblowing is incentive for prosecution.”
The Obama administration has charged more people (six) under the Espionage Act for the alleged mishandling of classified information than all past presidencies combined. (Prior to Obama, there were only three such cases in American history, one being Daniel Ellsberg, of Nixon-era Pentagon Papers fame.) The most recent Espionage Act case is that of former CIA officer John Kiriakou, charged for allegedly disclosing classified information to journalists about the horrors of waterboarding. Meanwhile, his evil twin, former CIA officer Jose Rodriguez, has a best-selling book out bragging about the success of waterboarding and his own hand in the dirty work.
Obama’s zeal in silencing leaks that don’t make him look like a superhero extends beyond the deployment of the Espionage Act into a complex legal tangle of retaliatory practices, life-destroying threats, on-the-job harassment, and firings. Lots of firings.
Upside Down Is Right Side Up
In ever-more polarized Washington, the story of Obama’s self-serving leaks is quickly devolving into a Democratic/Republican, he-said/she-said contest — and it’s only bound to spiral downward from there until the story is reduced to nothing but partisan bickering over who can get the most advantage from those leaks.
But don’t think that’s all that’s at stake in Washington. In the ever-skittish Federal bureaucracy, among the millions of men and women who actually are the government, the message has been much more specific, and it’s no political football game. Even more frightened and edgy than usual in the post-9/11 era, bureaucrats take their cues from the top. So expect more leaks that empower the Obama Superman myth and more retaliatory, freelance acts of harassment against genuine whistleblowers. After all, it’s all been sanctioned.
Having once been one of those frightened bureaucrats at the State Department, I now must include myself among the victims of the freelancing attacks on whistleblowers. The Department of State is in the process of firing me, seeking to make me the first person to suffer any sanction over the WikiLeaks disclosures. It’s been a backdoor way of retaliating for my book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, which was an honest account of State’s waste and mismanagement in the “reconstruction” of Iraq.
Unlike Bradley Manning, on trial under the Espionage Act for allegedly dumping a quarter million classified documents onto the Internet, my fireable offense was linking to just one of them at my blog. Just a link, mind you, not a leak. The document, still unconfirmed as authentic by the State Department even as they seek to force me out over it, is on the web and available to anyone with a mouse, from Kabul to Tehran to Des Moines.
That document was discussed in several newspaper articles before — and after — I “disclosed” it with my link. It was a document that admittedly did make the U.S. government look dumb, and that was evidently reason enough for the State Department to suspend my security clearance and seek to fire me, even after the Department of Justice declined to prosecute. Go ahead and click on a link yourself and commit what State now considers a crime.
This is the sort of thing that happens when reality is suspended in Washington, when the drones take flight, the worms turn, and the president decides that he, and he alone, is the man.
What Happens When Everything Is Classified?
What happens when the very definitions that control life in government become so topsy-turvy that 1984 starts looking more like a handbook than a novel?
I lived in Taiwan when that island was still under martial law. Things that everyone could see, like demonstrations, never appeared in the press. It was illegal to photograph public buildings or bridges, even when you could buy postcards nearby of some of the same structures. And that was a way of life, just not one you’d want.
If that strikes you as familiar in America today, it should. When everything is classified — according to the Information Security Oversight Office, in 2011 American officials classified more than 92,000,000 documents — any attempt to report on anything threatens to become a crime; unless, of course, the White House decides to leak to you in return for a soft story about a heroic war president.
For everyone else working to create Jefferson’s informed citizenry, it works very differently, even at the paper that carried the administration’s happy leaks. Times reporter Jim Risen is now the subject of subpoenas by the Obama administration demanding he name his sources as part of the Espionage Act case against former CIA officer Jeffery Sterling. Risen was a journalist doing his job, and he raises this perfectly reasonable, but increasingly outmoded question: “Can you have a democracy without aggressive investigative journalism? I don’t believe you can, and that’s why I’m fighting.” Meanwhile, the government calls him their only witness to a leaker’s crime.
One thing at stake in the case is the requirement that journalists aggressively pursue information important to the public, even when that means heading into classified territory. If almost everything of importance (and much that isn’t) is classified, then journalism as we know it may become… well, illegal.
Sometimes in present-day Washington there’s simply too much irony for comfort: the story that got Risen in trouble was about an earlier CIA attempt to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, a plot which failed where Stuxnet sort of succeeded.
