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    Five (More) Things That Won’t Work in Iraq

    July 1, 2015 // 14 Comments »

    iraq valentine


    In one form or another, the U.S. has been at war with Iraq since 1990, including a sort-of invasion in 1991 and a full-scale one in 2003.

    During that quarter-century, Washington imposed several changes of government, spent trillions of dollars, and was involved in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. None of those efforts were a success by any conceivable definition of the term Washington has been capable of offering.

    Nonetheless, it’s the American Way to believe with all our hearts that every problem is ours to solve and every problem must have a solution, which simply must be found. As a result, the indispensable nation faces a new round of calls for ideas on what “we” should do next in Iraq.

    With that in mind, here are five possible “strategies” for that country on which only one thing is guaranteed: none of them will work.


    1. Send in the Trainers

    In May, in the wake of the fall of the Sunni city of Ramadi to Islamic State (IS) fighters, President Obama announced a change of course in Iraq. After less than a year of not defeating, degrading, or destroying the Islamic State, the administration will now send in hundreds more military personnel to set up a new training base at Taqaddum in Anbar Province. There are already five training sites running in Iraq, staffed by most of the 3,100 military personnel the Obama administration has sent in. Yet after nine months of work, not a single trained Iraqi trooper has managed to make it into a combat situation in a country embroiled in armed chaos.

    The base at Taqaddum may only represent the beginning of a new “surge.” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has begun to talk up what he calls “lily pads,” American baselets set up close to the front lines, from which trainers would work with Iraqi security forces. Of course, such lily pads will require hundreds more American military advisers to serve as flies, waiting for a hungry Islamic State frog.

    Leaving aside the all-too-obvious joke — that Dempsey is proposing the creation of a literal swamp, a desert quagmire of the lilypad sort — this idea has been tried. It failed over the eight years of the occupation of Iraq, when the U.S. maintained an archipelago of 505 bases in the country. (It also failed in Afghanistan.) At the peak of Iraq War 2.0, 166,000 troops staffed those American bases, conducting some $25 billion worth of training and arming of Iraqis, the non-results of which are on display daily. The question then is: How could more American trainers accomplish in a shorter period of time what so many failed to do over so many years?

    There is also the American belief that if you offer it, they will come. The results of American training so far, as Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made clear recently, have fallen far short of expectations. By now, U.S. trainers were to have whipped 24,000 Iraqi soldiers into shape. The actual number to date is claimed to be some 9,000 and the description of a recent “graduation” ceremony for some of them couldn’t have been more dispiriting. (“The volunteers seemed to range in age from late teens to close to 60.” Given how much training the U.S. has made available in Iraq since 2003, it’s hard to imagine that too many young men have not given the option some thought. Simply because Washington opens more training camps, there is no reason to assume that Iraqis will show up.

    Oddly enough, just before announcing his new policy, President Obama seemed to pre-agree with critics that it wasn’t likely to work. “We’ve got more training capacity than we’ve got recruits,” he said at the close of the G7 summit in Germany. “It’s not happening as fast as it needs to.” Obama was on the mark. At the al-Asad training facility, the only one in Sunni territory, for instance, the Iraqi government has not sent a single new recruit to be trained by those American advisers for the past six weeks.

    And here’s some bonus information: for each U.S. soldier in Iraq, there are already two American contractors. Currently some 6,300 of them are in the country. Any additional trainers mean yet more contractors, ensuring that the U.S. “footprint” made by this no-boots-on-the-ground strategy will only grow and General Dempsey’s lilypad quagmire will come closer to realization.


    2. Boots on the Ground

    Senator John McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, is the most vocal proponent of America’s classic national security go-to move: send in U.S. troops. McCain, who witnessed the Vietnam War unfold, knows better than to expect Special Forces operatives, trainers, advisers, and combat air traffic controllers, along with U.S. air power, to turn the tide of any strategic situation. His response is to call for more — and he’s not alone. On the campaign trail recently, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, for instance, suggested that, were he president, he would consider a full-scale “re-invasion” of Iraq. Similarly, General Anthony Zinni, former head of U.S. Central Command, urged the sending in of many boots: “I can tell you, you could put ground forces on the ground now and we can destroy ISIS.”

    Among the boots-on-the-ground crowd are also some former soldiers who fought in Iraq in the Bush years, lost friends, and suffered themselves. Blinking through the disillusion of it all, they prefer to believe that we actually won in Iraq (or should have, or would have, if only the Bush and Obama administrations hadn’t squandered the “victory”). Needed now, they claim, are more U.S. troops back on the ground to win the latest version of their war. Some are even volunteering as private citizens to continue the fight. Can there be a sadder argument than the “it can’t all have been a waste” one?

    The more-troops option is so easy to dismiss it’s hardly worth another line: if over eight years of effort, 166,000 troops and the full weight of American military power couldn’t do the trick in Iraq, what could you possibly expect even fewer resources to accomplish?


    3. Partnering with Iran

    As hesitancy within the U.S. military to deploy ground forces in Iraq runs into chicken-hawk drum-pounding in the political arena, working ever more closely with Iran has become the default escalation move. If not American boots, that is, what about Iranian boots?

    The backstory for this approach is as odd a Middle Eastern tale as you can find.

    The original Obama administration plan was to use Arab, not Iranian, forces as proxy infantry. However, the much-ballyhooed 60-nation pan-Arab coalition proved little more than a short-lived photo op. Few, if any, of their planes are in the air anymore. America flies roughly 85% of all missions against Islamic State targets, with Western allies filling in a good part of the rest. No Arab ground troops ever showed up and key coalition countries are now openly snubbing Washington over its possible nuclear deal with Iran.

    Washington has, of course, been in a Cold War-ish relationship with Iran since 1979 when the Shah fell and radical students took over the American Embassy in Tehran. In the 1980s, the U.S. aided Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, while in the years after the invasion of 2003 Iran effectively supported Iraqi Shiite militias against American forces occupying the country. Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, currently directing his country’s efforts in Iraq, was once one of the most wanted men on America’s kill list.

    In the wake of the 2014 Islamic State capture of Mosul and other northern Iraqi cities, Iran ramped up its role, sending in trainers, advisers, arms, and its own forces to support the Shiite militias that Baghdad saw as its only hope. The U.S. initially turned a blind eye on all this, even as Iranian-led militias, and possibly the Iranians themselves, became consumers of close American air support.

    In Washington right now, there is a growing, if quiet, acknowledgment that Iranian help is one of the few things that might push IS back without the need for U.S. ground troops. Small but telling escalations are occurring regularly. In the battle to retake the northern Sunni city of Tikrit, for example, the United States flew air missions supporting Shiite militias; the fig leaf of an explanation: that they operated under Iraqi government, not Iranian, control.

    “We’re going to provide air cover to all forces that are under the command and control of the government of Iraq,” a U.S. Central Command spokesperson similarly noted in reference to the coming fight to retake the city of Ramadi. That signals a significant shift, former State Department official Ramzy Mardini points out. “The U.S. has effectively changed its position, coming to the realization that Shiite militias are a necessary evil in the fight against IS.” Such thinking may extend to Iranian ground troops now evidently fighting outside the strategic Beiji oil refinery.

    Things may be even cozier between the U.S. and the Iranian-backed Shiite militias than we previously thought. Bloomberg reports that U.S. soldiers and Shiite militia groups are both already using the Taqaddum military base, the very place where President Obama is sending the latest 450 U.S. military personnel.

    The downside? Help to Iran only sets up the next struggle the U.S. is likely to bumble into due to a growing Iranian hegemony in the region. Syria, perhaps?


    4. Arm the Kurds

    The Kurds represent Washington’s Great Hope for Iraq, a dream that plays perfectly into an American foreign policy trope about needing to be “liked” by someone. (Try Facebook.) These days, glance at just about any conservative website or check out right-wing pundits and enjoy the propaganda about the Kurds: they are plucky fighters, loyal to America, tough bastards who know how to stand and deliver. If only we gave them more weapons, they would kill more Islamic State bad guys just for us. To the right-wing crowd, they are the twenty-first-century equivalent of Winston Churchill in World War II, crying out, “Just give us the tools and we’ll defeat Hitler!”

    There is some slight truth in all this. The Kurds have indeed done a good job of pushing IS militants out of swaths of northern Iraq and were happy for U.S. assistance in getting their Peshmerga fighters to the Turkish border when the locus of fighting was the city of Kobane. They remain thankful for the continuing air support the U.S. is providing their front-line troops and for the limited weapons Washington has already sent.

    For Washington, the problem is that Kurdish interests are distinctly limited when it comes to fighting Islamic State forces. When the de facto borders of Kurdistan were directly threatened, they fought like caffeinated badgers. When the chance to seize the disputed town of Erbil came up — the government in Baghdad was eager to keep it within its sphere of control — the Kurds beat the breath out of IS.

    But when it comes to the Sunni population, the Kurds don’t give a hoot, as long as they stay away from Kurdistan. Has anyone seen Kurdish fighters in Ramadi or anywhere else in heavily Sunni al-Anbar Province? Those strategic areas, now held by the Islamic State, are hundreds of actual miles and millions of political miles from Kurdistan. So, sure, arm the Kurds. But don’t expect them to play a strategic role against IS outside their own neighborhood. A winning strategy for the Kurds involving Washington doesn’t necessarily translate into a winning strategy for Washington in Iraq.


    5. That Political Solution

    Washington’s current man in Baghdad, Prime Minister al-Abadi, hasn’t moved his country any closer to Sunni-Shiite reconciliation than his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, did. In fact, because Abadi has little choice but to rely on those Shiite militias, which will fight when his corrupt, inept army won’t, he has only drawn closer to Iran. This has ensured that any (American) hope of bringing Sunnis into the process in a meaningful way as part of a unified government in a unified state will prove to be a pipe dream.

    A balance of forces is a prerequisite for a Shiite-Sunni-Kurdish federal Iraq. With no side strong enough to achieve victory or weak enough to lose, negotiations could follow. When then-Senator Joe Biden first proposed the idea of a three-state Iraq in 2006, it just might have been possible. However, once the Iranians had built a Shiite Iraqi client state in Baghdad and then, in 2014, unleashed the militias as an instrument of national power, that chance was lost.

    Many Sunnis see no other choice but to support the Islamic State, as they did al-Qaeda in Iraq in the years after the American invasion of 2003. They fear those Shiite militias — and with good reason. Stories from the largely Sunni city of Tikrit, where militia-led forces defeated Islamic State fighters, describe “a ghost town ruled by gunmen.” In the Euphrates Valley town of Jurf al-Sakhar, there were reports of ethnic cleansing. Similarly, the mainly Sunni population of the city of Nukhayb, which sits at a strategic crossroad between Sunni and Shiite areas, has accused the militias of taking over while pretending to fight the extremists.

    There remains great fear in Sunni-dominated Anbar of massacres and “cleansing” if Shiite militias enter the province in force. In such a situation, there will always be a place for an al-Qaeda, an Islamic State, or some similar movement, no matter how brutal, to defend the beleaguered Sunni population. What everyone in Iraq understands, and apparently almost everyone in America does not, is that the Islamic State is a symptom of civil war, not a standalone threat.

    One lingering hope of the Obama administration has no support in Baghdad and so has remained a non-starter: defeating IS by arming Sunni tribes directly in the style of the “Anbar Awakening” movement of the occupation years. Indeed, the central government fears arming them, absent a few token units to keep the Americans quiet. The Shiites know better than most what an insurgency can do to help defeat a larger, better-armed, power.

    Yet despite the risk of escalating Iraq’s shadow civil war, the U.S. now is moving to directly arm the Sunnis. Current plans are to import weapons into the newest lilypad base in Anbar and pass them on to local Sunni tribes, whether Baghdad likes that or not (and yes, the break with Baghdad is worth noting). The weapons themselves are as likely to be wielded against Shiite militias as against the Islamic State, assuming they aren’t just handed over to IS fighters.

    The loss of equipment to those militants is no small thing. No one talking about sending more new weaponry to Iraq, no matter who the recipient is, should ignore the ease with which Islamic State militants have taken U.S.-supplied heavy weapons. Washington has been forced to direct air strikes against such captured equipment — even as it ships yet more in. In Mosul, some 2,300 Humvees were abandoned to IS fighters in June 2014; more were left to them when Iraqi army forces suddenly fled Ramadi in May. This pattern of supply, capture, and resupply would be comically absurd, had it not turned tragic when some of those Humvees were used by IS as rolling, armored suicide bombs and Washington had to rush AT-4 anti-tank missiles to the Iraqi army to destroy them.


    The Real Reason Nothing Is Going to Work

    The fundamental problem underlying nearly every facet of U.S. policy toward Iraq is that “success,” as defined in Washington, requires all the players to act against their own wills, motivations, and goals in order to achieve U.S. aims. The Sunnis need a protector as they struggle for a political place, if not basic survival, in some new type of Iraq. The Shiite government in Baghdad seeks to conquer and control the Sunni regions. Iran wants to secure Iraq as a client state and use it for easier access to Syria. The Kurds want an independent homeland.

    When Secretary of Defense Ash Carter remarked, “What apparently happened [in Ramadi] was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” what he really meant was that the many flavors of forces in Iraq showed no will to fight for America’s goals. In the Washington mind-set, Iraq is charged with ultimate responsibility for resolving problems that were either created by or exacerbated by the U.S. in the first place, even as America once again assumes an ever-greater role in that country’s increasingly grim fate.

    For America’s “plan” to work, Sunni tribesmen would have to fight Sunnis from the Islamic State in support of a Shiite government that suppressed their peaceful Arab-Spring-style protests, and that, backed by Iran, has been ostracizing, harassing, and murdering them. The Kurds would have to fight for an Iraqi nation-state from which they wish to be independent. It can’t work.

    Go back to 2011 and it’s unlikely anyone could have imagined that the same guy who defeated Hillary Clinton and gained the White House based on his opposition to the last Iraq War would send the U.S. tumbling back into that chaotic country. If ever there was an avoidable American crisis, Iraq War 3.0 is it. If ever there was a war, whatever its chosen strategies, in which the U.S. has no hopes of achieving its goals, this is it.

    By now, you’re undoubtedly shaking your head and asking, “How did this happen?” Historians will do the same.




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    Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    State Department Lamely Markets Anti-IS Messages to Millennials

    June 29, 2015 // 11 Comments »

    just_say_no_isis_terrorism_shirt

    I know a fair number of State Department employees peak at this blog, so I have a favor to ask.

    Would someone please tell the “social media gurus” at the State Department young people join Islamic State for a number of very serious and often deeply-held reasons — religion, disillusionment with the west, anger at American policy — and not because they saw an IS tweet? And that you can’t dissuade people from their beliefs simply with a clever hashtag and 140 characters of propaganda pablum?

