• Requiem for the U.S. Department of State, Part I of II

    May 20, 2020 // 1 Comment »


     
    Saying “Mike Pompeo” out loud feels odd, like mouthing the name of an old girlfriend, or shouting out your GMail password. It just feels wrong in your mouth, because what’s Mike or the State Department done lately? As the Trump administration wraps up its first term focused on domestic issues, it occurs the United States has passed almost four years without a foreign policy, and without the need for a Secretary of State or a department of diplomats behind him.
     
    On his first anniversary in the job Pompeo told assembled diplomats “We needed everyone in their place, working on the mission, if we were going to achieve this mission on behalf of the president” but never actually said what that mission was. A Google query shows “Searches related to Mike Pompeo Achievements” include “mike pompeo weight – mike pompeo net worth.” One can easily imagine Pompeo, even pre-COVID, slipping out the side door at Foggy Bottom shouting “I’ll be working from home, check with my deputy if anything comes up” while his wife is waiting in the car for him, Ferris Bueller-style.

    We had high hopes for Mike. He and John Bolton (as National Security Advisor) were the Bad Boys who were supposed to start wars with Iran and North Korea, outdo Cheney and even challenge the legend himself, Henry “Bloody Hands” Kissinger. Pompeo watched as not much happened between the U.S. and North Korea. He watched as the ending of the Iran nuclear treaty caused not much to happen. John Bolton, who liberals expected to see on a throne in Tehran rolling a mullah’s bloody head around his lap, instead sits by the phone hoping a think tank will offer him an intern to listen to his stories, or maybe Dancing with the Stars will ring needing a last-minute. That show on Fox?

    Prior to Pompeo, the Secretary of State was Rex Tillerson. Tillerson couldn’t even come up with an elevator speech of his accomplishments when asked, listing as he left office North Korean sanctions which achieved nothing, alongside his own mea culpas for failing to make progress in Afghanistan and Syria and Iraq, where with a straight face he noted there was “more to be done.” A bit hard to blame him, as Trump chose a policy of stasis, not wanting to withdraw the last trooper and forever be the man who lost Afghanistan. Imagine if the U.S. had followed similar political caution and still garrisoned Vietnam?

    Commentators wrote Tillerson would be remembered as the worst secretary of state in history. Wrong. He made no significant blunders, gave away nothing. He just didn’t do much at all. His actual only real accomplishment was a humiliating apology tour of Africa meeting with leaders on the periphery of U.S. foreign affairs grouchy over the president calling their nations sh*tholes.

     

    It would be easy to blame Trump, his open mic night style of making decisions, his decrees by Twitter, sucking all of the diplomatic air out of the room and suffocating up-and-coming diplomats like Mike and Rex before they even had a chance to try on their plumed hats. Unlike his predecessors, Trump never took advantage of his get-one-free foreign incursion along the lines of invading Grenada, occupying Lebanon, or an adventure in Somalia, never mind the big ticket items like Iraq Wars I-III. Sure, Trump did bomb Syria (who hasn’t?) and nipped at Iran, but the tumescence was over before the media could even declare the end of the world again.

    One can imagine meetings with friendly foreign nations in the Age of Trump: “Anything new from your side? No, you? Nah, something on Twitter from POTUS about armageddon, misspelled. Say, Crimea still giving you trouble? A little, whatever, you watching Tiger King? Pretty funny. Quite.”

     

    So turn the page backwards to John Kerry, Obama’s second term Secretary of State. Kerry imagined himself a Kennedy-esque man of action, Flashman at the ready, and had the State Department keep an online tally of how many miles he had traveled doing diplomatic stuff. The Nation called him “One of the Most Significant Secretaries of State in the Last 50 Years,” heady company when you realize the list includes Acheson, Dulles, Rusk, and Kissinger.

    OK, but… Kerry’s signature accomplishment, the Iran Nuclear Agreement, faded quickly. As negotiated the thing was only for ten years anyway, and would be about half over even if Trump had not walked away. And that’s giving Kerry full marks for getting an agreement where the National Security Council did much of the heavy lifting, and one which the Iranians wanted badly enough to help their economy they were willing to trade away a lot of Wonka tickets. Kerry’s work with the TPP and Paris Agreement also showed good effort. We’ll put them up on the fridge next to the one song Ringo got onto each Beatles album. Kerry’s muscular efforts came to little substance (albeit through little fault of his own) but the legacy business is harsh.

    After that, you have John Kerry helping muck up Syria. Kerry floundering in the Ukraine and Crimea. Kerry failing to move the ball forward in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Palestine, or blunting China as it assumed a pivotal role in Asia in every way except militarily (they’re working on it.)

    That Nation article praising Kerry also cites as achievements “the military retaking of Mosul, the sponsorship of an Oceans Conference, the strengthening of the Gulf Cooperation Council…” all of which mean what in 2020? Kerry did sing Happy Birthday to Vladimir Putin at the APEC conference in the midst of a U.S. government shutdown. Kerry’s most significant achievement was leaving many Democratic voters secretly wondering whether the country dodged a bullet in 2004 when George W. Bush beat Kerry to take on a dismal second term.