James Spione, an Academy Award-nominated director who is currently working on a documentary about whistleblowers in the age of Obama, summed things up to me recently this way: “Beneath the partisan grandstanding, I think what is most troubling about this situation is the sense that the law is being selectively applied. On the one hand, we have the Justice Department twisting the Espionage Act into knots in an attempt to crack down on leaks from ‘little guys’ like Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou, while at the same time an extraordinarily detailed window into covert drone policy magically appears in the Times.
Here is the simple reality of our moment: the president has definitively declared himself (and his advisors and those who carry out his orders) above the law, both statutory and moral. It is now for him and him alone to decide who will live and who will die under the drones, for him to reward media outlets with inside information or smack journalists who disturb him and his colleagues with subpoenas, and worst of all, to decide all by himself what is right and what is wrong.
The image Obama holds of himself, and the one his people have been aggressively promoting recently is of a righteous killer, ready to bloody his hands to smite “terrorists” and whistleblowers equally. If that sounds Biblical, it should. If it sounds full of unnerving pride, it should as well. If this is where a nation of laws ends up, you should be afraid.
In addition to sleazy emails trading sex for access (a two way deal between disgraced Brett “The Stick” McGurk and disgraced Wall Street Journal “journalist” Gina Chon), we add another pack of stained sheets to the pile.
Sex on the Roof
I hope no one missed commenter “William” who added to this blog:
Yes, it is true, he had sex on the roof. Everyone knew it. I was there, not on the roof, but afterwards when everyone was talking about it and he was walking around like cool man on campus.
He does lack key leadership jobs and it appears his expierience has been handed to him, but he found these positions because people like him and he does a good job. I will give him that – he is likable and does good work. He also has a talent for attracting the ladies.
Sex at The Yard
Meanwhile in sleaze land, the Washington Post reports that McGurk invited his then-mistress Chon to be a guest lecturer at a Harvard course he taught in 2009. Harvard students attending the class had no idea that their teacher was romantically involved with Chon, who spoke to them about her experience
reporting getting inside info by sleeping with her sources in Iraq, according to a student who attended.
(Sigh) Needless to say, both the Stickman and Chon were married to others when they arranged to have Harvard pay for Chon to spend some quality time with Brett on the university’s dime. Another classy move McGurk!
No one at State was working on a warm Friday afternoon to comment on whether McGurk’s actions constitute the same “notorisouly disgraceful conduct” it beats
off on its own employees for doing.
After the US offered bounties in the millions for information on the next couple of Muslims scheduled for drone assassination, a Somali warlord (i.e., any goat herder with access to the internet) has put up his own bounty for Obama and Hillary.
On the table is an offer of ten camels for Obama, and two for Hillary, referred to by the warlord as “the lady of Bill Clinton.” Most Western media presume the warlord was indeed referring to Hillary.
CNN, which most Western media presume had completely given up journalism and the acquisition of facts, actually went out and found a university study showing the average cost of a camel in Somalia is $700.
We note that the US previously had a $25 million bounty out there for info leading to the kill/capture of bin Laden. The Pakistani doctor, whose vaccination ruse helped uncover the bin Laden lair, is now forever in jail in his own country. No bounty was paid.
(No jokes in the comments section about ten camels for Obama being nine camels too many, please)
No one can say that the State Department isn’t making the most of Twitter in its pubic diplomacy efforts. Actually, no one can say it, because they’ll get fired if they do.
Let’s look at some of today’s State Department Twitter while it is still running down the inside of America’s thigh:
Oooooh, Biden on Iraq. A lot going on there, renewal of Sunni bombing of Shia pilgrims, bloodiest day of 2012 so far, whither the Malaki power struggle, what’s going on with McGurk’s nomination, etc.
So I hit the jump on State’s Tweet to soak it all in and here’s the “read out” in full:
The Vice President today hosted a periodic Cabinet-level meeting on Iraq. Participants discussed the current political situation in Iraq and recent progress toward implementing the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement in two areas that are central to our partnership: security cooperation and energy cooperation. The Vice President, and all participants, also condemned the violence that occurred in Iraq today and offered their condolences to the Iraqi people.
Um, guys? Credibility is key to succeeding in social media. You want someone other than your boss to read what you write, ‘kay? Please try again.