    Yet the idea that the State Department can use social media to “counter program” IS’ message persists, even as its uselessness stares everyone but the State Department in the face.

    A Little Background on YouTube

    The State Department’s propaganda uses a negative message to try and counter the attraction of Islamic State. Started in 2011, State’s blather was only in foreign languages, moving into English in 2013. In 2014 year the work started showing up on YouTube. The theme then was “Think Again, Turn Away; the messaging was found on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and even on the sides of buses in New York City as posters. One YouTube video includes subtitles such as “learn useful skills, such as blowing up mosques” and “crucifying Muslims.” Another features oil being poured on the ground framed as “squandering public resources.

    The content is seemingly written more to appeal to Washington than potential jihadis, as you can see in this example. A lot of the messaging mocks potential recruits, claiming, for example, they read “Islam for Dummies” before heading to Syria. Those efforts cost between $5 million and $6.8 million a year.

    When in Doubt, Hire a Consultant

    With the clear failure of that messaging to stop the flow of western recruits to IS (State does like to point to proving the negative, suggesting they cannot measure people who did not join), the State Department is now trying a new version of the old strategy.

    EdVenture Partners, a company whose self-described mission is to connect clients with the “valuable and powerful millennial market” to sell junk to dumbasses, was hired to enlist student teams to combat violent extremism with some kind of digital effort — an app, a website or an online initiative. It was to be a contest; State would pick the winners and fund those as U.S. government propaganda, er, counter messaging.

    Because, see, up until now, the problem has been that those dang young people just weren’t “getting down” with the messages old people at State were “putting out there.” For real. Ya’all.

    “Millennials can speak better to millennials, there’s no question about that,” State Department Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelly Keiderling, who was a judge in the competition, said, sounding like some 1950s educational film narrator.


    How to Defeat Islamic State

    So here’s how the young will be stopping other youngsters from joining Islamic State.

    — Australia’s Curtin University developed an app called 52Jumaa, which to support young Muslims. The app sends daily positive affirmations about Islam to users’ smartphones, allows them to connect with other Muslims and asks them to complete a selfless act of kindness every Friday.

    — Students at Texas A&M came up with a website idea called The Funny Militant, which would run jihadi-centric parodies, including a hilarious app for finding a jihadi bride and one called Who’s Your Bagdaddy?

    — Missouri State’s product, which won the competition, is a website about the dangers of violent extremism. The site provides English-language curriculum for teaching about the extreme ideological ideas on social media and how to recognize them. It also includes trivia, community boards and videos from people who have been directly affected by terrorism.

    Wait — the winner sounds almost exactly like the lame stuff the State Department already spews out, basically saying “IS is bad, so don’t do that,” the war on terror’s reboot of the 1980s anti-drug message “Just Say No.” The winning group also created a hashtag, so you know they are like super-serious: #EndViolentExtremism

    Here are all the winners of the competition. Looks can obviously be deceiving, but one does wonder how many Muslims are in a group seeking to speak directly to Muslims in a voice that doesn’t sound like a bunch of know-it-all white kids from the ‘burbs:





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    Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    How to Waste Money in Afghanistan: Step-by-Step Instructions

    June 19, 2015 // 2 Comments »

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    USAID just got caught wasting $769 million not supporting Afghanistan’s education sector.

    How could this happen?!? As a public service, here are your step-by-step instructions.

    — Start with the premise that schools in a wasteland like Afghanistan in support of a failed American policy are more important uses of American taxpayer money than schools in America (which is socialism, or a handout, or whatever, Ayn Rand.)

    — Send incompetent people (see below) to Afghanistan with a lot of money, say $769 million. Tell them to build schools. If you don’t have enough in-house incompetent people, like USAID, hire contractors, like USAID did.

    — Make sure those people never travel to where the schools are being built. Instead, have them rely on a known corrupt government to tell them where to spend the money. In our instant case, former ministry officials who served under President Hamid Karzai provided false data to USAID regarding the number of active schools in Afghanistan.

    — Make sure, as USAID, while spending all that money, not to ask if there are any schools actually being built. Instead, sit back and look the other way as Afghan officials doctored statistics, embezzled money, and interfered with university entrance exams to make it seem schools existed. These allegations suggest that the U.S. and other donors may have paid for ghost schools that ghost students do not attend and for the salaries of ghost teachers who do not teach.

    — Despite this, as USAID, announce at every opportunity that education programs are among your most successful work in Afghanistan. For example, USAID cited a jump in students enrolled in schools from an estimated 900,000 in 2002 to more than eight million in 2013 as a clear indicator of progress.

    — Make sure all your data supporting these successes is unverifiable, coming only from the Afghan Ministry of Education. Appear surprised when you learn, years and $769 million later, that the data has been falsified. Do not conduct any investigation of your own. Wait and see if some inspector general notices. You know most of the media won’t.

    — Ignore the fact that accurate data is essential for gauging progress and for making future funding decisions. Congress will help with this.

    — Make sure you have bosses in the field and at the State Department in Washington who do not care about accurate metrics or real results.

    — Repeat this process for fourteen years of the Afghan War.




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Today’s Dump of Wasted Taxpayer Money in Afghanistan

    June 17, 2015 // 6 Comments »

    your money down the toilet


    Keeping abreast of the waste of U.S. taxpayer money in Afghanistan’s so-called “reconstruction” is a full-time job.

    Since I already have a full-time job and can’t do it, luckily the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) does document the waste as a full-time job.

    Here are just a few updates.

    Kandahar Industrial Park

    The U.S. paid for a number of industrial parks in Afghanistan. The idea was if water, electricity and roads were established, businesses would somehow pop up spontaneously and the bleak landscape of Afghanistan would soon resemble the bleak landscape surrounding many small American cities. Such was the plan for Kandahar.

    However, during the inspection of one such “industrial park,” SIGAR found only one active Afghan business at the facility, which was originally planned to accommodate 48 businesses. Better yet, due to missing contract files and the lack of electricity at the time of their site visit, SIGAR was not able to fully inspect and assess whether construction met contract requirements.

    Of interest, Kandahar was not the first time missing contract documents prevented SIGAR from conducting a full inspection of a USAID-funded facility. In January 2015, missing contract documents limited the inspection of the no doubt otherwise scenic Gorimar Industrial Park in Balkh province. That inspection also noted that a lack of electricity and water left the $7.7 million U.S.-funded industrial park largely vacant.

    Undaunted by the lack of progress on 14 years of bringing electricity to these areas of Afghanistan, USAID officials intend to solicit bids within the next few months on a contract for a solar power system.


    Afghan Army Slaughterhouse

    Everyone’s gotta eat, right? So, the U.S. decided to spend $12 million of your tax money to construct an animal slaughterhouse to supply meat to the Afghan National Army.

    The good news is that no animals were harmed in the construction of this slaughterhouse.

    Why? Because, as SIGAR tells us, before it was completed, the slaughterhouse project was canceled. However the contractor not building the facility was paid $1.54 million anyway, even though the project was no more than 10 percent complete.

    But because the taxpayer teat is a plump one, the contractor has requested $4.23 million in additional payments. Consequently, the cost to terminate the slaughterhouse project could rise to as much as $5.77 million.

    The project was originally designated as a “high priority” by the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A). However, 15 months after the project started, CSTC-A determined that an existing facility would meet the need. Hence, the (expensive) termination.


    Afghan Government Bailout

    You thought we were done? Hah. The U.S. just received a formal request from the Afghan government for a $537 million budget bailout, just kinda because they needed more money for, um, whatever they spend money on.

    Your State Department, ever on the job, already handed over $100 million of your money, even while warning the budget shortfall could be as much as $400 million this year unless the Afghan government’s revenue generation increases significantly.

    No one has any idea how the Afghan government might increase revenue generation significantly, except perhaps if they use all of that $100 million to buy Lotto tickets.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    You Want to Commit Espionage with Hacked Personnel Data?

    June 15, 2015 // 16 Comments »

    obama-nsa



    Did the most-recent, recent, breach of United States government personnel files significantly compromise American security? Yes. Could a foreign government make use of such information to spy on the United States? Oh my, yes.

    China-based hackers are suspected of breaking into the computer networks of the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the human resources department for the entire federal government. They allegedly stole personnel and security clearance information for at least four million federal workers. The current attack was not the first. Last summer the same office announced an intrusion in which hackers targeted the files of tens of thousands of those who had applied for top-secret security clearances; the Office of Personnel Management conducts more than 90 percent of federal background investigations, including all those needed by the Department of Defense and 100 other federal agencies.

    Why all that information on federal employees is a gold mine on steroids for a foreign intelligence service is directly related to what is in the file of someone with a security clearance.

    Most everyone seeking a clearance starts by completing Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, form SF-86, an extensive biographical and social contact questionnaire.

    Investigators, armed with the questionnaire info and whatever data government records searches uncover, then conduct field interviews. The investigator will visit an applicant’s home town, her second-to-last-boss, her neighbors, her parents and almost certainly the local police force and ask questions in person. As part of the clearance process, an applicant will sign the Mother of All Waivers, giving the government permission to do all this as intrusively as the government cares to do; the feds really want to get to know a potential employee who will hold the government’s secrets. This is old fashioned shoe-leather cop work, knocking on doors, eye balling people who say they knew the applicant, turning the skepticism meter up to 11.

    Things like an old college roommate who moved back home to Tehran, or that weird uncle who still holds a foreign passport, will be of interest. Some history of gambling, drug or alcohol misuse? Infidelity? A tendency to not get along with bosses? Significant debt? Anything at all hidden among those skeletons in the closet?

    The probe is looking for vulnerabilities, pure and simple. And that’s the scary “why this really matters” part of the China-based hack into American government personnel files.



    America’s spy agencies, like every spy agency, know people are manipulated and compromised by their vulnerabilities. If someone applying for a federal position has too many of them, or even one of particular sensitivity, s/he may be too risky to expose to classified information.

    And that’s because unlike almost everything you see in the movies, the most important intelligence work is done the same way it has been done since the beginning of time. Identify a person with access to the information needed (“Qualifying an agent;” a Colonel will know rocket specifications, a file clerk internal embassy phone numbers, for example.) Learn everything you can about that person. Was she on her college tennis team? Funny thing, your intelligence officer likes tennis, too! Stuff like that is very likely in the files taken from the Office of Personnel Management.

    But specifically, a hostile intelligence agency is looking for a target’s vulnerabilities. They then use that information to approach the target person with a pitch – give us the information in return for something.

    For example, if you learn a military intelligence officer has money problems and a daughter turning college age, the pitch could be money for secrets. A recent divorce? Perhaps some female companionship is desired, or maybe nothing more than a sympathetic new foreign friend to have a few friendly beers with, and really talk over problems. That kind of information is very likely in the files taken from the Office of Personnel Management. And information is power; the more tailored the approach, the more likely the chance of success.

    Also unlike in the movies, blackmail is a last resort. Those same vulnerabilities that dictate the pitch are of course ripe fodder for blackmail (“Tell us the location of the code room or we’ll show these photos of your new female friend to the press.”) However, in real life, a blackmailed person will try whatever s/he can do to get out of the trap. Guilt overwhelms and confession is good for the soul. A friendly approach based on mutual interests and goals (Your handler is a nice guy, with a family you’ve met. You golf together. You need money, they “loan” you money. You gossip about work, they like the details) has the potential to last for many productive years of cooperative espionage.


    So much of what a foreign intelligence service needs to know to create those relationships and identify those vulnerabilities is in those hacked files, neatly typed and in alphabetical order. Never mind the huff and puff you’ll be hearing about identity theft, phishing and credit reports.

    Espionage is why this hack is a big, big deal.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Security Guard at U.S. Embassy Arrested as a Terrorist

    June 12, 2015 // 4 Comments »

    embassy_marines

    So this was only in Egypt, where there’s no terrorism threat anyway, so meh. No, wait, this is something.


    To the shock of U.S. officials, local authorities arrested an Egyptian security guard and charged him as the purported commander of a radical Islamist organization. U.S. officials are scrambling to get information from Egyptian authorities, who did not alert them beforehand.

    No word on why America’s vast intelligence apparatus missed this one. Maybe summer vacation?

    Send in the Marines

    Unbeknownst to most Americans, our embassies abroad are not guarded by Marines for the most part, as you see in the movies. Even a large embassy like the one in Cairo will have only maybe 20 Marines. They mostly handle guarding classified data inside the building and some access control. The crucial perimeter patrols, bomb searches of incoming vehicles, security in public areas and the like are handled by local guards, contracted by the State Department’s much-maligned Office of Diplomatic Security. This is done worldwide, primarily to save money. Marines are expensive and are also needed elsewhere to fight America’s many wars of choice.

    So a local guard has a lot of access to begin with. He also has a chance to influence, radicalize and/or bribe other local guards to assist him in whatever terror he plans on committing. He knows his way around the embassy, and understands much about its security plans and their weaknesses. To a terrorist planner, he is a very valuable guy.

    Also: Benghazi

    Back in Cairo, an embassy official confirmed 42-year-old Ahmed Ali, accused by the Egyptians of helping to plan or taking part in more than a dozen attacks on security forces, was an employee in the security service at the U.S. mission. Egyptian authorities are claiming he is a commander in the militant Helwan Brigades.

    Both the lack of any forewarning by the Egyptian authorities and the apparent security failure by the U.S. State Department, which failed to unearth Ali’s membership in the brigades, is likely to prompt outrage on Capitol Hill. Because: Benghazi, which was also “guarded” by locals. So perhaps the current system needs a few tweaks.


    Your Next Vacation Isn’t Gonna Be Egypt

    The disclosure of the arrest by Egyptian authorities on Wednesday came just hours before a suicide bomber blew himself up outside Luxor’s ancient Karnak temple in southern Egypt in an attack that left four people, including two police officers, wounded. Police said they also killed two of the bomber’s accomplices.

    No group has as yet claimed responsibility for the attack at the spectacular temple, with its dozens of sphinxes and beautiful bas reliefs of ancient gods, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site on the Nile River. But some analysts speculated that the attack may have been organized by the so-called Islamic State, which has been courting local jihadis, seeking to persuade them to affiliate with the terror group based in Syria and Iraq.

    It is the second time this month that suspected Islamic extremists have attacked a major Egyptian tourist attraction or launched a raid nearby. On June 3, gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire outside the Giza Pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo, killing two policemen.




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Iraq Lost 2,300 Humvees (and More!) to IS in Mosul Alone

    June 8, 2015 // 16 Comments »

    abadi


    See, this is why the Iraqis just can’t have nice things.

    Iraqi security forces lost 2,300 Humvee armored vehicles when the Islamic State jihadist group overran the northern city of Mosul, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Sunday.

