• About the Irrelevancy Thing at State…

    July 19, 2012

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    Posted in: Embassy/State




    I recently wrote about the State Department’s increasing irrelevancy. About one out of every four positions are unfilled or under-staffed, while the military continues to assume a greater and greater role in America’s relations with other countries. You can read more here.

    The article brought forth the usual handful of angry emails from offended Foreign Service Officers unable to cope with the cognitive dissonance of their own irrelevancy in a job they worked so hard to obtain and which constantly tells them they are some sort of elite special forces kind of thing as they file stuff in triplicate.

    So let’s poke our head under the rock at Foggy Bottom and see what State did today to assert its crucial importance to anyone but itself.

    The State Department issued a Worldwide Caution, nearly identical in wording to the same Worldwide Caution they have been re-issuing about every six months since the 9/11 wake up call. The purpose of this document is clear: “U.S. citizens are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness.”

    Well now, that seems important. Let’s drill down a bit. I bet you did not know this:

    Current information suggests that al-Qaida, its affiliated organizations and other terrorist groups continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. and Western interests in Europe. European governments have taken action to guard against terrorist attacks, and some have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions. In the past several years, attacks have been planned or occurred in various European cities.

    Or maybe this will shock you into a higher level of vigilance:

    Credible information indicates terrorist groups also seek to continue attacks against U.S. interests in the Middle East and North Africa. For example, Iraq remains dangerous and unpredictable.


    Of course, not all the advice is so… generic. If you are planning a yacht trip off the coast of Somalia, the State Department quite correctly reminds you:

    The U.S. government maritime authorities advise mariners to avoid the port of Mogadishu and to remain at least 200 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia. In addition, when transiting around the Horn of Africa or in the Red Sea, it is strongly recommended that vessels travel in convoys and maintain good communications at all times.

    Now I bet a lot of mariners planning a casual transit around the Horn o’ Africa enroute to the spice trade would not have thought to maintain good communications. Noted!

    A Safe Trip Abroad

    The Worldwide Caution refers you to an online State Department pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, that appears to have been written in 1955 by the Beaver’s mother. “To help avoid becoming a target, do not dress in a way that could mark you as an affluent tourist,” it scolds. “If you wear glasses, pack an extra pair.” “Bring travelers’ checks.” Do they even sell those anymore? Has anyone tried to cash a travelers’ check in this decade? “If possible, lock your luggage.” Oops, if you do that TSA will simply break the lock to inspect your underwear before you even board the plane. “Make two photocopies of your… airline tickets.” R i g h t… who out there is old enough to even remember paper aero-plane tickets?

    It is not that this information has not been updated since 1989, but look at this paragraph:

    Before you go, learn as much as you can about the local laws and customs of the places you plan to visit. Good resources are your library, your travel agent, and the embassies, consulates or tourist bureaus of the countries you will visit.

    That is precious. Is it because most State Department offices don’t have web access yet that they still use libraries, travel agents and tourist bureaus? Do State travelers hope to pick up paper maps at local petrol stations enroute to the steamship or dirigible port?

    Here ara a few things the State Department expects most Americans will take care of before that four day cruise to the Bahamas:

    Have your affairs in order at home. If you leave a current will, insurance documents, and power of attorney with your family or a friend, you can feel secure about traveling and will be prepared for any emergency that may arise while you are away. If you have minor children, consider making guardianship arrangements for them.

    OK honey, I have iPhone charged and loaded with the e-boarding passes. Did you construct a legal guardianship agreement for Wally and the Beaver or should I do that at the same time I incorporate us in the Caymens to avoid US taxes?

    But of course, since the State Department is clearly not irrelevant, they save some of the best advice for last. Indeed, this seems to be advice that they follow themselves:

    Try to seem purposeful when you move about. Even if you are lost, act as if you know where you are going.




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