So here’s another State Department Tweet:
Alright! The good old State Department is out there helping Americans find jobs, a bully idea in an election year. They say they are producing “real results for the America people” so let’s hit the jump and see what those real results are…
(sound of tumbleweed rolling across screen)
After the jump, you end up on a State page glorifying the Dear Leader (Hillary this time) and including one of her speeches where she claims “Our diplomatic efforts are producing real returns for the American people and building a more prosperous future for our economic partners.”
There is… not… one… example. None.
Instead, we learn that the State Department is going to spend a bunch of tax money to hold “Global Economic Statecraft Day” parties at all its embassies. This is a made-up special day, kind of like National Eat More Citrus Day. What’ll happen as a result of all these lovely parties? Hillary lists the robust plans: “public dialogue, a partnership announcement, or a meeting to discuss export opportunities.”
I don’t have a crazy man’s dictionary at hand, but my definition of producing real results seems different than having dialogues, making announcements or holding a meeting.” I’d like a job please, ma’am, instead.
No wonder I can’t seem to succeed at State. I just don’t get social media.
I wrote recently about the return of Blackwater to the State Department, with the mercenary guns-for-hire company changing its name once again (now called Academi in a homage to bad spelling) and buying an existing contract to put it back into the State Department’s world.
It gets creepier, as government seems to get these days.
Slam Dunk on Inman
Academi now boasts two celebrities on its Board of Directors, former attorney general John Ashcroft and retired admiral Bobby Inman. Ashcroft of course is Mr. Homeland Security, the guy who set in motion the smorgasbord of unconstitutional wiretapping, spying and detentions without trial that followed 9/11. He is also the guy who was so offended by the marble statues at the Department of Justice that he had them draped to hide classical nude details.
From a State Department-Blackwater love fest perspective, Inman is a slam-dunk. Inside Foggy Bottom, Inman is permanently associated with the up-armoring of embassies abroad through the 1985 “Inman Report,” a call to arms that resulted in the moated, blast-proof, unapproachable fortress embassies America promotes its image through today. The Report was also the catalyst for the establishment of the part of the State Department which titularly oversees the deployment of mercenaries, everyone’s favorite Bureau of Diplomatic Security, DS. Inman’s word is gospel to DS, so his appearance on the Academi Board is no accident.
Keeping the circle of life theme going, Academi’s CEO Ted Wright used to be president of mega-contractor KBR, the firm Dick Cheney worked for and the firm that made billions running the backstage logistics portion of the Iraq and Afghan crusades. One of Academi’s VPs worked for Queen Noor of Jordan, and has ties to the Bush dynasty. It is indeed a small world.
Academi, on its “pro shop” web site, sells God’s Will T-shirts, pictured above. Just the thing for the budding merc crusader to wear while gunning down Muslims for profit. Jeez, and people wonder why we’re not winning.
A Devil’s Bargain
In the days since 9/11, State has undergone a fundamental shift, one that has required the organization to make a Devils’ Bargain with mercenaries like Academi. Prior to 9/11, State’s policy was generally to evacuate embassies in countries at war, reinserting diplomats when things quieted down to the point that diplomacy was again possible. This strategy worked well for some 220 years of American history.
After 9/11, State felt compelled to out-macho the military, to prove its manliness in the testosterone-fueled Bush (and now Obama) years. This meant opening and/or keeping open embassies in the midst of shooting wars, originally just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but now spread alongside America’s increasingly one-tune foreign policy of belligerence to places like South Sudan, Yemen and elsewhere in drone land. The US military, already stretched thin by endless war, has neither the forces nor the interest in guarding State’s pasty pseudo warriors, and so the Department of State is forced to turn to private armies, like Academi, mercenaries, to enable its macho posture abroad.
I saw groups like Blackwater in action in Iraq, often alongside our own military. The mercs were what our military would be like without the NCO corps to enforce discipline, a frat house with guns, lots of guns. While State makes wordplay out of claiming to supervise its mercs, overpaid, ‘roided ‘dudes with guns named Smitty, J-Dub, Spider and the like take little notice when requested to follow the laws of war in protecting diplomats so far out of their environments. It is a situation that isn’t just likely to go wrong, it is one that practically demands to devolve into crisis.
The solution is straightforward. State should understand and admit that it is neither equipped, trained nor needed for combat situations. State should take a step back from adventures that assure its role as negotiators, diplomats, public diplomacists and the like will be misunderstood at best, and refocus its resources away from spending billions on private armies. Until then, State is forced into bed with creepy organizations like Academi, and will suffer for it.