    U.S. Weapons Already Lost to Islamic State

    Iraqi forces have previously abandoned significant types and number of heavy weapons Islamic State could not have otherwise acquired. For example, losses to IS include at least 40 M-1A1 main battle tanks. IS also picked up in Mosul and elsewhere American small arms and ammunition (including 4,000 machine guns that can fire upwards of 800 rounds per minute), and as many as 52 American M-198 howitzer mobile gun systems.

    “In the collapse of Mosul, we lost a lot of weapons,” Abadi said in an interview with Iraqiya state TV. Clashes began in Mosul, Iraq’s second city, late on June 9, 2014, and Iraqi forces lost it the following day to IS, less than 24 hours later.



    More U.S. Weapons on the Way

    To help replenish Iraq’s arms, last year the State Department approved a sale to Iraq of 1,000 Humvees with increased armor, machine guns, and grenade launchers. The U.S. is currently in the process of sending/has already sent to Iraq 175 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, 55,000 rounds of main gun ammunition for the tanks, $600 million in howitzers and trucks, and $700 million worth of Hellfire missiles.

    The United States has previously donated 250 MRAPs to Iraq, as well as $300 million in other weapons.

    Some $1.2 billion in future training funds for Iraq was tucked into an omnibus spending bill Congress passed earlier this year.

    For those keeping score, between 2003-2011, the United States spent $25 billion training the Iraqi Army. Some 3,000 American soldiers are currently in Iraq, re-training the Iraqi Army to re-fight Islamic State. The previously trained Iraqi army had 30,000 soldiers in Mosul, who ran away in the face of about 1,000 Islamic State fighters. The same thing happened in Ramadi, where 10,000 Iraqi soldiers fled ahead of 400 IS fighters.

    Could This Have Been Predicted?

    Professor of Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University Chris Coyne, in an interview with me about a year ago even before the U.S. again sent troops into Iraq, predicted this exact scenario:

    The U.S. government provided significant amounts of military hardware to the Iraqi government with the intention that it would be used for good (national security, policing, etc.). However, during the IS offensive many of the Iraqis turned and ran, leaving behind the U.S.-supplied hardware. This weapons windfall may further alter the dynamics in Syria.

    Now the U.S. government wants to provide more military supplies to the Iraqi government to combat IS. But I haven’t heard many people recognizing, let alone discussing, the potential negative unintended consequences of doing so. How do we know how the weapons and supplies will be used as desired? What if the recipients turn and run as they have recently and leave behind the weapons? What if the weapons are stolen? In sum, why should we have any confidence that supplying more military hardware into a country with a dysfunctional and ineffective government will lead to a good outcome either in Iraq or in the broader region?


    Impact on American Policy

    And hey: A report prepared for the United Nations Security Council warns IS possesses sufficient reserves of small arms, ammunition and vehicles to wage its war in Syria and Iraq for up to two more years. And that presumes the U.S. won’t be sending more to them.

    The United States remains the world’s largest exporter of weapons.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Rearming Iraq: The New Arms Race

    May 21, 2015 // 14 Comments »

    Arab arms4


    The United States remains the world’s largest exporter of weapons.


    The Middle East and North Africa are among America’s most lucrative arms markets, and U.S. defense companies and contractors have opened local offices as the demand shows no sign of abating.

    I sat down with VICE News to discuss the (lack of) controls on U.S. arms exports. The focus is on how arms sales were built into our war efforts in Iraq, and how the “controls” on selling weapons to regimes that violate human rights are bypassed via a compliant State Department.

    One highlight of this documentary is VICE News traveling to the International Defense Exhibition and Conference in the United Arab Emirates capital of Abu Dhabi, to examine the competition between arms manufacturers vying for a greater portion of the lucrative market.

    iframe src=”//embeds.vice.com/?playerId=NDJmMDczNzNhNGViNGYwNzI3MjkwOGRk&aid=news.vice.com/middle-east&vid=Vxd2Y2dToHok6ARzqnPdEUQE8l18Zu7Q&embedCode=Vxd2Y2dToHok6ARzqnPdEUQE8l18Zu7Q&cust_params=&ad_rule=0&description_url=//news.vice.com/video/rearming-iraq-the-new-arms-race&share_url=//news.vice.com/video/rearming-iraq-the-new-arms-race&autoplay=1″ width=”640px” height=”480px” frameborder=”0″ webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen>




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    State Department Won’t Review Clinton Ethics Breaches

    May 8, 2015 // 4 Comments »

    Clinton-Global-Initiative-in-Marrakech

    When Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State in 2009, the Obama White House required her to sign an agreement promising to have her family’s charities, under the umbrella of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI; now known as the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation) submit new donations from foreign countries to the State Department for review.

    The Agreement

    The agreement was designed to avoid potential conflicts of interest, given her new government role. The arrangement was made by an Obama administration covering its flanks over the appearance, at a minimum, of impropriety, given the significant sums of money the charities pulled in from overseas. Many of the countries and foreign corporations who gave the most money also had issues in front of the State Department, where a positive decision could change the donor’s fortunes.

    The Violations

    The Clinton Foundation repeatedly violated this agreement with the Obama White House.

    The Washington Post reported the Clinton Foundation failed to disclose $500,000 from Algeria at the time the country was lobbying the State Department over human-rights issues. Bloomberg learned the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, a Clinton Foundation affiliate, failed to disclose 1,100 foreign contributions.

    But the Boston Globe’s report on the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), yet another foundation affiliate (these people have more shell groups than a Mafia crime family), may cover the most notable omissions yet. Tens of millions of dollars went undisclosed to the State Department.

    Overall, the Clinton charities accepted new donations from at least six foreign governments while Clinton was Secretary: Switzerland, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, Rwanda, Sweden and Algeria. Australia and the United Kingdom increased their funding by millions of dollars during this period.

    The Lack of Consequences

    The Obama White House remains deadly silent over the violations of its own agreement with Hillary and the Clinton charities.

    Now the State Department, the organization charged with overseeing the agreement and monitoring its own Secretary for impropriety, says it too will do nothing.

    On May 7, State Department spokesperson Jeff Rathke stated the Department “regrets” that it did not get to review the new foreign government funding, but does not plan to look into the matter further. “The State Department has not and does not intend to initiate a formal review or to make a retroactive judgment about items that were not submitted during Secretary Clinton’s tenure.”

    The State Department spokesman said the Department was not aware of donations having an undue influence on U.S. foreign policy.

    When reporters asked how the Department could know this without reviewing the belated disclosures, he declined to comment further.



    The Questions

    No one can anticipate what issues may confront a president. No president’s full span of decisions can be made in public. There is, in the electoral process, a huge granting of trust from the people to their leader. In cases like the violation of the ethics agreement by Clinton, undisclosed for eight years, one must ask about that trust — has it been earned?

    One must also ask how, and more importantly, why, the White House and the State Department simply wash their hands of this issue. The Congress and elements of the media, so obsessed with events in Benghazi, seem nearly unaware of these financial issues while Clinton held one of the most powerful positions in government.

    Lastly, given that Clinton now seeks the most powerful position in government, one must ask why the American voters seem oblivious to the clear trail she has left behind of how she views trust and ethics in government.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Heading to Penn State April 29!

    April 29, 2015 // 1 Comment »

    pennstate2


    I’m headed to Penn State on April 29 to speak about the ongoing disaster in Iraq, and how it is affecting all of the Middle East.



    We’ll of course talk about my own experiences in that devastated country, as chronicled in my book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the War for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.

    I’ll also be discussing whistleblowing at the Department of State, and what patriotism and courage mean in a post-9/11 world.

    My talk will be part of The School of International Affairs’ Global Issues Colloquium, which brings leading thinkers, authors, and scholars to Penn State to discuss the latest research and trends in foreign relations, conflict resolution, food security, poverty, religion, terrorism, and nation building. Organized by Professor Dennis Jett, a retired U.S. Ambassador, all presentations are open to the public and webcast live.

    The theme of the series is best expressed by Ambassador Jett. “Major international problems cannot be solved through just one academic discipline,” said Jett. “Our guests have a wide range of practical experiences and perspectives to share.”

    See you in State College!




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    The Iranian Ascendancy

    April 22, 2015 // 15 Comments »

    Nuclear-Explosion-001



    The U.S. is running around in circles in the Middle East, patching together coalitions here, acquiring strange bedfellows there, and in location after location trying to figure out who the enemy of its enemy actually is. The result is just what you’d expect: chaos further undermining whatever’s left of the nations whose frailty birthed the jihadism America is trying to squash.

    And in a classic tale of unintended consequences, just about every time Washington has committed another blunder in the Middle East, Iran has stepped in to take advantage. Consider that country the rising power in the region and credit American clumsiness for the new Iranian ascendancy.

    Today’s News — and Some History

    The U.S. recently concluded air strikes in support of the Iraqi militias that Iran favors as they took back the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State (IS). At the same time, Washington began supplying intelligence and aerial refueling on demand for a Saudi bombing campaign against the militias Iran favors in Yemen. Iran continues to advise and assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington would still like to depose and, as part of its Syrian strategy, continues to supply and direct Hezbollah in Lebanon, a group the U.S. considers a terror outfit.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. has successfully negotiated the outlines of an agreement with Iran in which progress on severely constricting its nuclear program would be traded for an eventual lifting of sanctions and the granting of diplomatic recognition. This is sure to further bolster Tehran’s status as a regional power, while weakening long-time American allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States.

    A clever pundit could undoubtedly paint all of the above as a realpolitik ballet on Washington’s part, but the truth seems so much simpler and more painful. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, U.S. policy in the region has combined confusion on an immense scale with awkward bursts of ill-coordinated and exceedingly short-term acts of expediency. The country that has most benefited is Iran. No place illustrates this better than Iraq.

    Iraq Redux (Yet Again)

    On April 9, 2003, just over 12 years ago, U.S. troops pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, symbolically marking what George W. Bush hoped was the beginning of a campaign to remake the Middle East in America’s image by bringing not just Iraq but Syria and Iran to heel. And there can be no question that the invasion of Iraq did indeed set events in motion that are still remaking the region in ways once unimaginable.

    In the wake of the Iraq invasion and occupation, the Arab Spring blossomed and failed. (The recent Obama administration decision to resume arms exports to the military government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt could be considered its coup de grâce.) Today, fighting ripples through Libya, Syria, Yemen, the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa, and other parts of the Greater Middle East. Terrorists attack in once relatively peaceful places like Tunisia. There is now a de facto independent Kurdistan — last a reality in the sixteenth century — that includes the city of Kirkuk. Previously stable countries have become roiling failed states and home to terrorist groups that didn’t even exist when the U.S. military rolled across the Iraqi border in 2003.

    And, of course, 12 years later in Iraq itself the fighting roars on. Who now remembers President Obama declaring victory in 2011 and praising American troops for coming home with their “heads held high”? He seemed then to be washing his hands forever of the pile of sticky brown sand that was Bush’s Iraq. Trillions had been spent, untold lives lost or ruined, but as with Vietnam decades earlier, the U.S. was to move on and not look back. So much for the dream of a successful Pax Americana in the Middle East, but at least it was all over.

    You know what happened next. Unlike in Vietnam, Washington did go back, quickly turning a humanitarian gesture in August 2014 to save the Yazidi people from destruction at the hands of the Islamic State into a full-scale bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq. A coalition of 62 nations was formed. (Where are they all now while the U.S. conducts 85% of all air strikes against IS?)  The tap on a massive arms flow was turned on. The architect of the 2007 “surge” in Iraq and a leaker of top secret documents, retired general and former CIA Director David Petraeus, was brought back in for advice. Twenty-four-seven bombing became the order of the day and several thousand U.S. military advisors returned to familiar bases to retrain some part of an American-created army that had only recently collapsed and abandoned four key northern cities to Islamic State militants. Iraq War 3.0 was officially underway and many pundits — including me — predicted a steady escalation with the usual quagmire to follow.

    Such a result can hardly be ruled out yet, but at the moment it’s as if Barack Obama had stepped to the edge of the Iraqi abyss, peered over, and then shrugged his shoulders. Both his administration and the U.S. military appear content for the moment neither to pull back nor press harder.

    The American people seem to feel much the same way. Except in the Republican Congress (and even there in less shrill form than usual), there are few calls for… well, anything. The ongoing air strikes remain “surgical” in domestic politics, if not in Iraq and Syria. Hardly noticed and little reported on here, they have had next to no effect on Americans. Yet they remain sufficient to assure the right wing that the American military is still the best tool to solve problems abroad, while encouraging liberals who want to show that they can be as tough as anyone going into 2016.

    At first glance, the American version of Iraq War 3.0 has the feel of the Libyan air intervention — the same lack of concern, that is, for the long game. But Iraq 2015 is no Libya 2011, because this time while America sits back, Iran rises.

    Iran Ascendant

    The Middle East was ripe for change. Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the last major transformational event in the area was the fall of that classic American stooge, the Shah of Iran, in 1979. Otherwise, many of the thug regimes in power since the 1960s, the height of the Cold War, had stayed in place, and so had most of the borders set even earlier, in the aftermath of World War I.

    Iran should send America a fruit basket to thank it for setting the stage so perfectly for its ascent. As a start, in 2003 the United States eliminated Iran’s major border threats: Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to the west and the Taliban in Afghanistan to the east. (The Taliban are back of course, but diligently focused on America’s puppet Afghan government.) The long slog of Washington’s wars in both those countries dulled even the reliably bloodthirsty American public’s taste for yet more of the same, and cooled off Bush-era plans in Tel Aviv and Washington for air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. (After all, if even Vice President Dick Cheney couldn’t pull the trigger on Iran before leaving office in 2008, who in 2015 America is going to do so?)

    Better yet for the Iranians, when Saddam was hanged in 2006, they not only lost an enemy who had invaded their country in 1980, launching a bitter war against them that didn’t end for eight years, but gained an ally in the new Iraq. As U.S. influence withered away with the failure of the March 2010 Iraqi elections to produce a broadly representative government, Iran stepped in to broker a thoroughly partisan settlement leading to a sectarian Shia government in Baghdad bent on ensuring that the country’s minority Sunni population would remain out of power forever. The Obama administration seemed nearly oblivious to Iran’s gains in Iraq in 2010 — and seems so again in 2015.

    Iran in Iraq 

    In Tikrit, Iranian-led Shia forces recently drove the Islamic State from the city. In charge was Qassem Suleimani, the leader of the Qods Force (a unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards), who had previously led the brutally effective efforts of Iranian special forces against U.S. soldiers in Iraq War 2.0. He returned to that country and assembled his own coalition of Shia militias to take Tikrit. All of them have long benefited from Iranian support, as has the increasingly Shia-dominated Iraqi army.

