• Something Stinks at Foggy Bottom

    June 11, 2012 // 4 Comments »

    For those lucky enough to live outside of DC, the Department of State is located in an area of town called Foggy Bottom; that’s even the name of the subway station nearest the building. Back in the 18th century the area was literally a fetid swamp, hence the name.

    It appears now that the swamp gases are rising through the concrete, because something in connection with the McGurk ambassador to Iraq nomination stinks.

    State claims that McGurk is “uniquely qualified” for the job, and that he was the subject of “rigorous vetting.” Yet now-authenticated, salacious emails, which call into question his judgment, maturity, discretion and ethics popped up online, straight out of State’s own archives and blew his once certain Senate approval on to a back burner, at best.

    As part of any political vetting process, especially in the age of the web, the candidate is asked at some point “Is there anything else? Anything out there that might come up we need to know about? Any skeletons in the closet, old affairs, angry ex’, anything?” Because today, if it is out there, it will surface.

    And one of three things happened.

    McGurk either lied to State and did not tell them about his affair, his trading info for sex, his lack of judgment (bad), or

    McGurk with his own ethical compass did not think he did anything wrong and did not tell State (maybe worse), or

    McGurk did tell State the whole story and State covered it up, hoping to mislead the Senate into confirming McGurk (very bad)


    Anybody got a fourth possible scenario? I don’t.

    We are left with the choices of a man either without ethics and shame, or one willing to lie to get ahead, or an institution at State so set on pleasing its political bosses in the White House that it is willing to deceive the Senate and help place an unqualified man in one of its most important posts.

    There are too many well-qualified, honest people out there who could be ambassador to Iraq for the Senate to waste any more time on McGurk. He should now announce his need to spend time with his new wife, and State should come clean on its role in covering up this stench.

    State should abandon its investigation into the leak of the emails and instead investigate its own vetting process.

    Let’s try something new here: put the interests of America in front of self-interest. It will be a welcome change for the State Department.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq

    Guess Who Said It

    February 3, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    I’d like to share a few quotes, and you try and guess whether they came from my book, We Meant Well, or from somewhere else. Five points for each correct answer; anyone who scores 20 or more wins a free trip (one way) to Iraq. Bonus points if you can guess to whom these were directed.

    Here we go:

    As a graduate of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, I was proud when I swore in at the State Department. By the middle of 2007 that changed. I was ashamed for my country.

    Pax Americana will not be achieved with the Foreign Service and the State Department’s bureaucracy at the helm of America’s number one policy consideration. You are simply not up to the task, and many of you will readily and honestly admit it.

    At stake, as a whole, is not only the success of the mission, the lives of Americans and the future of a country for which we must now bear some responsibility, but also hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars being wasted and poorly managed.

    After a year at the Embassy, it is my general assessment that the State Department and the Foreign Service is not competent to do the job that they have undertaken in Iraq. The problem is institutional. The State Department bureaucracy is not equipped to handle the urgency of America’s Iraq investment in blood and taxpayer funds. You lack the “fierce urgency of now.”

    Foreign Service officers, with ludicrously little management experience by any standard other than your own, are not equipped to manage programs, hundreds of millions in funds, and expert human capital assets. It is apparent that, other than diplomacy, your only expertise is your own bureaucracy.

    The American people would be scandalized to know that, throughout the Winter, Spring and Summer of 2007, even while our Congress debated the Iraq question and whether to commit more troops and more funds, the Embassy was largely consumed in successive internal reorganizations with contradictory management and policy goals. In some cases, administrative and management goals that occupied our time reflected the urgencies and priorities that could only originate in Foggy Bottom and far-removed from the reality or urgencies on the ground. The fact that over 80 people sit in Washington, second-guessing and delaying the work of the Embassy, many who have never been to Baghdad, is an embarrassment alone.

    I would venture to say that if the management of the Embassy and the State Department’s Iraq operation were judged by rules that govern business judgment and asset waste in the private sector, the delays, indecision, and reorganizations over the past year, would be considered willfully negligent if not criminal.

    The Embassy is also severely encumbered by the Foreign Service’s built-in attention deficit disorder, with personnel and new leaders rotating out within a year or less. Incumbent in this constant personnel change is a startling failure to manage and retrieve information. The Embassy is consequently in a constant state of revisiting the same ground without the ability to retrieve information of past work and decisions. This misleads new personnel at senior levels into the illusion of accomplishment and progress. This illusionary process of “changing goal posts,” as one senior official put it, helps to explain why so few goals are scored.

    Overall, the lack of coordination and leadership in key areas (including Rule of Law activity, PRT’s, and others), upon which the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has repeatedly commented, is real and pervasive. The waste of taxpayer funds resulting from such mismanagement is something that only a
    deeply entrenched bureaucracy with a unionized attitude, like the Foreign Service and Main State, could find acceptable.

    The impulse to transform the Embassy into a “normal embassy” displays most starkly the State Department bureaucracy’s endemic problems, including inflexibility and the inability to understand alternative management principles, use expertise and funds in any manner outside the State Department’s normal experience, the inability to respond to the urgency of America’s presence in Iraq, and the inclination to make excuses and blame the Embassy’s failures on others.

    Simply put, Foreign Service officers are not equipped to manage process-oriented assistance programs and yet we have put into their hands hundreds of millions of dollars. Any American graduate school study group could do better.

    The Foreign Service culture has created a situation where important information is kept from vital decision-makers. In my year in Baghdad, I have seen the Embassy intentionally keep information from the State Department in Washington (because “we cannot trust that they will not leak to the press”), and the Commanding General (because “we do not wash our dirty laundry in public”.)

    I have also witnessed a relentless culture of information-hording within the Embassy. The dysfunctional failure to communicate and share information is beyond anything that can be imagined under any circumstances. It is endemic of a bureaucracy that is far beyond its pale of competence and experience.

    The significance of our work in Iraq would suggest that the State Department might need to think outside its box on an information management system that any medium-sized law firm would have.



    Trick questions– none of these quotes come from my book. They were all written in 2008, in a blistering memo from Manuel Miranda, a contractor heading the Office of Legislative Statecraft in Baghdad, to then-Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

    Hell, I did not even quote the entire memo, so go read it for yourself.

    I’m just glad Miranda didn’t decide to write a book about his thoughts on Embassy Baghdad, otherwise I’d be out of a job.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq

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