Six Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today called on President Obama to withdraw his nominee for US ambassador to Iraq, Brett “The Stick” McGurk.
Beavis and Butthead Do “Foreign Affairs”
The Wall Street Journal has already shown it has more respect and dignity than the White House, firing/allowing to resign Gina Chon, the female half of the McGurk scandel.
The Army has also shown it has more respect and dignity than the White House, finding a Colonel who had an extra-marital affair guilty Wednesday of two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, neither status McGurk seems destined for. The Army stated that the Colonel’s conduct “disgraced officers and the Army.” The State Department continues to claim McGurk is uniquely qualified for the job.
The State Department, at least with its low-level staff, has also shown it has more respect and dignity than the White House, pursuing discipline charges against Foreign Service personnel who had extra-marital affairs leading to “notoriously disgraceful conduct.”
Only the White House stands alone declaring that no one else in the entire US government, or the entire United States for that matter, is qualified to serve as ambassador to Iraq but a guy who has done nothing in is 38 years of life but be politically appointed to Iraq jobs (none earned, elected or competitively chosen, just appointed mind you), making a selfish hash out of even that by cheating on his wife while tossing nuggets to a now-disgraced reporter.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee is due to vote on McGurk’s nomination on June 19. If they pass him, his nomination goes to the full Senate for a vote sometime before hell freezes over.
Meanwhile (naughty boy voice on) White House straight man Jay Carney said “We believe that the United States will be greatly served by Mr. McGurk’s experience in Iraq, which is substantial.” Heh Heh, he said he had “substantial experience.” And we all know what that means, eh Butthead?
With the McGurk nomination in trouble, despite State claiming he is uniquely qualified, prudent planning suggests State should have a replacement in the wings. I hereby volunteer and submit I too am uniquely qualified.
1. I spent a year in Iraq and screwed up most of what I tried to do, like McGurk. Advantage: McGurk, he was there longer and messed up a lot more things.
2. Unlike McGurk, there are no sweaty messages in my email archives. As part of its dirt-digging investigation into me because of my book and this blog, the State Department reviewed years of my emails, as well as my old travel vouchers and credit reports. They did not find anything worth punishing me over. Advantage: me.
3. As I already work for the State Department, so this is a lateral transfer with less paperwork. Since my current assignment is telework, I could actually technically continue to do that while serving as ambassador, a two-for-one deal for State. Advantage: me.
4. I’ve not cheated on my wife. I don’t use government email to send high school-like naughty notes. I have never used the term “blue balls” seriously. I do not write emails about beating off. I am a w-a-y better writer. Big advantage: me.
5. Like McGurk, I don’t speak Arabic and have never run an embassy. Like McGurk, I don’t have a clue how to handle a $6.5 billion budget and manage 16,000 employees. Advantage? Tie.
6. McGurk seems to only know one reporter well. Through my book and blog, I have met many reporters (though have slept with none of them). Advantage: me.
7. I am not related to our eighth president Martin Van Buren, but I would be willing to lie about it to Congress. Advantage: me.
8. McGurk has never held a job outside of working on Iraq. I’ve had 24 years at State and, while in college, had a summer job cleaning sewers. That last bit, my friends, does indeed make me uniquely qualified.
USA Today reports that Gina Chon, the most recent wife of Brett McGurk, ambassador-to-wanna-be-but-it-ain’t-gonna be nominee for Iraq has “been forced out of her job at the Wall Street Journal,” just days after saucy emails between her and her McGurk appeared on the Internet.
USA Today politely adds that “The e-mails are also threatening to upend former White House adviser Brett McGurk’s nomination to the Baghdad post.”
In a statement, the paper said that Gina Chon, a former Baghdad correspondent for the Journal, failed to notify her editor of her relationship with McGurk after the two became involved in 2008, and violated the company’s policy by sharing unpublished news articles with McGurk, then a member of the U.S. National Security Council in Iraq.
“In 2008 Ms. Chon entered into a personal relationship with Mr. McGurk, which she failed to disclose to her editor,” the paper said in a statement. “At this time the Journal has found no evidence that her coverage was tainted by her relationship with Mr. McGurk.” A spokeswoman for the Journal declined to disclose details about the articles shared with McGurk.
Well, at least she didn’t use that time-honored excuse of resigning to spend more time with her family.
Now, it is time for McGurk to also do the honorable thing and bow out.