    In addition, the Iranians seem to have brought in their own tanks and possibly even ground troops for the assault on the city. They also moved advanced rocket systems into Iraq, the same weapons Hamas has used against Israel in recent conflicts.

    Only one thing was lacking: air power. After much hemming and hawing, when it looked like the assault on Tikrit had been blunted by well-dug-in Islamic State fighters in a heavily booby-trapped city, the Obama administration agreed to provide it.

    On the U.S. side, the air of desperation around the decision to launch air strikes on Tikrit was palpable. You could feel it, for instance, in this statement by a Pentagon spokesperson almost pleading for the Iraqi government to favor Washington over Tehran: “I think it’s important that the Iraqis understand that what would be most helpful to them is a reliable partner in this fight against IS. Reliable, professional, advanced military capabilities are something that very clearly and very squarely reside with the coalition.”  

    Imagine if you had told an American soldier — or general — leaving Iraq in 2011 that, just a few years later in the country where he or she had watched friends die, the U.S. would be serving as Iran’s close air support.  Imagine if you had told him that Washington would be helping some of the same Shia militias who planted IEDs to kill Americans go after Sunnis — and essentially begging for the chance to do so. Who would’ve thunk it?

    The Limits of Air Power 101

    The White House no doubt imagined that U.S. bombs would be seen as the decisive factor in Tikrit and that the sectarian government in Baghdad would naturally come to… What? Like us better than the Iranians?

    Bizarre as such a “strategy” might seem on the face of it, it has proven even stranger in practice. The biggest problem with air power is that, while it’s good at breaking things, it isn’t decisive. It cannot determine who moves into the governor’s mansion after the dust settles. Only ground forces can do that, so a victory over the Islamic State in Tikrit, no matter what role air strikes played, can only further empower those Iranian-backed Shia militias. You don’t have to be a military expert to know that this is the nature of air power, which makes it all the more surprising that American strategists seem so blind to it.

    As for liking Washington better for its helping hand, there are few signs of that. Baghdad officials have largely been silent on America’s contribution, praising only the “air coverage of the Iraqi air force and the international coalition.” Shia militia forces on the ground have been angered by and scornful of the United States for — as they see it — interfering in their efforts to take Tikrit on their own.

    The victory in that city will only increase the government’s reliance on the militias, whom Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi now refers to as “popular volunteers,” rather than the still-limited number of soldiers the Americans have so far been capable of training. (The Pentagon might, by the way, want to see if Iran can pass along any training tips, as their militias, unlike the American-backed Iraqi army, seem to be doing just fine.) That also means that the government will have no choice but to tolerate the Shia militia atrocities and acts of ethnic cleansing that have already taken place in Sunni Tikrit and will surely follow in any other Sunni areas similarly “liberated.” Claims coming out of Washington that the U.S. will be carefully monitoring the acts of Iraqi forces ring increasingly hollow.

    What Tikrit has, in fact, done is solidify Iran’s influence over Prime Minister al-Abadi, currently little more than the acting mayor of Baghdad, who claimed the victory in Tikrit as a way to increase his own prestige. The win also allows his Shia-run government to seize control of the ruins of that previously Sunni enclave. And no one should miss the obvious symbolism that lies in the fact that the first major city retaken from the Islamic State in a Sunni area is also the birthplace of Saddam Hussein.

    The best the Obama administration can do is watch helplessly as Tehran and Baghdad take their bows. A template has been created for a future in which other Sunni areas, including the country’s second largest city, Mosul, and Sunni cities in Anbar Province will be similarly retaken, perhaps with the help of American air power but almost certainly with little credit to Washington.

    Iran in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen

    Tehran is now playing a similarly important role in other places where U.S. policy stumbles have left voids, particularly in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.

    In Syria, Iranian forces, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Qods Force, and their intelligence services, advise and assist Bashar al-Assad’s military. They also support Hezbollah elements from Lebanon fighting on Assad’s side. At best, Washington is again playing second fiddle, using its air power against the Islamic State and training “moderate” Syrian fighters, the first of whom refused to even show up for their initial battle.

    In Yemen, a U.S.-supported regime, backed by Special Forces advisers and a full-scale drone targeted assassination campaign, recently crumbled. The American Embassy was evacuated in February, the last of those advisers in March. The takeover of the capital, Sana’a, and later significant parts of the rest of the country by the Houthis, a rebel Shiite minority group, represents, in the words of one Foreign Policy writer, “a huge victory for Iran… the Houthis’ decision to tie their fate to Tehran’s regional machinations risks tearing Yemen apart and throwing the country into chaos.”

    The panicked Saudis promptly intervened and were quickly backed by the Obama administration’s insertion of the United States in yet another conflict by executive order. Relentless Saudi air strikes (perhaps using some of the $640 million worth of cluster bombs the U.S. sold them last year) are supported by yet another coalition, this time of Sudan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and other Sunni powers in the region. The threat of an invasion, possibly using Egyptian troops, looms.  The Iranians have moved ships into the area in response to a Saudi naval blockade of Yemen.

    No matter what happens, Iran will be strengthened. Either it will find itself in a client relationship with a Houthi movement that has advanced to the Saudi border or, should they be driven back, a chaotic state in Yemen with an ever-strengthening al-Qaeda offshoot. Either outcome would undoubtedly discombobulate the Saudis (and the Americans) and so sit well with Iran.

    To make things even livelier in a fragmenting region, Sunni rebels infiltrating from neighboring Pakistan recently killed eight Iranian border guards. This probably represented a retaliatory attack in response to an earlier skirmish in which Iranian Revolutionary Guards killed three suspected Pakistani Sunni militants. Once started, fires do tend to spread.

    For those keeping score at home, the Iranians now hold significant positions in three Middle Eastern countries (or at least fragments of former countries) in addition to Iraq.

    Iran Ascending and the Nuclear Question

    Iran is well positioned to ascend. Geopolitically, alone in the region it is a nation that has existed more or less within its current borders for thousands of years. It is almost completely ethnically stable and religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogeneous, with its minorities comparatively under control. While still governed in large part by its clerics, Iran has seen evolving democratic electoral transitions at the secular level. Politically, history is on Iran’s side. If you set aside the 1953 CIA-backed coup that ousted the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and put the U.S.-backed Shah in power for a quarter of a century, Iran has sorted out its governance on its own for some time.

    Somehow, despite decades of sanctions, Iran, with the fourth-largest proven crude oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves on the planet, has managed to hold its economy together, selling what oil it can primarily to Asia. It is ready to sell more oil as soon as sanctions lift. It has a decent conventional military by local standards. Its young reportedly yearn for greater engagement with the West. Unlike nearly every other nation in the Middle East, Iran’s leaders do not rule in fear of an Islamic revolution. They already had one — 36 years ago.

    Recently, the U.S., Iran, and the P5 (Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) reached a preliminary agreement to significantly constrain that country’s nuclear program and lift sanctions. It appears that both the Obama administration and Tehran are eager to turn it into an official document by the end of June. A deal isn’t a deal until signed on the dotted line, and the congressional Republicans are sharpening their knives, but the intent is clearly there.

    To keep the talks on track, by the end of June the Obama administration will have released to the Islamic Republic a total of $11.9 billion in previously frozen assets, dating back to the 1979 Iranian takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. In addition to the straight-up flood of cash, the U.S. agreed that Iran may sell $4.2 billion worth of oil, free from any sanctions. The U.S. will also allow Iran approximately $1.5 billion in gold sales, as well as easier access to “humanitarian transactions.” Put another way, someone in Washington wanted this badly enough to pay for it.

    For President Obama and his advisers, this agreement is clearly a late grasp (or perhaps last gasp) at legacy building, and maybe even a guilty stab at justifying that 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The urge to etch some kind of foreign policy success into future history books that, at the moment, threaten to be grim reading is easy enough to understand. So it should have surprised no one that John Kerry, Obama’s once globetrotting secretary of state, basically took up residence in Switzerland to negotiate with the Iranians. He sat at the table in Lausanne bargaining while Tikrit burned, Syria simmered, his country was chased out of Yemen, and the Saudis launched their own war in that beleaguered country. That he had hardly a word to say about any of those events, or much of anything else going on in the world at the time, is an indication of just how much value the Obama administration puts on those nuclear negotiations.

    For the Iranians, trading progress on developing nuclear weapons for the full-scale lifting of sanctions was an attractive offer. After all, its leaders know that the country could never go fully nuclear without ensuring devastating Israeli strikes, and so lost little with the present agreement while gaining much. Being accepted as a peer by Washington in such negotiations only further establishes their country’s status as a regional power. Moreover, a nuclear agreement that widens any rift between the U.S., Israel, and the Saudis plays to Tehran’s new strength. Finally, the stronger economy likely to blossom once sanctions are lifted will offer the nation the possibility of new revenues and renewed foreign investment. (It’s easy to imagine Chinese businesspeople on Orbitz making air reservations as you read this.) The big winner in the nuclear deal is not difficult to suss out.

    What Lies Ahead

    In these last months, despite the angry, fearful cries and demands of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Saudi royals, and neo- and other conservatives in Congress, Iran has shown few signs of aspiring to the sort of self-destruction going nuclear would entail. (If Iran had created a bomb every time Netanyahu claimed they were on the verge of having one in the past two decades, Tehran would be littered with them.) In fact, trading mushroom clouds with Israel and possibly the U.S. never looked like an appealing goal to the Iranian leadership. Instead, they preferred to seek a more conventional kind of influence throughout the Middle East. They were hardly alone in that, but their success has been singular in the region in these years.

    The U.S. provided free tutorials in Afghanistan and Iraq on why actually occupying territory in the neighborhood isn’t the road to such influence. Iran’s leaders have not ignored the advice. Instead, Iran’s rise has been stoked by a collection of client states, aligned governments, sympathetic and/or beholden militias, and — when all else fails — chaotic non-states that promise less trouble and harm to Tehran than to its various potential enemies.

    Despite Iran’s gains, the U.S. will still be the biggest kid on the block for years, possibly decades, to come. One hopes that America will not use that military and economic strength to lash out at the new regional power it inadvertently helped midwife. And if any of this does presage some future U.S. conflict with an Iran that has gotten “too powerful,” then we shall have witnessed a great irony, a great tragedy, and a damn waste of American blood and resources.




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    U.S. to Widely Export Killer Drones

    April 16, 2015 // 12 Comments »

    drone love



    Here’s one of those “Now what could possibility go wrong?” stories.



    Drones for Everyone

    Reversing years of restricted sales of America’s robot drone killers, the Obama administration announced it will begin allowing sales of armed drones to some friendly and allied countries. Until now, only the UK has been allowed to purchase armed drones, though select other countries have bought unarmed craft.

    The change comes as China begins exporting its own drones. Sales of drones could be worth billions to American companies.

    In the published policy, the State Department (which ostensibly controls arms export policy but hah hah) did not specify which countries would be considered for armed drone sales, but unnamed officials told U.S. media previous requests by Italy and Turkey would be considered. The United Arab Emirates is also being considered, though only for the unarmed versions which could never at all in no way be modified to carry weapons, no siree.



    Safeguards?

    But don’t worry, because the State Department sales rules have safeguards against drone misuse built right in:

    — Countries purchasing drones must sign agreements that the aircraft will only be used for military campaigns and not to, say, wipe out political opponents;

    — Certain drones capable of carrying a payload of 500kg (1,100lb) will still be barred from export except under undefined “highly unusual circumstances.”

    — The recipient will be required to use drones in accordance with international law (hilarious given how the U.S. does not follow international law in its own drone use);

    — Drone owners must promise not use the aircraft “to conduct unlawful surveillance or use unlawful force against their domestic populations.”

    So that’s all covered. Or maybe not. The full rules for drone sales are classified.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Colombian Oil Money, Moroccan Cash, Flows into Clinton Foundation

    April 10, 2015 // 9 Comments »

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    The flow of money from foreign governments seeking influence over Candidate/President Hillary Clinton continues at a steady pace; get used to it folks, it could be a long eight years of influence-buying.


    And have you money ready people, and step right up! No need to push and shove, there’s enough sleaze available for everyone!



    Moroccan Cash

    We start with the most current example, a $1 million donation from OCP, a phosphate exporter owned by Morocco’s leaders, to hold a high-profile conference next month in Marrakech. According to Clinton Foundation records, OCP previously donated between $1 million and $5 million to the charity in 2013.

    The OCP firm’s CEO is Mostafa Terrab, who also lobbied on behalf of the Kingdom of Morocco in 2013 and 2014, according to Justice Department records. Terrab filed papers under the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act showing that he worked for Morocco between November 2013 and May 2014, advising Moroccan government officials and helping them prepare for meetings with U.S. officials about economic development issues relating to Africa.

    Hillary is currently still scheduled to appear at what is called the Clinton Global Initiative Middle East and Africa Meeting, on May 5-7. Even if Hillary bows out, Bill and Chelsea will join Moroccan King Mohammed. Who else is expected? Executives from OCP and Coca-Cola, as well as the presidents of Rwanda and Tanzania, and senior officials from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

    Who are these nice folks Hillary will be hanging out with? The president of Rwanda, according to Human Rights Watch, heads a country where “freedom of expression and association remain tightly controlled. The government obstructed opposition parties and independent civil society organizations, and threatened its critics. Parliamentary elections resulted in an overwhelming majority for the ruling party, with no meaningful challenge. The leadership of one of the last remaining independent human rights organizations was taken over by pro-government elements.”

    Given Hillary’s campaign meme of support for women and girls, she probably already knows that “child marriage in Tanzania limits girls’ access to education and exposes them to serious harm. Human Rights Watch documented cases in which girls as young as seven were married.”

    At least everyone will have plenty to talk about as they stand around counting the money.

    So how’d the Clinton’s get hooked up with all these nice folks? OCP, the company who shelled out the $1 million on behalf of the government of Morocco, was connected with the Clinton Foundation by longtime Clinton supporter Stuart Eizenstat, of the powerhouse law firm Covington and Burling, which represents OCP in Washington.

    Eizenstat is a major Democratic donor who maxed out to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and gives generously himself to the Clinton Foundation. And small world — During Clinton’s State Department years, OCP paid a team led by Eizenstat $760,000 to lobby federal agencies. Eizenstat previously served as Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, among other jobs, in the Bill Clinton administration. Oh, and remember Coca Cola, who’ll be at the conference? Eizenstat sits on their International Advisory Board.


    Colombian Oil Money

    According to International Business Times, as union leaders and human rights activists conveyed reports of labor violence to then-Secretary of State Clinton in late 2011 (the photo shows Clinton on a visit to Colombia as Secretary), urging her to pressure the Colombian government to protect labor organizers, she responded with silence. The State Department publicly praised Colombia’s progress on human rights, thereby permitting hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to flow to the same Colombian military that labor activists say helped intimidate workers.

    At the same time that Clinton’s State Department was lauding Colombia’s human rights record, her family was forging a financial relationship with Pacific Rubiales, the sprawling Canadian petroleum company at the center of Colombia’s labor strife. The Clintons were also developing commercial ties with the oil giant’s founder, Canadian financier Frank Giustra, who now occupies a seat on the board of the Clinton Foundation.

    IBT claims after millions of dollars were pledged by the oil company to the Clinton Foundation, supplemented by millions more from Giustra himself, Secretary Clinton abruptly changed her position on the controversial U.S.-Colombia trade pact.

    Having opposed the deal as a bad one for labor rights back when she was a presidential candidate in 2008, Clinton promoted it as Secretary of State, calling it “strongly in the interests of both Colombia and the United States.” The change of heart by Clinton and other Democratic leaders enabled congressional passage of a Colombia trade deal that experts say delivered big benefits to foreign investors like Giustra.

    The examples of Morocco and Colombia are only the most recent; read more about the way money flows from foreign governments and corporate donors through the Clinton charities.




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    $416 Million Afghan Program to Empower Women: No “Tangible Benefit”

    April 7, 2015 // 14 Comments »

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    The American reconstruction campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have, and continue, to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on pointless projects seemingly designed solely to funnel money into the pockets of U.S. government contractors.


    Empowering Women

    These projects (Iraq War examples are detailed in my book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People seem to bounce between the merely pointless, such as dams that are never completed and roads to nowhere, to the absurdly pointless.

    One ongoing theme under the absurdly pointless category has been the “empowerment of women.” In both countries, the U.S. has acted on the assumption that the women there want to throw off their hijabs and burkas and become entrepreneurs, if… only… they knew how. Leaving aside the idea that many women throughout the Middle East and beyond prefer the life they have been living for some 2000 years before the arrival of the United States, the empowerment concept has become a standard.

    However you may feel about these things, and the programs are in some part designed as “feel good” but cynical gestures to domestic American politics, the way “empowerment” is implemented is absurd. Lacking any meaningful ideas, women are “empowered” by holding endless rounds of training sessions, seminars, roundtables and hotel gatherings where Western experts are flown in laden with Powerpoint slides to preach the gospel. Over time, in my personal experience in Iraq at least, these proved so unpopular that the only way we could draw a crowd (so we could take pictures to send to our bosses) was to offer a nice, free lunch and to pay “taxi fare” far in excess of any reasonable transportation costs; bribes.

    One Army colonel I worked with was so into the goals of the program that he called these things “chick events.”


    Women’s Empowerment in Afghanistan

    So much for Iraq. How’s it going for women’s empowerment in Afghanistan?

    Not well, at least according to the latest report by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Some highlights from that report include an inquiry into USAID’s Promoting Gender Equity in National Priority Programs (Promote), which has been highlighted as USAID’s largest women’s empowerment program in the world. Promote has left SIGAR with a number of “troubling concerns and questions,” to wit:

    –SIGAR is concerned that some very basic programmatic issues remain unresolved and that the Afghan women engaged in the program may be left without any tangible benefit upon completion. SIGAR is also concerned about whether USAID will be able to effectively implement, monitor, and assess the impact of Promote.

    –Many of SIGAR’s concerns echo those of Afghanistan’s First Lady. To quote Mrs. Ghani, “I do hope that we are not going to fall again into the game of contracting and sub-contracting and the routine of workshops and training sessions generating a lot of certificates on paper and little else.”

    –Promote has been awarded to three contractors: Chemonics International, Development Alternatives, Inc., and Tetra Tech, Inc. The overall value of the contracts is $416 million, of which USAID is funding $216 million and other—still unidentified—international donors are expected to fund $200 million.

    –USAID does not have any memoranda of understanding between any of the three Promote contractors and the Afghan government.

    Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Interactive Guide to Corporate Donors, Political Favors and the Clinton Charities

    April 6, 2015 // 15 Comments »

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    We’ve shared with you that of the 425 large corporate donors to the Clinton Foundation, the Wall Street Journal found 60 of those donors lobbied the State Department during Hillary Clinton’s tenure.

    We’ve shared with you how Candidate Clinton, who cites the rights of women as a cornerstone of her campaign, accepted millions through her charities from governments who oppress women.

    We’ve also shared how Clinton lied about her promise to disclose her donors, and how she would have the State Department review things and then did not.

    We have even offered up Bill’s explanation about why all this was somehow “OK.”


    Meet Your Little Sis

    But you said “Oh, pish-posh.” You wanted someone to draw you a picture. And now someone has.

    Little Sis is a database detailing the connections between powerful people and organizations. Their goal is to bring transparency to influential social networks by tracking the relationships among politicians, business leaders, lobbyists, financiers, and their affiliated institutions. In other words, they try and follow the money.

    So here’s the Little Sis interactive graphic of the flow of money between corporations that lobbied the State Department, contributions to the various Clinton charities, and the nice things Hillary did as Secretary of State on behalf of those generous donors. It’s just like when you give $25 to PBS; you get a tote bag and they buy up more episodes of Downton Abbey.

    Use the + and – buttons in the upper left hand corner to scroll around. If the graphic is too small as it is embedded here, jump over to the Little Sis site and see it full-size.



    But He Does it Too!

    Someone out there is saying “But ________ does it too!”

    There is probably some, or even a lot, of truth there. Politics in America is controlled by money in America. But of course none of that, however accurate, makes it right.

    I think also that since everyone does it, it may then be important to look another level deeper, to how they do it. What is clear is that the Clinton candidacy is built on a global network of organizations (“charities”) that act as fronts and cut-outs to move large sums of money between wealthy corporate and foreign government donors who benefit from being nice to one or more of the Clinton’s. Apart from any good work the Clinton charities may or may not accomplish, they seem to have at least a secondary purpose as a huge money funnel.

    See, there’s crime, there’s organized crime, and there’s big league, global organized Bond-villain crime. That might help in sorting out how to think in an age when everyone commits crimes.




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Statement of Terms Regarding My Private Email Server

    April 4, 2015 // 17 Comments »

    pcPlease note that the files, including emails sent and received, for WeMeantWell.com, as well as The We Meant Well Foundation and the Peter, Hillary and Miley Global Initiative and Crime Syndicate, are maintained on a private server unguarded by pretty much anyone except this one dude who comes in Tuesdays and Thursdays.

    As such, all such files, should they in fact exist, are private property and not subject to any existing disclosure laws or regulations, should those exist. Since I forgot to sign any release forms when leaving the Department of State, the eight bazillion gigabytes of files that stuck to the bottom of my shoe as I was frog-marched out of the building are also not subject to disclosure. Those files are now held in a paper bag in the former Benghazi Consulate and Shoulder-to-Air Missile Emporium. Since as of 2012 that facility is no longer U.S. property, they are not subject to Congressional subpoena. If Trey Gowdy freaking wants them, he can go to Libya himself and demand them from the militias there.

    However, in the interest of full disclosure, I have instructed my intern, who unfortunately does not read English, to carefully review every file in my possession and turn over to the Department of State any she finds that are work-related. How you want to play this is up to you– either she’ll learn English first before getting right to work, or we’ll just shred the files. Either way, don’t expect jack sh*t out of me.

    Sorry, my lawyer just advised me to rephrase that. The review process will be robust, ongoing, and comprehensive.


    Quick Note: Any State Department folks reading this, I sorta left something behind when I last left the office. It is stuffed between my old desk and the wall, a manila folder marked “Stuff I Gave to Wikileaks.” It’s next to the “Snowden” things. I don’t need those, they’re on the web now. If you could grab the Wikileaks thingie for me, I’ll buy coffee!




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Hillary Wins by Wiping the Slate, er Server, Clean

    March 30, 2015 // 14 Comments »

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    There’s a point where the game has been decided, and the teams are just running down the clock. We’re there with Hillary. She won.



    A Largely Ceremonial Position

    In 2008 some deal with the Obama campaign landed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. It was the perfect platform for her to work from toward 2016, when she expects to be selected as president of the United States. Secretaries of State these days are not really expected to do much, not like the old days. Most foreign policy is run out of the White House directly, and with communications as they are the president just interacts directly with foreign leaders as he choses.

    In such a largely ceremonial position, Clinton was able to keep herself in the public eye, creating B-roll footage for her 2016 campaign in exotic locales, making “fun” memes like “Texts from Hillary,” running up some faux foreign affairs credibility and achieving “accomplishments” on soft, feel-good, working on can’t go wrong issues like stopping AIDS, helping poor kids and empowering women. None of those things ever really end, so you are always moving forward and can’t really fail. It’s all about progress.

    Let’s go to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and quote Hillary Herself, from a speech summing up her own version of accomplishments as “…hosting town halls with global youth, raising awareness for religious minorities, protecting Internet freedom and advancing rights for women and the LGBT community around the world.”

    So there.



    Her Greatest Accomplishment

    We now know that Hillary was working the biggest accomplishment of her tenure at the State Department behind the scenes: eliminating any hint of a politically-dangerous or embarrassing paper trail by using her own personal email server, perhaps alone in the Federal government. This is evil genius at a Bond-villain level.

    Clinton maintained 100 percent control over everything she wrote, and, with the State Department’s conveniently antiquated policy of not archiving its own senior officials’ record communications, everything that was written to her. For the most sensitive communications, between Hillary and her personal aides, she controlled every aspect of the process. Her server, her email addresses, no outsiders.

    When she left the State Department, everything left with her. When no one asked about the emails for a couple of years, Hillary just held on to them. When someone did ask, she culled out her choice of what constituted official messaging, consulting no one outside her own inner circle, and then delivered those to the State Department on paper. No metadata.

    When Congressional committees and the media came looking for the official messages, Clinton referred them to the State Department, where the emails were supposedly going to be “reviewed,” perhaps for a very long time. Any release or withholding would come from State; Hillary could stand back and call for “full disclosure” knowing a) only what she already selected could ever be disclosed and b) even that will take a long time, nothing she could do about it, check with Foggy Bottom.



    She Nuked the Email Server

    Then the final stroke of brilliance. We learned only on March 28 that after selecting the emails to turn over to State, Clinton nuked her email server and any backups. Congress and the media can subpoena and FOIA from now until the end of time, but there is nothing to seek. It. Is. All. Gone.

    “Thus, there are no hdr22@clintonemail.com emails from Secretary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state on the server for any review, even if such review were appropriate or legally authorized,” her attorney said in a letter to the House select committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi.

    Bonus points to Clinton: Before having her lawyer announce the server was blanked back in 2014, she obtained a two-week extension on the 2015 subpoena asking for its contents, you know, just to mess with Congress, let ’em know who’s the boss. FYI: There is speculating that the server was only nuked recently, after Clinton’s March press conference.

    And oh yes, at her one and done tell-all press conference about the email issue, Clinton never mentioned she had had the server wiped clean three months earlier. Cleverly, she said only that the emails she did not turn over to State would remain “private.” And indeed they will.

    Computer hackers of the world: you can bet your stash of black T-shirts that when the decision was made in December to get rid of the emails, someone with a suitcase of cash showed up wherever the server and the backups where and purchased the physical hard drives and tapes. Those rest, in small pieces, at the bottom of the Potomac.



    You Have No Other Choice

    So there you have it. Heading into the campaign, all anyone will know of Hillary’s four years as Secretary of State is what she wants us to know. The photo ops she scheduled, the communications she chose for you to know about, nothing more. And with the emails deleted, there is not a thing anyone can do about it. There never can be a smoking gun, should one ever have allegedly existed.

    The whole thing was planned from Day One, six years ago, just for this moment. It represents a giant, cynical, raised middle finger to the concept of open government and democracy. You see what she wants you to see, know what she wants you to know. You have no other choice. Hillary Clinton got exactly what she planned to get.




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Talking Arms Proliferation on Chinese Television

    March 28, 2015 // 10 Comments »

    So how’s that war on terror going? Well, it may not be very successful in actually stopping any terrorism, but it sure as hell has been profitable for America’s arms manufacturers. I was on Chinese CCTV recently to discuss the issue.

    Part I


    Part II




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    State Department Now Just Making It Up to Explain Away Clinton’s Excesses

    March 27, 2015 // 26 Comments »

    ?????

    State Department spokesdrone Jen Psaki is now just straight out making things up to explain away the questions surrounding Clinton and her email, and the State Department’s complicity.

    Her “misstatements” can now be debunked with a click of a mouse, which we will do in a moment.

    The devil is in the details on these things, as no one expects to find a notarized document that reads “Yes, I did it all to hide embarrassing stuff from the Freedom of Information Act because dammit it is my turn to be president, signed, Hillary”).

    So let’s drill down.



    The OF-109 Form

    Outgoing State Department personnel are required to sign a statement called an OF-109. I signed one when I retired from the State Department.

    Though the possibility exists some folks get out the door without signing for whatever reason, mostly negligence, I can find no stated exceptions to having to sign. The document is straightforward; read it here. Basically it says you turned over “all [classified and] unclassified documents and papers relating to the official business of the Government acquired by me while in the employ of the Department or USIA.” The rest has to do with acknowledging you understand disclosure laws relating to those documents.

    Clinton, somewhat infamously, never signed an OF-109. Had she done so, she would have committed perjury, at the minimum, because as we now know she did not turn over her emails upon exiting the job. She did not do what every other outgoing State Department person is required to do. Clinton has a large staff, and no doubt had the attention of State’s HR people, so it seems there was near zero chance her not signing was some mere oversight.

    What Jen Psaki Said

    But here’s what Jen Psaki said instead of all that:

    The State Department spokesperson also explained why Clinton would not have signed the OF-109 separation statement. Psaki said that former secretaries of state “want to remain accessible” to future secretaries and presidents, which is why they maintain their security clearance. Psaki added that former secretaries may also want access to their files for future books.

    See, none of that is true. Signing the OF-109 has nothing at all to do with retaining one’s security clearance. That is a fully separate, independent process. Signing the OF-109 has nothing at all to do with remaining accessible to future secretaries and presidents. Signing the OF-109 has nothing to do with accessing files for future books. As a private citizen, Clinton has no more special access to State Department files than you do.

    It was all a lie. Psaki is the spokesperson. She has been asked about this matter numerous times, and has the full resources of the State Department behind her to research an answer. There is near zero chance she was uninformed. She just lied.

    But It’s Just Some Form

    One true thing Psaki did say was “that there has long been a responsibility placed on the outgoing employee to account for his or her emails.” Indeed. That accountability is embedded in the OF-109 form; that’s where the outgoing employee certifies she has done what she is required to do.