Meanwhile, in the real world, HuffPo has a good article explaining how the most clear outcome of the US invasion of Iraq was to recreate the country as the newest ally of Iran, further hurting US efforts in the Middle East. McGurk should think himself lucky not to be ever-more tied to what is becoming one of the worst slow motion foreign policy train wrecks in American history.
Last month, apparently without attracting any public attention (until now), they quietly bought another security firm, International Development Solutions, and took over its piece of the State Department’s $10 billion World Protective Services contract, which then-Blackwater got kicked out of years ago.
A good way to keep up with all things Blackwater, er, Xe, Academi, whatever is the web site AcademiWatch.
Also, some awesome video of the Blackwater bullies in action in Iraq, winning hearts and minds for ‘Merica.
Blackwater is back, baby!
Blackwater and State have a, well, history. Records released after a four year FOIA fight between the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the web site Gawker show that mercenaries, primarily from Blackwater, shot and sometimes killed a lot of Iraqis in the name of protecting America’s diplomats while under contract with the State Department. The mercs, er, the private security companies, were supposed to be operating under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s command and control but instead shot up Iraq like outcasts from the Road Warrior.
The 4500 FOIA’ed pages released are filled with contact/incident reports. Every time a Blackwater shooter cranked off a few rounds at some Iraqi, he was supposed to file a report. State’s Diplomatic Security would validate the shoot as having taken place under its own rules and that would be that. No attempts were made to seriously investigate anything, no attempts were made to find out what happened to any of the Iraqis popped by American hired guns and certainly no attempts to rein in Blackwater are documented.
And now, Blackwater and State are back, together again, baby! Get some!
For those lucky enough to live outside of DC, the Department of State is located in an area of town called Foggy Bottom; that’s even the name of the subway station nearest the building. Back in the 18th century the area was literally a fetid swamp, hence the name.
It appears now that the swamp gases are rising through the concrete, because something in connection with the McGurk ambassador to Iraq nomination stinks.
State claims that McGurk is “uniquely qualified” for the job, and that he was the subject of “rigorous vetting.” Yet now-authenticated, salacious emails, which call into question his judgment, maturity, discretion and ethics popped up online, straight out of State’s own archives and blew his once certain Senate approval on to a back burner, at best.
As part of any political vetting process, especially in the age of the web, the candidate is asked at some point “Is there anything else? Anything out there that might come up we need to know about? Any skeletons in the closet, old affairs, angry ex’, anything?” Because today, if it is out there, it will surface.
And one of three things happened.
McGurk either lied to State and did not tell them about his affair, his trading info for sex, his lack of judgment (bad), or
McGurk with his own ethical compass did not think he did anything wrong and did not tell State (maybe worse), or
McGurk did tell State the whole story and State covered it up, hoping to mislead the Senate into confirming McGurk (very bad)
Anybody got a fourth possible scenario? I don’t.
We are left with the choices of a man either without ethics and shame, or one willing to lie to get ahead, or an institution at State so set on pleasing its political bosses in the White House that it is willing to deceive the Senate and help place an unqualified man in one of its most important posts.
There are too many well-qualified, honest people out there who could be ambassador to Iraq for the Senate to waste any more time on McGurk. He should now announce his need to spend time with his new wife, and State should come clean on its role in covering up this stench.
State should abandon its investigation into the leak of the emails and instead investigate its own vetting process.
Let’s try something new here: put the interests of America in front of self-interest. It will be a welcome change for the State Department.
173rd Airborne Commander has an affair, cheats on wife = Relieved of command, Army moves to Court Martial.
State Department adviser has an affair, cheats on wife = Nominated for Ambassadorship, State Department defends him claiming he is “uniquely qualified.”
In the face of a ferocious head wind of criticism against Ambassador-to-Iraq wanna be Brett McGurk, State’s official comment is that he is “uniquely qualified” to serve as the top American diplomat in Iraq and urged the Senate to confirm him quickly.
The Senate did not respond with alacrity. Several Republican senators, including Sen. John McCain, have criticized McGurk for his failure to negotiate a residual US force in Iraq after combat troops left in December 2011, an action that is directly responsible for several billion dollars in extra security costs for the State Department. A spokesman for Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., says that there are “concerning issues” about McGurk’s nomination and that the senator will not meet with him until those have been addressed. Inhofe spokesman Jared Young said the senator, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has not decided whether to place a formal hold on the nomination — which could kill it — but is withholding judgment until the matter is “cleared up.”
We suggest whoever has to “clean up” this mess wear a condom and wash their hands thoroughly afterwards.