    Of course signing or not signing the form does not change the underlying law and regulation requiring outgoing personnel to turn over their stuff, so there is also that independent of the form itself.

    In rebuttal you will no doubt hear someone say “Yeah, yeah, it’s just another government form, so let’s focus on the important stuff.” This is the important stuff. Judging character, honesty and intent requires understanding the details.


    BONUS: Sounds like somebody is leaning forward hoping for that sweet, sweet White House spokesperson job in 2016. Also, an unexplored side of all this is the complicity of the State Department in Clinton’s email “issues.” State allowed her to operate outside its rules and regulations, perhaps outside the law, for four years.




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Is the U.S. Paying Off Iran to Keep the Nuke Negotiations Alive?

    March 23, 2015 // 12 Comments »

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    Negotiations require some back and forth, demonstrations of good will and good intent, and massive pay offs.

    Wait, what?

    The Obama administration in January handed over $490 million in cash to Iran, and will have released a total of $11.9 billion to the Islamic Republic by the time nuclear talks are scheduled to end in June, according to the State Department. The January release is the third such payment. The release of funds was agreed to by the Obama administration in November as part of another extension in negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program.

    Iran will receive an additional ten payments from the United States through June 22, when talks are currently scheduled to end.

    Iran received $4.2 billion in similar payments under the 2013 interim agreement with the United States, and was then given another $2.8 billion by the Obama administration last year in a bid to keep Iran committed to the talks through November, when negotiators parted ways without reaching an agreement. The deal also gives Iran access to $4.2 billion from oil sales, with approximately $1.5 billion more from imports of gold and other precious metals, as well as easier access to “humanitarian transactions.”

    The money does not come from taxpayers’ pockets, but rather represents Iranian assets frozen in the U.S. as part of various sanctions imposed on Tehran. Most of the money was frozen in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that saw Iranians storm the U.S. Embassy and capture 52 American hostages.

    Not everyone outside of Tehran is happy about the arrangement. Some Republican lawmakers tried, but failed, to pass legislation last year to prevent the release of cash due to a lack of restrictions on how Iran can spend the money. They were concerned Iran could use the funds to finance terror or purchase weapons. Several Senators unsuccessfully asked the White House to certify Iran was not using the money to support terrorism.

    Republican statements aside, in negotiations the rule of thumb is to get something for everything you give. As best we can tell, what the U.S. has gotten for all that money so far is not much more than Iran’s willingness to keep sitting at the table. After all, there are ten payments left to be handed out before the negotiating process is considered a failure. The old adage may be worth remembering: if you’re not sure who the sucker at the table is, it’s you.




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    State Department Diplomatic Security Employee Arrested on Child Porn Charge

    March 21, 2015 // 20 Comments »

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    A State Department Diplomatic Security employee with high-level access to government IT and security resources was arrested in Broward County, Florida on a federal charges of possessing child pornography.


    FBI agents took Peter Meyers, 53, pictured, into custody. Law enforcement officials stated they found 50 video files and eight image files depicting child pornography on Meyers’ computers and laptops. Meyers was making the videos and images available to pedophiles worldwide via file-sharing networks.

    Some of the files were named “Bedtime Rape” and “Camping Tent Incest” and showed girls and boys, including toddlers and children as young six and nine years old, being sexually abused. Meyers said the computers were for personal use, agents said.

    Investigators said he came to their attention in February when they identified an Internet address in Broward County that was sharing computer files depicting the sexual abuse and exploitation of underage children.

    According to his Facebook and LinkedIn pages, Meyers has worked as a security technical specialist for the U.S. Department of State since 2003. His work duties included testing security systems, assisting in the technical aspects of criminal investigations and traveling to overseas embassies and consulates, according to his online resume.

    A State Department spokesperson said “The employee’s security clearance will be suspended and he will be put on administrative leave while this proceeds through any judicial process.

    Want more State Department sleaze? Here you go.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    State Department Guy Arrested for ‘Peeping’ While Out on Bail for Child Porn Charge

    March 17, 2015 // 7 Comments »

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    We all remember proud steward of the taxpayer’s money and the State Department’s secrets Daniel Rosen (pictured.) Dan the Man, recently the State Department’s top counter-terrorism official, was arrested just recently for allegedly soliciting sex from a minor.

    If found guilty, Rosen faces up to 30 years in prison. Fairfax County, Virginia law enforcement officials say Rosen, age 44, was arrested at his home after he sought sex with a minor. A female officer working in the county’s Child Exploitation Unit had been posing as the minor in online exchanges with Rosen, police said.


    Rosen made bail and was out enjoying perhaps his last taste of freedom before his trial commences. And, allegedly, enjoying it he was. In a sick, perverted way.


    The official was arrested again in Washington, DC, on Sunday, this time accused of secretly videotaping two dozen women while they undressed in their homes. Police say they found evidence of 40 separate incidents over the past six months when Rosen used his cellphone to film the women, including through pulled curtains or shades.Police found the videos on Rosen’s phone after it was searched following his arrest last month on solicitation charges. He had been out on bail.

    Rosen was charged with voyeurism as well as stalking, since he had apparently filmed some of the women more than once. Police said all the victims were over 18 years old, so there’s a big relief.

    It is unclear Rosen will be granted bail a second time.



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    Clinton Team Never Really Reviewed Emails Before Deletion

    March 16, 2015 // 14 Comments »

    clinton


    Oh, this just gets worse.

    The Process as Stated

    Here is how Clinton described the “process” by which her own staff determined which of the 60,000 emails on her personal server were work-related, and thus turned over to the State Department for even further review, and which were not work-related and deleted.

    I am very confident of the process that we conducted and the e-mails that were produced… I have absolute confidence that everything that could be in any way connected to work is now in the possession of the State Department… My direction [was] to conduct the thorough investigation to err on the side of providing anything that could be possibly viewed as work related.

    The image created was one of completeness, and complexity, of interns and lawyers, perhaps Clinton herself for the tough calls, working their way painstakingly through four years worth — 60,000 messages — one-by-one, always erring on the side of caution to ensure a complete record before things were (perhaps) forever deleted.

    But like seemingly everything else connected with the Clinton speech and the email server, it was all a fudge. What she said was not what really happened.

    The Process in Reality

    According to David Von Drehle of Time, the process used was actually as follows:

    She commissioned a review of the 62,320 messages in her account only after the Department — spurred by the congressional investigation — asked her to do so.

    And this review did not involve opening and reading each email; instead, Clinton’s lawyers created a list of names and keywords related to her work and searched for those. Slightly more than half the total cache, 31,830 emails, did not contain any of the search terms, according to Clinton’s staff, so they were deemed to be “private, personal records.”

    And then deleted.


    More Questions

    So instead of answering any questions, Clinton’s actions only create more. Would someone in the media please acquire some brass and ask Clinton:

    — Give us the list of keywords and names.

    — Question why XYZ was not on the list, as appropriate.

    — If someone’s full name was “William Jefferson Clinton,” was a search also run on “Bill,” “William J. Clinton” and the like? Did they run searches for “WH” and “White House,” “ISIS, IS, ISL, Islamic State, Daesh”?

    — Ask if the keyword search process was set up to catch “Obama” as well as “Obbama” like Google, or only exact matches, like Microsoft Word does. Upper and lower case? Names as part of email addresses?

    Other issues with even a decent keyword search done fairly are that people don’t always write emails in complete, referential sentences. Sometimes they write things like “I hope the press never hears about that thing from yesterday” or “As I told you on the phone, time to act” that can be critical when matched against events and other information.

    Jeez, everyone who has ever watched a gangster movie knows they say things like “We’re gonna have to pay a visit to our friend in Yonkers” before they put out a hit.

    Get It?

    You get it. Running a keyword search is not a process that could create “absolute confidence” on a potential world-leader scale. Claiming it does is prevarication of the worst kind, deliberate manipulation of expectations and words. There is no basis on which to trust, not even a decent feint at creating trust. Just smoke and mirrors and misdirection.

    Here it is in a clearer way: No one looked at more than 30,000 emails before they were deleted. No one.

    There is a crushing certainty to Clinton’s supporters, and I hear that from many of them in explicit terms, that eliminates doubt. It troubles me greatly. Because if you people keep dismissing these signs of what is headed our way with silly tropes like “everybody does it” and “it’s a partisan attack,” we are all going to pay for it.




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Law and Order SVU: Clinton Email Case

    March 11, 2015 // 6 Comments »

    law

    Police Interrogation Room, 50th Precinct


    “She gonna roll over?” Captain Media said.

    “Don’t know Captain. So far she’s sticking to her story. The whole email server thing for four years as Secretary of State was just for her personal convenience.”

    “And she expects us to buy that and let her walk? In the office she would have used one computer for two accounts, same as the average Joe, so the story doesn’t hold up there. That carrying two pocket-sized devices only outside the office, that’s more convenient that setting up a whole parallel system? C’mon, I’ve been on these streets for 20 years, that doesn’t fly.”

    “I hear you Captain, but she’s lawyered up. Sticking to the story like glue on sticky flypaper.”

    “That’s a load of horse hockey pucks. Everybody else in the State Department deals with it, and so does every other Cabinet secretary we know of, never mind 90 percent of the corporate world. Lemme see her exact quote again.”

    Cop flips open notebook.

    “Here it is, verbatim. ‘First, when I got to work as secretary of state, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two.'”

    “OK, time to hit her with the information we have. Show her the video.”




    “Now that was just two weeks ago, at a fluff Q and A. You heard her, right? She flat out said she carries two devices, an iPhone and a Blackberry. Doesn’t that shoot down her case, make her a liar?”

    “I hear you Captain, but her people say ‘That’s now, not when she was Secretary of State.’ Maybe some folks are that gullible.”

    “Hit her with her own quote: ‘Well, I have a quite large purse… So in addition to makeup and all that goes with that, usually my Blackberry and papers of all kinds… And my iPod, just the usual wonderful musical “interluding” diversions that we all need, a wide variety. And on my iPad… ‘”

    “That’s, lemme see, three devices at one time. Blackberry, iPod and iPad. iPad’s can access email just fine. So she was carrying three devices at once, two of which could access email.”

    “Yep.”

    “But is that quote new? Did it come from some Republican attack group?”

    “The quote is from November 2011, while she was Secretary of State.”

    “And the source?”

    “An official State Department transcript. It’s online. Anyone can see it.

    “So she lied. We got her. Bulletproof.”



    Later that Same Day, Captain’s Office

    “Captain, good news. We just heard from Clinton’s lawyer. They want to retract all her statements. They wanna talk. She’ll plead.”

    “Nice work.”

    (Theme music, Ba Bum…)




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Hillary Press Conference About Her Email

    March 10, 2015 // 17 Comments »

    hillary blackberry

    Hillary needed a home run, and she only even tried for a safe infield hit. That, in this case, is the same as a strike-out.

    She needed to do two things in her brief press conference March 10 about her use of personal email to conduct four years of Secretary of State business and the aftermath. Primarily, she needed to lay out an explanation that made enough “sense” that her Democratic supporters could get behind her on this issue, and she needed to explain enough to take the wind out of future press stories, create a “nothing to see here” meme. We all can expect the Republicans to try and work the issue no matter what she says, and we can all expect her strongest supporters did not need convincing.

    Hillary’s task was to hold the center. Let’s look at what she said, and didn’t say, in light of those two themes.


    What She Said

    — Clinton said she “opted out” of using an official email system for her convenience, stating she did not want to use two email devices.

    — She said that the “vast majority” of her official emails were sent to official government addresses and thus archived somewhere no matter what she did.

    — Clinton claimed she turned over any work-related emails when State asked for them, “after I left office.”

    — She said she has asked State to review and ultimately release the releasable emails.

    — She said she would not allow any third party review of her server (such as the State Department’s Inspector General) because it is a Federal employee’s personal responsibility to determine work versus personal emails, and it is a moot point anyway because she has already deleted the 30,000 emails she determined were not work-related.


    Looking at What She Said: Convenience

    The “two devices” would have been inconvenient argument is very weak.

    One does not have “two devices,” one has two accounts. Do you have separate computers for your Gmail and your Yahoo mail? State employees are allowed to access private webmail on their official desktop computers. State employees access web mail on their official Blackberrys, though it is slow. Many State Department employees do carry two devices.

    There is also no prohibition from receiving and sending personal email from an official account as long as one does not misrepresent a personal message as an official State Department document. Indeed, in some overseas posts where decent Internet service does not exist because of limited infrastructure, or because of security concerns, all personal messages travel through USG accounts. It is encouraged.

    And who is ready to believe Clinton as Secretary of State needed to carry her own devices anyway? She has people for that; she doesn’t carry her own luggage, does she?

    And is setting up and maintaining in secret a personal server in some way “convenient?” How do all other Cabinet officials handle this? Do they all have personal servers? Why not? If this Clinton-only technique is so handy, why didn’t she share it with others in government as some sort of best-practice? How does Bill Gates or George Clooney handle such issues? We know Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, for one, had a single device with both a personal email account and a work email account.

    Can Democrats answer Clinton critics with concerns about transparency, mistrust and prevarication simply by saying, “Well, it was convenient for her. Accept that, OK?”

    Looking at What She Said: Archiving

    That the emails were archived “somewhere” because she sent the “vast majority” to someone else’s government accounts is also weak. Many FOIA requesters to the State Department for Clinton’s emails were told no records exist. Any emails archived at the Pentagon, or the UN or the White House would have to be FOIA’ed agency-by-agency — you can’t send a FOIA request to “the government.” Any let’s not forget the term “vast majority.” How many emails are not archived anywhere?

    There also appears to be some questions. Huge gaps exist in the emails Clinton provided to a congressional committee investigating the 2012 attack in Benghazi, the panel’s chairman said. Republican Representative Trey Gowdy said his committee lacked documentation from Clinton’s trip to Libya after the attack despite a popular photo image of her using her famous Blackberry during a flight to that country. “We have no emails from that day. In fact we have no emails from that trip,” said Gowdy. “There are huge gaps.” – See more at: http://wemeantwell.com/blog/#sthash.YUWe4QIz.dpuf


    Looking at What She Said: Other Points

    Clinton claimed she turned over her any work related emails when State asked for them, “after I left office.” Left unanswered is why State had to ask in the first place, and of course the way the statement “after I left office” will only beg the question someone else will need to answer of how Clinton can characterize waiting to be asked two years later as “after I left office.”

    Good for Hillary to ask State release all her emails. That is what the law behind the many FOIA requests now pending at State demands anyway. What is missing is a timeframe; no one seems to know when that release might take place, though State has suggested it will be months. Remember too that first Clinton had a cut on which emails were to her mind “work related,” and then the State Department gets to make a second cut and/or redact portions of those emails for sensitive or personal information. The “release them all” line sounds good but does not parse out well.

    Clinton’s final point that it is a Federal employee’s personal responsibility to determine work versus personal emails is sort of true but largely a fudge. State Department regulations make it clear that government email must be used whenever possible for official business. While not explicitly forbidden, there is no section of law, regulation or practice that allows an employee to “opt-out” of the system. Hillary’s assertion that the decision on what is and is not work-related is based on the premise that almost everything work-related is already on a government server, and the culling of personal email for archiving is a minimal task. State Department practice is that a personal email deemed work-related be forwarded to the employee’s official account as soon as possible to create a single archive.


    What She Didn’t Say

    Clinton’s omissions and non-answers are however more troubling.

    — She did not answer a question about whether or not she sought or received guidance from State’s IT, Diplomatic Security or legal staff on her use of a personal email server.

    — She did not answer a question about whether or not she had been briefed on possible security issues regarding her use of personal email.

    — She did not say why she curated her email archive herself and did not involve a neutral third party.

    — She did not demand State commit the resources necessary to get her emails out before the primaries, or before the convention, or even before the election.

    — She did not say why, after holding them for two to six years, she only after the recent notice decided to delete all of her personal, non-work-related emails.

    — She did not say why she did not hand over her emails and/or discuss the issue of a personal server for the two years since leaving office, the seven months since this became known to Congress, the three months since she delivered her email tranche to the State Department, the eight days since the story broke widely in public or two days after members of her own party asked her publicly to do so.

    On another topic, she did not answer a question about the foreign money, particularly from Middle Eastern countries oppressive to women, that has poured into the Clinton Foundation.


    The Biggest Omission

    There was no action statement, no suggestion Clinton would do anything more in regard to all this. She spoke for about 18 minutes, including taking eight questions, and seems to have left us with “that is that.”

    It appears unlikely that “that is that,” with important questions still unanswered. It is unclear that Clinton gave her own centrist supporters enough red meat to get behind her on this issue. It seems instead that Democrats are left wondering what else is out there, and whether a Clinton candidacy, or a Clinton administration, will not look far too much like Bill’s time, herky-jerking from crisis to scandal to crisis, both real and imagined. That will be hard to get behind.




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Famed Women’s Rights Proponent Accepts Millions from Governments Who Oppress Women

    // 2 Comments »

    clinton1995


    We told you about how the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation accepts donations from foreign governments, including the United Arab Emirates (somewhere between $1 million and $5 million, the Clinton’s only report ranges) and Saudi Arabia (total between $10 million and $25 million). At least $1 million more was donated by the group Friends of Saudi Arabia, co-founded by a Saudi prince.

    The donations raise concerns. Was the UAE and Saudi money simply because those nations believe in the good work the Clinton Foundation does, or were the donations a conflict of interest, an advance pay off, given that Clinton Foundation principle Hillary intends to be the next president?


    Women’s Rights are Human Rights

    Fair question. But here’s another.

    You know, just this week Clinton commemorated her 1995 women’s rights speech in Beijing with back-to-back events in New York. However, no one raised this question: How ethical is it for a candidate who cites her global activism and support for women’s rights to accept huge donations from countries that have some of the most abysmal global records for the treatment of women? It seems almost like a double-standard or something.

    But maybe Clinton didn’t know how things really are in those nasty places that shower her in cash. Let’s turn to the Human Rights Reports from her own former employer, the Department of State, for a quick glimpse into where all that moolah comes from.

    Women’s Rights in Clinton Donor Countries

    So in Saudi, “Rape is a criminal offense under sharia with a wide range of penalties from flogging to execution. The government enforced the law based on its interpretation of sharia, and courts punished victims as well as perpetrators for illegal ‘mixing of genders,’ even when there was no conviction for rape… Most rape cases were unreported because victims faced societal reprisal, diminished marriage opportunities, criminal sanction up to imprisonment, or accusations of adultery.” Also “Women continued to face significant discrimination under law and custom, and many remained uninformed about their unequal rights. Although they may legally own property and are entitled to financial support from their guardian, women have fewer political or social rights than men, and society treats them as unequal members in the political and social spheres.”

    But Clinton has taken hard stands against the Saudis, at least when it wouldn’t put her on the spot. In her memoir, Hard Choices, Clinton tells of intervening when Saudi courts wouldn’t block the marriage of an 8-year-old to a 50-year-old man. “Fix this on your own, and I won’t say a word,” she recalled telling the Saudis.

    But it’s better in the UAE, right? State says “The penal code allows men to use physical means, including violence, at their discretion against female and minor family members. Domestic abuse against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem. There were reports that employers raped or sexually assaulted foreign domestic workers… female victims of rape or other sexual crimes faced the possibility of prosecution for consensual sex instead of receiving assistance from government authorities.” Also “For a woman to obtain a divorce with a financial settlement, she must prove that her husband had inflicted physical or moral harm upon her, had abandoned her for at least three months, or had not maintained her upkeep or that of their children. Alternatively, women may divorce by paying compensation or surrendering their dowry to their husbands.”

    The Clinton Foundation has also taken in chunky donations from Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Algeria and Brunei, none of whom ever begin to respect the rights of women.


    You get the picture. But does Clinton? Hey, it’s just money right, and what do women know about that stuff anyway?



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    A Child’s Treasury of Clinton Email Excuses

    March 9, 2015 // 16 Comments »

    hillary-clinton



    Though Madame herself has said nothing out loud (she did send one Tweet) about the bubbling scandal that she used private email to conduct four years’ of official business as Secretary of State, perhaps to help shield her communications from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, there has been no shortage of third-party defenders.

    Let’s take a look at their arguments, and see how they sound.



    It’s Not Illegal

    Clinton supporters fired their first shots claiming she did nothing illegal, that current laws on using personal email were enacted only in 2014. And so if you have done nothing illegal, by definition your actions are legal.

    As to the rules/laws/regulations, there are some clear issues.

    Clinton as Secretary of State held herself to lower standards than the rank and file. According to eight pages of State Department regulations (5 FAM 440, 443.1), “All Government employees and contractors are required by law to make and preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency (Federal Records Act, or “FRA,” 44 U.S.C. 3101 et seq).” Those regs have been in place since at least 2009, most since 1995. There’s also another section that’s relevant. The State Department through a series of memos and internal interpretations clarified that persons using personal email for government business should forward copies to their official account as soon as practical. There are no provisions for maintaining a private archive at home and turning over a curated selection years later when asked.

    There is also what the official custodian of U.S. government records, the National Archives and Records Administration, in the 2009 National Records Act, has to say, specifically in 44 U.S.C. Chapters 31 and 33 and the regulations issued in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), specifically Subchapter B – Records Management of 36 (CFR) Chapter XII. See Records management by agency heads; general duties (§ 3101), Establishment of program of management (§ 3102), Transfer of records to records centers (§ 3103) and Certifications and determinations on transferred records (§ 3104). Read as much of it as you care to; the requirements are long, specific and mandatory. A personal email server in your home does not fit the bill.

    Here’s the shortest version: In 2009, regulations required that any emails sent or received from personal accounts be preserved as part of the agency’s records.



    Everybody Does It

    The question isn’t whether Clinton was allowed to have a private email account; she was, as secretaries of state before her did. The question is whether she was allowed to be the steward of the archives under the 2009 Federal Records Act. She was not. That’s where the violation occurs.

    There also exists an important question of degree. Though Condi Rice denies ever using any personal email for official business, and Colin Powell famously used an AOL account more than ten years ago as part of his attempt to drag State into the late 20th century vis-vis technology, no previous government official in the known history of the United States has set up his/her own personal email server and used that exclusively for four full years. The scale sorta really matters.

    The other side of the “everybody does it” argument is that it is a really poor argument. Anyone who has been a teenager has likely tried it (“But Mom, everybody drinks beer at my age, yeah I know I’m not 18 but everybody does it!”) and seen it fail. Defendants who went on to become convicted felons also know how unconvincing judges find it when people offer as their criminal defense that others have committed the same offenses but just didn’t get caught.

    It seems sad that such an excuse is even thrown out there for a presidential contender, never mind that some are willing to accept it.



    What Does it Matter?

    Absent someone starting an actual courtroom prosecution, this is not about whether an actual crime per se has been committed. It is about what Clinton’s image of open, good government looks like, what her plans for a transparent administration in line with America’s democratic principles might come to be. It is about whether what she says connects tightly to what she does.

    It also matters because Clinton’s email actions were deliberate, and included an effort to hide what she was doing. Her email domain was registered in a way to hide its actual ownership (still unknown), and was set up just as she re-entered public life. Clinton never disclosed the email account until the media learned of it. That lack of disclosure continued even as she testified about the tragedy in Benghazi, assuring the public her Department’s internal review represented the full story. It could not have; she still held the emails at that time.

    She still has not spoken about all of this, despite it being one of America’s top news stories.

    Will she tell the electorate why she set up a personal server and did not use government email? For argument’s sake we’ll agree she was allowed, but that does not tell us why, and why matters.

    Why didn’t Clinton turn over her personal emails years ago? Why only recently,and only when asked?

    As president of the United States, will she encourage or condone Cabinet level officials to employ personal email servers in lieu of U.S. government systems?

    How did she weigh out the security risks of using a personal email service? Yes, the emails were said to be unclassified, but if they were indeed not sensitive enough to warrant high levels of security, then one hopes they will all be released now, unredacted.

    Is the way she handled her email at State and now in the aftermath indicative of her approach to public service?

    Those things are in part what people are supposed to be assessing when they vote.


    Suck It People, and Just Trust Me

    Clinton’s people have said they combed through all of the (unknown amount) of emails and pulled out 55,000 pages, delivered literally on paper to the State Department so as to impede electronic searches (sorry to the intern who has to scan them) and of course eliminate the metadata. They all swear cross-their-fingers-hope-to-die that those are all the official emails in the stash. Honest sir, there can’t be even one more we might’ve missed.

    But… Huge gaps exist in the emails Clinton provided to a congressional committee investigating the 2012 attack in Benghazi, the panel’s chairman said. Republican Representative Trey Gowdy said his committee lacked documentation from Clinton’s trip to Libya after the attack despite a popular photo image of her using her famous Blackberry during a flight to that country. “We have no emails from that day. In fact we have no emails from that trip,” said Gowdy. “There are huge gaps.”

    So maybe Clinton’s staff missed just a few?


    It’s All Republican Attack Cheap Shots

    Which brings us to the all-purpose Clinton excuse: whatever bad things have happened to her and/or are being said about her are all a partisan attack, perpetrated by her Republican enemies, just like everything else from Vince Foster/White Water to 2008’s lying about being under fire in Bosnia to everything Benghazi.

    And there is truth in that. It is without question that the Republicans will seize on anything negative about Clinton they can find. It is also without question that the Democrats will seize on anything negative about Bush or whoever they can find. Such is the nature of politics in America.

    But that doesn’t mean what is under discussion is not true and it does not mean it does not matter. The easiest way for Clinton to escape answering questions is to stifle any discussion (“What does it matter anymore anyway?”) There are things that are worth talking about here, questions that need answers, regardless of whether you lean right or left. Don’t get sucked down the tunnel of partisan politics encouraging you to shut your brain off.

    Think about it.



    BONUS THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: Wouldn’t it be great is some mid-level State Department staffer set up her own email server in her apartment next week and sent a message to everyone at work she interacts with saying she was no longer going to use her official email account? Wouldn’t that be a hoot?



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Clinton Personal Email Problem Deepens

    March 6, 2015 // 24 Comments »

    Hillary-Clinton



    Hillary Clinton announced in a Tweet that she wants her former employer, the Department of State, to review her emails with an eye toward releasing them. Here, she said it herself, on The Official Twitter:



    So accepting the fact that it took Clinton almost three full days’ worth of controversy to get around to saying even that, that’s it, right? Problem solved? Maybe not.


    Who Will End Up Holding the Bag?

    The key part of what Clinton no doubt feels is some pretty slick sleight of hand is that State only has in its possession some fraction of all of her emails sent while Secretary of State. The emails State does have were hand-picked by Clinton, curated by her staff, from the total.

    Clinton, alone in the entire U.S. government, has left herself in the unique position of being the only one to determine what records the American people are entitled to see. Her basis for her decisions? Trust me.

    Even at that, she now throws State under the bus, thinking anytime between now and inauguration day anybody asks about a missing email or ten, Clinton will just “refer them” back to State, who of course decided what to withhold from what Clinton personally chose not to withhold. Clinton no doubt thinks herself clever with this bit of political jujitsu, turning the State Department into her campaign spokesperson. But putting the burden on State is a red herring; this isn’t really the State Department’s dog.

    Her attempt to use the White House this week in the same capacity has only returned mediocre results. The Counsel’s office there claimed it had no knowledge of Clinton’s exclusive use of a personal email system, and quickly mentioned once it found out that it had directed the State Department to make sure all appropriate rules were followed (CYA.) They also made clear that the administration gave “very specific guidance” that employees should use official accounts when conducting government business.

    Obama’s spokesman was careful to note “There was not an Obama administration official that was responsible for reviewing those emails.”

    While trying to avoid doing political damage to Clinton, the White House has put the onus on her aides to explain exactly what happened. If there is gonna be a bag of sh*t to hold at some point, the White House does not want to get stuck with it.


    Slow-Walking FOIA

    State, ever the lap dog to the rich and famous, is ready to do its part in dragging its feet. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Riyadh Thursday that his department “will undertake this task as rapidly as possible in order to make sure that we are dealing with the sheer volume in a responsible way.” State spokeswoman Marie Harf warned that the review could “take some time to complete” while other officials indicated it could take months. And, surprise! State’s current review personnel are already overwhelmed with nearly 11,000 other pending requests, which for complex cases can take an average of more than 18 months to complete.

    Maybe first-come, first-serve will get the Clinton emails reviewed at least in time for her second term.

    Perhaps State will want to turn its attention to previous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. More than 75 separate requests for her emails were filed with the State Department between 2009 and 2013 by media organizations and other parties. Associated Press requests for Clinton emails and other documents have been delayed for more than a year — and in one case, four years — without any results. All “answered” FOIA requests were told that the State Department did not have any emails from Clinton to consider releasing, sort of true in that State had no Clinton emails on file; they were all held on her private server. The AP says it is considering legal action against the department to compel responses.