Reasons not to confirm McGurk cover the spectrum:
He used official government email to hook up with a journalist in Iraq while married to someone else. Poor judgment, lack of maturity and discretion, reckless personal life, “notoriously disgraceful conduct” that State disciplines its own staff for.
In those same emails (which State essentially confirmed as authentic, stating “they are out there for everyone to see” and that the reporter “subsequently became his wife.”) McGurk dangles information for nooky to his reporter squeeze. McGurk saw no ethical issues in that deal, and saw no ethical issues in his now wife having sex with one of her journalistic sources. Why won’t he apply the same standards to his work as ambassador?
McGurk has held no job since graduation except to work on Iraq. He has been handmaiden to all the wonder, glory and success that has been the US in Iraq.
McGurk has never run an embassy, or anything else other than his own mouth, and is seeking to be in charge of the world’s largest and most expensive embassy as his training assignment. That embassy costs us $6.5 billion a year and employs over 16,000 people. This is not a place for a beginner, even with help.
Iraq is in political upheaval at present, with many elements gathering against current Prime Minister Malaki. McGurk is very, very close to Malaki and unlikely to be seen as a neutral, honest broker inside Iraq.
McGurk lied to his wife, messed around with a reporter, wrote her emails about his “blue balls” and masturbation in language that would be unimpressive from a high school kid. He is rumored to be in a sex tape, with another woman, a State Department employee now in Qatar we’re told. McGurk obviously has enemies inside State, with no assurance that the leaks are over with. Exactly what credibility will he have with his staff? How about his female staff?
McGurk speaks no Arabic and, based on his meandering answers in his confirmation hearing, can’t memorize facts and figures.
McGurk’s presence as ambassador would send a clear, sad message to all State Department employees that double standards of behavior apply, and that if you’re senior enough you can get away with things underlings get fired for.
Is America sending the right message to Iraq and the world when this is the best we can come up with for an ambassador’s job?
Bonus: Neither State nor McGurk has explained why it took a leak and then the efforts of some dedicated bloggers to bring out this information from State’s own archives? Why did State hide this until it was forced to admit it? What else is being withheld, and why does State withhold information from the Senate?
In my own case, State’s Diplomatic Security combed through my emails back years looking for dirt. Did they not look into McGurk’s? If not, why not? If so, why did they cover this up?
State, for its part, amazingly said “McGurk had been subject to rigorous vetting before being nominated for the job.” Hah hah, I guess that vetting should have been just a teensy, tiny bit more robust, eh? How can they say such things with a straight face?
Bonus Bonus: Marrying the woman you used to cheat on your wife does not erase the fact that you lied, broke your vows and cheated on your wife.
Iraq is a messy, complex place. 4484 Americans died there, over a hundred thousands Iraqis lost their lives. The Embassy in Iraq costs the US taxpayers between $6.5 and $4 billion a year, and has over 16,000 people working for it. This is not the place for an amateur, or for someone who can’t keep his zipper up and his mind on the job.
We need someone serious, mature and committed in this tough job, and we’re being fed Bluto from the Delta House. Zero point zero.
There are thousands of men and women in and out of government who speak Arabic, will present themselves as neutral brokers in Iraq and who can bring a fresh perspective to US policy there. Many of them have extensive executive experience, either running embassies themselves or in heading corporate ventures. None of them have their squishy sleezy emails leaked online by people who think they are unqualified enough to risk their careers to stop them, and the majority of them don’t sleep around on their spouses. Most of them are mature enough to not use government email to talk about whacking off.
And if all that isn’t enough, who says the leaks are over with, and that there isn’t more to come to embarrass us all again, now or when McGurk is in Baghdad?
Out of all those people, why why why is the State Department convinced only McGurk is qualified for this job?
USA Today reports on the latest twists and turns in the McGurk saga:
An aide to Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla, the second-ranking GOP member on the Senate Armed Services committee, said that the senator was concerned about the sexytime e-mails and a separate unsubstantiated allegation of inappropriate behavior by McGurk in Baghdad. The senator has decided to put off considering McGurk’s nomination and canceled a meeting with the nominee after learning of the e-mails. “Until those issues are cleared up, he will not meet with Mr. McGurk,” said an Inhofe spokesman.
The Washington Free Beacon reports “One source on Capitol Hill with knowledge of the nomination confirmed that the State Department had acknowledged the emails came from their system.”
As for Ms. Chon, the object of McGurk’s email affections, the Wall Street Journal says that “Ms. Chon, currently a reporter in Money & Investing, asked for a formal leave of absence from The Wall Street Journal in March when it appeared her then-fiancé might be nominated as ambassador to Iraq. The request was granted at the time, and the leave is scheduled to begin later this summer.” That seems to confirm that McGurk divorced his wife, to whom he was married whilst romancing Chon, and is now married to Chon.
The Journal apparently did not find reason to comment on whether it condoned its reporters being romantically involved with their sources, even as it back-backhandedly confirmed that its reporter was romantically involved with her source.
Senator McCain has previously taken issue with McGurk, because of failed negotiations with the Iraqis last year to keep residual US forces in the country beyond 2011. McGurk led those negotiations. McCain and others had also questioned whether McGurk, who unlike his post-Saddam era predecessors has never held a previous ambassadorship, was ready for the job of running the world’s largest embassy.
And just to sweeten the deal, the Iraqi National Accord, the most prominent opposition bloc in Iraq’s parliament, has earlier written to Congress to oppose his nomination and say he was too close to Shiite politicians. The group has since backed off a notch, saying they’ll work with whoever the US sends to Baghdad ’cause they kind of have to, but it does set the wrong tone.
Readers of my book, We Meant Well, will remember an incident where an innocent romantic email from a male State Department contractor to a female soldier kicked off a major incident that ended up with the contractor being swiftly fired for misuse of the official email system for personal use. If McGurk is allowed to end up as ambassador, that would be only the latest in a long series of double standards of conduct at the State Department.
The rule at Foggy Bottom is the higher the rank, the less the spank when it comes to naughtiness. That is not to imply, of course, that McGurk is into bondage and discipline play…
(The following article appeared on the Washington Free Beacon, with emphasis added.
Also, an anonymous source has told me that the reported McGurk sex tape, which shows a sex act on the roof of the Republican Palace, included a female Foreign Service Officer kneeling, not Ms. Chon (photo, left). The female FSO in question is serving outside of Iraq, though still in the Middle East. At the time of the alleged tape, and the emails, McGurk was married to a non-State Department woman named Caroline Wong. Though the Free Beacon article states McGurk is now married to Chon, Wong’s Facebook page still lists her as a McGurk.
Meanwhile, Gawker says that McGurk wasn’t Ms. Chon’s only conquest during her days in Iraq. She was also seen squiring then-ABC News correspondent Terry McCarthy around Baghdad.
Of course State has likely already started an investigation– into the leaks, not its employees’ conduct.
Busy world. When I served in Iraq, we tended to spend a lot of time at the gym. Dunno how these others got any work done.)
President Obama’s ambassadorial nominee to Iraq appears to have conducted a lascivious extramarital affair with a Wall Street Journal reporter while the duo were stationed in Iraq, according to a collection of often-explicit emails posted on the website Cryptome earlier this week.
The emails raise questions about the administration official’s fitness for the ambassadorship and whether he may have traded access to sensitive information for sexual favors.
The 2008 emails between Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon and former National Security Council member Brett McGurk, Obama’s nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq, expose a torrid love affair that unfolded over a period of several months.
Neither Chon nor the State Department responded to request for comment.
One source on Capitol Hill with knowledge of the nomination confirmed that the State Department had acknowledged the emails came from their system.
The explicit details contained in the missives indicate that McGurk, who was married at the time, dangled unprecedented access and information before Chon in return for a series of increasingly intimate sexual encounters. McGurk is now married to Chon.
McGurk was nominated by Obama in March to be the next U.S. envoy to Iraq. He served as an adviser to the last three U.S. ambassadors to Iraq, and later played the role of chief negotiator in the 2008 agreement that permitted U.S. troops to remain in that country.
In 2011, he led failed talks aimed at prolonging the U.S. troop presence.
The recently unearthed emails reveal that McGurk’s extramarital relationship with Chon began during the arduous 2008 negotiations over the U.S.-Iraq security agreement—the sensitive details of which McGurk often hinted at over his unclassified exchanges with Chon.
McGurk expressed pride in the clandestine relationship more than four months after the fact, when he resends to Chon the series of sexually charged emails and brags about his prowess.
“Cleaning out my emails and this is my all time favorite—from my first message to you through our Chinese dinner to the blue ball banter and then my coming over to hook up with you for the first time on June 23, —a night the world should celebrate!” McGurk wrote to Chon on December 13, 2008. “I am so fucking smooth!”