    And that all leads deep into another can of worms. FOIA requests are strictly limited to U.S. government documents. You cannot FOIA Michelle Obama’s personal NetFlix viewing list. A very tricky legal question arises about whose emails those are on Clinton’s private mail server. Google and other tech companies have regularly won legal challenges to say that the Gmail you send actually belongs to Google, not you. It resides on their server, after all. Much of the NSA’s quasi-legal ability to gobble up your emails rests on the same premise, as they request “your” email not from you but your internet service provider. Requests for Clinton emails not turned over to State could be refused based on the fact that they are her private property.


    The Trouble with Republicans

    Meanwhile, Clinton’s troubles with the Republicans are just starting.

    The Republican National Committee on Thursday asked the Inspector General of the State Department to investigate Clinton’s use of personal email to conduct government business. RNC Chief Counsel John Phillippe wrote in a letter that the investigation should focus on whether Clinton violated department policies or caused the department to violate the requirement to archive emails. Such inspections can take a long time, but in this case, those delays could easily help keep the email issue alive well into the 2016 campaign, and the Republicans know it.

    The Inspector General should also look into where State Department management and security were sleeping while all this email fun transpired. One can speculate that if a mid level employee proposed to do all his official work off a personal email server they would have had something to say about that. Oh wait, they already did, roundly criticizing one State Department ambassador for bypassing State’s email system.

    The House committee investigating Benghazi also just got a new lease on life. The committee announced Wednesday it has issued a subpoena to Clinton for all of her communications relating to Libya, including emails from her personal server, texts, attachments and pictures. New emails mean new hearings, new questions for Clinton, new demands for in-person testimony and new accusations of information being withheld or scrubbed. This clearly will keep the red-meat-to-the-base Benghazi issue alive well into the 2016 campaign, even if nothing substantive emerges. And if it does…

    Questions

    Clinton, in her own sense of transparency, has issued only the Tweet (above) as her sole public response to all this. Her spokesperson disingenuously claimed Clinton had complied with both the letter and the spirit of the law, a tough one to swallow even for a group of supporters used to swallowing.

    Clinton has announced in advance that she will take no questions at her next scheduled public appearance, somewhat ironically the March 23 ceremony celebrating the winner of the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting.

    But here are a few very simple questions we’d like Clinton to answer:

    — Why did you alone in the State Department not use official email and only use private email run off a private server?

    — Why didn’t you turn over your full set of emails to State for review?

    — Why did you wait until your private server was disclosed publicly to turn over even the subset of emails you did? Why didn’t you turn them over during your tenure as Secretary?

    — As president of the United States, will you encourage or condone your Cabinet level officials employing personal email servers in lieu of U.S. government systems?

    — Is the way you handled your email at State and now in the aftermath indicative of your approach to public service?



    That’ll be a good start.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Department

    March 4, 2015 // 24 Comments »

    hillary blackberry



    That sound you hear?

    That’s Republicans dancing a merry jig, and Benghazi investigators sharpening their subpoenas, because 2016 just got a lot more interesting with the revelation that as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton conducted all official business using a personal email account on her own web domain.

    Here’s what happened, and why it matters. A lot.

    What Happened

    Hillary Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, violating federal regulations that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record and thus subject to Freedom of Information Act and Congressional requests. Clinton did not have a government email address during her entire four-year tenure, and her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act.

    It was only two months ago, in response to a new State Department effort to comply with federal record-keeping practices, that Clinton’s personal advisers reviewed tens of thousands of pages of her emails and decided which ones to turn over to the State Department. All told, 55,000 pages of emails were given to the Department. The contents of the rest are known only to Clinton insiders. The process Clinton’s advisers used to determine which emails related to her work at the State Department were turned over has not been explained.

    Instead, Clinton appears to have used email service through her own domain, clintonemail.com under the name hdr22@clintonemail.com. The domain was created on January 13, 2009, just before Obama was sworn into office, and the same day that Clinton’s confirmation hearings began before the Senate.

    In March 2013, an adviser to Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal, had his e-mail through the clintonemail.com domain hacked.

    The Clinton email domain is officially registered to a Jacksonville, Florida company called PERFECT PRIVACY, LLC. The company advertises itself by saying “By signing up for Perfect Privacy when you register your domain, our information is published in the WHOIS database, instead of yours.” That means Perfect Privacy acts as a cut-out, hiding the actual person or organization that set up the domain by sticking its own information online instead.

    Clinton as Secretary of State held herself to lower standards than the rank and file. According to eight pages of State Department regulations (5 FAM 440, 443.1), “All Government employees and contractors are required by law to make and preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency (Federal Records Act, or “FRA,” 44 U.S.C. 3101 et seq).”

    It is also apparent no one at State raised any questions. A large number of IT staff must have been aware that Clinton had no official email address, as must have security staff. Everyone who traded email with Clinton also knew. And no one said anything.

    Why It Matters

    The most basic reason this all matters is because it is the law. As Secretary of State, Clinton was required to maintain her emails as official records. She did not. She choose not to follow the law. Saying “everybody else did it” does not work for teenagers, felons in court or Secretaries of State. Since 2009, said Laura Diachenko, a National Archives and Records spokeswoman, federal regulations have stated that “agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency record-keeping system.” The question isn’t whether Clinton was allowed to have a private email account; she was, as secretaries of state before her did. The question is whether she was allowed to be the steward of the archives under the 2009 Federal Records Act. She was not. That’s where the violation occurs.

    It also matters because Clinton’s email actions were deliberate, and included an effort to hide what she was doing. Her email domain was registered in a way to hide its actual ownership (still unknown), and was set up just as she re-entered public life. Clinton never disclosed the email account until the New York Times learned of it. That lack of disclosure continued even as she testified about the tragedy in Benghazi, assuring the public her Department’s internal review represented the full story.

    That review clearly did not represent the full story, in that it did not include any of Clinton’s emails. The review also did not note that the documents it had access to somehow did not include any emails from the Secretary of State. A careful analysis of Clinton’s testimony on Benghazi will need to be made to look for signs of possible perjury. If anything in the Clinton emails is new and relevant to understanding what happened in Benghazi, she should be held to explain why it was not revealed at the time of her testimony.

    The contents of whatever small portion of Clinton emails released to State, and questions about what is in the tens of thousands of pages withheld, will revive hearings into what happened in Benghazi and what role Clinton played. There remain questions about what information was withheld from Congress. Even of the thousands of pages State received from Clinton, only 900 have been turned over to Congress.

    Use of personal email to conduct government business in the age of hacking raises serious security questions, and calls into question Clinton’s commitment to protecting America’s secrets. According to The New York Times, Clinton also used a gmail account, hdr22@gmail.com, to conduct her official business.

    With no oversight, the only check on Clinton not discussing classified information in her emails was Clinton herself. “We have no indication that Secretary Clinton used her personal e-mail account for anything but unclassified purposes,” State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said Tuesday. “While Secretary Clinton did not have a classified e-mail system, she did have multiple other ways of communicating in a classified manner (assistants printing documents for her, secure phone calls, secure video conferences).” Of course, since no one at State has seen the bulk of Clinton’s emails, they indeed may have “no indication.”

    2016 just got much more interesting. Republicans will raise the email issue in great detail, especially since Jeb Bush has already released his own email stash from his time as governor. Clinton does not seem prepared to address the question; her spokesperson said incongruously that her use of a personal email account was in compliance with the “letter and spirit of the rules.”

    Clinton as a leader allowed herself to be held to lower standards than that of her own rank and file. This, along with the decision to hide the emails itself and the violations of law, will raise questions about what type of president she might make.

    Not the First

    As Vox.com, and others, stated:

    [In 2009, as Clinton took office] The Bush administration had just left office weeks earlier under the shadow of, among other things, a major ongoing scandal concerning officials who used personal email addresses to conduct business, and thus avoid scrutiny.

    The scandal began in June 2007, as part of a Congressional oversight committee investigation into allegations that the White House had fired U.S. Attorneys for political reasons. The oversight committee asked for Bush administration officials to turn over relevant emails, but it turned out the administration had conducted millions of emails’ worth of business on private email addresses, the archives of which had been deleted.

    The effect was that investigators couldn’t access millions of internal messages that might have incriminated the White House. The practice, used by White House officials as senior as Karl Rove, certainly seemed designed to avoid federal oversight requirements and make investigation into any shady dealings more difficult. Oversight committee chairman Henry Waxman accused the Bush administration of “using nongovernmental accounts specifically to avoid creating a record of the communications.”

    That scandal unfolded well into the final year of Bush’s presidency, then overlapped with another email secrecy scandal, over official emails that got improperly logged and then deleted, which itself dragged well into Obama’s first year in office. There is simply no way that, when Clinton decided to use her personal email address as Secretary of State, she was unaware of the national scandal that Bush officials had created by doing the same.

    Clinton knew what she was doing, and was aware of the consequences for herself and the White House. She did it anyway. Under such conditions, people will be muttering “Hey, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

    Questions

    One of the main reasons government officials use personal email is because it is not clearly subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as it is not a government document. Since Clinton now admits at least some of her personal email is indeed part of her official record as Secretary, will does emails become subject to FOIA? One assumes most major new organizations are drafting their FOIA requests as we speak.

    And speaking of FOIA, since many/most of Clinton’s emails were not a part of official State Department records until recently means they would not have been identified in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, subpoenas or other document searches conducted over the past six years. Is anyone planning to reexamine those requests in light of developments?

    There is also the question of how many email accounts where. Republican Trey Gowdy, who chairs the House committee investigating Benghazi stated Clinton had more than one private email account. “The State Department cannot certify that have produced all of former Secretary Clinton’s emails because they do not have all of former Secretary Clinton’s emails nor do they control access to them,” he said.

    Who administered Clinton’s personal email network? S/he was not a government employee but had unfettered, Snowden-like access to government information conveyed at the Cabinet-level. As she also used a Gmail account, an unknown number of Google employees enjoyed a level of access unavailable to Clinton’s own State Department staff. Clinton’s personal email server backed up to a Google drive, wide-open to hackers both foreign and domestic.

    Why didn’t Clinton turn over her personal emails years ago? Why only recently?

    Instead of focusing on the “but was it illegal?” smokescreen, ask the simpler question: why did Clinton alone in her State Department rely 100 percent on a personal email account?

    And what about that famous Clinton Blackberry? Blackberry messages go through a special server run by an organization itself. State maintains such a server for its staff’s required use. Did Hillary’s Blackberry run through a State server or a private one? Let’s ask.




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    Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Book Review: American Ambassadors, The Past, Present, and Future of America’s Diplomats

    February 28, 2015 // 15 Comments »

    ambassador


    The micro-review of Dennis Jett’s American Ambassadors: The Past, Present, and Future of America’s Diplomats is this: Since 1960, 72 percent of America’s ambassadors to Western Europe and the Caribbean have been political appointees, their primary if often only qualification being that they donated obscene amounts of money to the guy who won the presidency. America is the only first world country that hands out ambassadorships as overt prizes of corruption. Many/most of these political ambassadors have done mediocre-to-poor jobs, and no one does much of anything about that, or even seems to care. Likely the only way to reform this sad system is to reform big money politics in America.



    Getting to Know Our Ambassadors

    Author Dennis Jett, himself a two-time career ambassador (meaning he served as a State Department diplomat, rising through the ranks to one of its highest positions) is now a professor of international relations and founding faculty member of the School of International Affairs at Penn State University. His book is one of the few (only?) volumes that parses the idea of politically-appointed ambassadors outside of a partisan rubric, and is the only one I am aware of that fully details the actual process and mechanics of becoming an ambassador. It also manages to be a quick, entertaining read, all at the same time. While Jett does not traffic in gossip, his book is filled with anecdotes and details that reveal the at times pathetic actions of America’s representatives abroad.

    How about the one whose signature accomplishment was a new mattress for her residence? The one who was absent from her assigned country almost half the time? The ones who stumbled in front of the very host country officials they were supposed to get to know? The one who insisted on singing popular tunes at all of his formal dinners, drowning out critical sidebar interactions? The one who… well, you get the idea.

    A Little History

    Professor Jett’s book begins with a history of America’s ambassadorship, noting that an early attempt to reform the spoils system so angered one job-seeker that he assassinated President Garfield. Things only went downhill from there.

    Various well-meaning moves by Presidents from Taft to Teddy Roosevelt failed to budge the spoils system through Republican and Democratic administrations. Along the way presidents stopped trying to change the system and began to openly embrace it as a tool to reward both individual donors and, the whales of any campaign, the “bundlers,” those connected individuals who not only drop off millions of their own money, but get their wealthy friends to do the same.

    It would be foolish to expect someone not to want something in return for their cash.

    The Best and the Worst

    To be fair, Jett offers his share of criticism to ambassadors in general (about 70 percent are in fact State Department careerists, though as noted, career diplomats are disproportionately assigned to hardship posts; some 14 percent of African embassies are run by career Foreign Service Officers.)

    One of the most overriding criticisms is the lack of standards and definitions of success for an ambassador. Easier to delineate are the points of failure, and Jett’s book has far too many examples for any taxpayer to be happy about. The problems range from ambassadors who seem to have little-to-no interest in the job save some social aspects and the title itself, to those who hamstring an embassy through mis- or micromanagement.

    The better ambassadors (surprise!) use the resources at hand well, rely on their career No. 2 (the Deputy Chief of Mission, or DCM) to handle most of the internal embassy management, and respect the chain of command. Add to that an ambassador who is willing to work with not only the State Department personnel under his/her direct authority, but also the many other Federal workers in a modern embassy, never mind the ever-growing military presence abroad, and you have a recipe for success. The book is clear what happens in the inverse.

    Resources

    American Ambassadors is also an excellent resource for those seeking to learn more of the inside baseball side of the American ambassador game. Jett surveys the roles of women, African-Americans and gay ambassadors, and charts the changing way race and religion have played out in assignments. Readers get to see the lengthy actual questionnaire used to vett Obama’s appointees, guidelines drawn up for successful ambassadors by informed third parties, and examples of the Letters of Instruction three presidents wrote as “marching orders” to their new envoys. These resources are likely of more use to a student, researcher or potential political appointee than a general reader, but are not uninteresting to browse.

    Reforms?

    Reform to a spoils system so deeply embedded in the way someone gets elected to the White House depends on reform of how someone gets elected to the White House. This is a task far beyond the scope of Jett’s book, though he touches on some ideas. Recent Supreme Court decisions that allow virtually unlimited corporate funds to flow nakedly into the system won’t help.

    So if you can’t do away with the spoils system, the only alternative left is to better prepare the political appointees. Making Dennis Jett’s American Ambassadors required reading for every person up for consideration would be a hell of a start.



    Full Disclosure: Like Jett, I also was a career Foreign Service Officer. Unlike Jett, I never rose beyond the middle ranks. Jett also cites my issues with the Department of State as an example of the perils of dissent inside the organization.



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    Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

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