The reporter-source relationship began in earnest on June 20, 2008, after the pair met at a dinner party and traded a set of flirty emails.
“Thanks again for the dinner conversation,” McGurk wrote to Chon. “I’ll tell you what I know, if you can teach me something about cars.”
Chon responded in kind, attempting to lure McGurk away from his State Department handlers for a one-on-one schmooze session.
“It would be good to get together on a more casual basis without public affairs people, if you know what I mean,” wrote Chon.
From that point, Chon and McGurk engaged in an increasingly erotic back-and-forth in which Chon attempts to extract insider information and McGurk pontificates about his “blue balls,” a term that refers to sexual frustration.
“If treated to many glasses of wine—you could be the chosen vultures,” McGurk says to Chon before offering her advice on a story. “On local elections—you should speak with [Iraqi politician] Sami al-Ankari.”
“I’ll see what I can pull off regarding the wine,” Chon responds, complaining about Iraq’s strict regulation of alcohol, which is generally prohibited under Islamic law.
“I can insert a rider into the [Status of Forces Agreement] exempting prosecution of our consumption of alcohol at the Rasheed [hotel] on Sunday night,” McGurk responds.
It is unclear if his offer to alter official arrangements between the U.S. and Iraq for personal gain was a joke.
One day later, McGurk again offers to flex his political muscle so that the duo can enjoy their date.
“I’m in a negotiation now and will float the idea of a separate annex on Japanese sushi exports,” he says, referring to the security parleys he spearheaded with Iraqi leaders.
McGurk—who is rumored to be the senior U.S. official caught on video receiving fellatio on the rooftop of Saddam Hussein’s presidential palace—offers to throw his weight around in order to get Chon into a high level powwow with U.S. and Iraqi political bigwigs.
“Turns out I totally have rank to get you in here, but it would not be fair for a master negotiating tactician like me—to intimidate and inexperience and innocent negotiator like you,” McGurk writes. “My strategy is to break you down (day by day) until Friday when I will have achieved maximum leverage. Plan on dinner tomorrow around 8.”
Chon virtually bats her eyelashes in response.
“If you are a master tactician, why would you tell me each aspect of your strategy? Doesn’t seem very smart to me, but I’m just innocent and inexperienced, at least on some things,” she writes.
At another point, McGurk seems to realize that it may not be wise to exchange such communications via his official State Department email address.
“Our consultations are top secret and deniable, remember?” he writes on June 23, 2008. “Hey, can you text message on your [Blackberry]? … It’s a better way to engage in sensitive deliberations like ours.”
McGurk also appears to tease Chon with a private dinner alongside top Iraqi politician Massoud Barzani.
“On tonight, let me see what I can do,” McGurk writes. “I had a very good day with the Iraqis—the best yet. Can’t tell you about it of course.”
“Stop being such a tease!” Chon fired back. “This is like a journalist’s version of blue balls and it’s really not fair.”
“Well it’s only fair,” McGurk retorts, “since I had a very real case of blue balls last night! I think they’re still blue.”
Chon seemingly offers to relieve the tension.
“Poor baby,” she writes. “Well, you can come by here afterwards.”
“They really hurt and won’t stop pouting,” McGurk then gripes. “I may go see the nurse.”
“Don’t worry—I’ll provide plenty of warning before coming by. I need to figure out how to lose my goon squad,” he adds, apparently referring to his security detail. “They tend to mar my most secret and clandestine missions.”
Later in the exchange, McGurk indicates that he masturbated in order to relieve his sexual frustration.
“I did a nice self-healing exercise before dinner, btw; so the blueness has receded.”
The following morning, Chon indicates that the two consummated their courtship.
“Hope you weren’t hurting too much today,” she writes. “I think I need to take a nap, right after I eat a whopper and onion rings.”
The eyebrow-raising exchanges raise questions about McGurk’s judgment and could come up during his Senate confirmation process.
Some lawmakers, in fact, have already expressed their reservations about McGurk. They object to, among other things, his failure to achieve a follow-up security agreement in 2011.
“I will have very significant questions about his qualifications and his positions on the issues. … He’s not my choice,” Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R., Ariz.) told Foreign Policy magazine’s Josh Rogin in March.
McGurk expressed grave concerns over the unstable political situation in Iraq during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday.
McGurk could not be reached for comment.
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