     

    But Hillary! Never mind “one of,” Google chair Eric Schmidt called her “the most significant Secretary of State since Dean Acheson” (suck it, Kerry.) Secretary of State was only the first half of the prize Hillary got for clearing the way for Obama in 2008 (Barack shooing Joe Biden aside for her in 2016 was the second) and Clinton made the most of it. For herself. Ignoring America’s real foreign policy needs (or was she being ignored?) she turned the State Department into an arm of her Foundation, projecting “soft power” on things like women’s issues and AIDS to match her eventual platform, all the while generating B-roll for the campaign like a chunky Angelina Jolie. She also had the Department obsessively document her constant travels, with formal photos of Secretary Clinton alongside world leaders as well as selfies of Hil letting her hair down among her own diplomats. “Texts from Hillary” predated Instagram. Not a pair of dry panties to be found over at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    But in the tally of history, Hillary Clinton accomplished… not much. Time Magazine listed her key accomplishments as “the liberation of Libya, establishment of diplomatic ties with Burma and the assembly of a coalition against Iran.” In a summary piece, USA Today singled out “Clinton convinced Chinese leaders to free blind dissident Chen Guang Cheng,” who returned the favor by joining an American think tank opposing abortion and gay marriage.

    From the horse’s mouth, quoting Hillary Herself, key accomplishments were “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.” Not resume items as momentous as forever changing the Cold War balance of power by opening China like Henry Kissinger or assembling the first Gulf War coalition like James Baker. Meanwhile, the world owes Hillary for her significant contributions to the failed state of Libya and the subsequent refugee flow, the human misery of Syria, the missed chances of the Arab Spring, and failing to end other wars she helped start or voted for.

    A generation before Hillary we have Colin Powell and Condi Rice, whose only accomplishments as Secretary were to march America into the desert and abandon her there (Colin) and march the State Department into the desert with the guaranteed-to-fail mission to create democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan and abandon her there (Condi.)

     

    The good news is the U.S. is experiencing a peace of a sorts not by sweating out the sins of diplomacy, but just by not going around the world throwing matches into buckets of gasoline. Trump has made little use of his Secretaries of State and their Department. No recent president made much use of those diplomats either, so they are unlikely to be missed.

    The next Secretary, whether working for Trump or Biden, will find themself in charge of a Cabinet agency is search of a mission. They may very well end up somewhere between the traditional ceremonial role of the Vice President, attending conferences and funerals, or perhaps simply overseeing a network of embassies to serve as America’s concierge abroad, arranging official visits for fact-finding Members of Congress, and hosting senior Washington policy makers in town to do the heavy lifting of international relations.

    If the U.S. government had to downsize into a smaller capital, the State Department would likely end up on the curb, alongside those boxes of the kids’ elementary school drawings. Cute, sentimental, good times, but why did we keep them all these years?

    How did this happen? In Part II of this article, we’ll look at the factors internal to State and the United States, and those external, global changes, that left the Department adrift.

      

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    Iraq War Anniversary: Me and Colin Powell in the NYC

    March 24, 2014 // 15 Comments »




    I love New York. What other city in the United States has public art openly mocking former Secretary of State and Bush Lickspittle Toady Colin Powell?


    In the High Line Park, in the Meatpacking District, stands a bust of Colin Powell, his mighty frame bursting out of well-sculpted living rock. Held in his hand (see arrow) is a vial of fake Iraqi anthrax. The statue mimics Powell’s actual performance at the UN.

    Powell Sells Out America

    Last week marked the 11th anniversary of the Iraq War, so Powell’s self-debasement took place some 11 years ago. A little recap is due.

    Colin Powell, as Secretary of State, lent his considerable credibility and gravitas to the case for war with Iraq. Powell spoke publicly before the UN General Assembly, and privately in depth with America’s allies, about mobile biowar labs, weapons of mass destruction and the imminent danger Saddam Hussein posed. While many people knew Bush was an idiot puppet, and Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld psychopathic fibbers, Powell convincingly represented the United States’ case for war.

    Of course, everything Powell said was a lie. If Powell somehow did not know what he was saying was a lie even as the words oozed out of his mouth that day, he soon came to know, as did the rest of the world, that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, and that the whole 2003 invasion of Iraq was a thin sham. In his autobiography, Powell had this to say:

    A blot, a failure will always be attached to me and my UN presentation. I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me. There is nothing worse than a leader believing he has accurate information when folks who know he doesn’t don’t tell him that he doesn’t.


    Doing the Right Thing

    And of course as soon as Powell found out the intel was not just flawed, but completely made up, he resigned in a dramatic protest and attempt to restore America’s credibility, right? Powell went to the media and told everyone that the Iraq War was started on false pretenses? Nope. He served out his four years as Secretary of State.

    Powell-erful stuff. One hopes that the over 4,400 Americans who died in Iraq, the over 100,000 Iraqis who died and the taxpayers who watched a trillion dollars poured into the sand there are equally moved to know that it was all a “blot.” The direct relation between the chaos unleashed by the upsetting of the balance of power in the Mideast through that invasion, and the engorging mess in Syria, Libya and everywhere else, is just a sideshow one guesses to that “blot.”

    Another Blot?

    Colin does love his blots. He said this about Hillary Clinton and the deaths of four Americans at Benghazi:

    I think she’s had a distinguished record. And I don’t think that this one incident– which is one of these things that those of us in government have been through many, many times where suddenly an action happens late at night– I don’t think it’s a blot on her record.


    Enjoy

    It is almost comical to remind that Powell served out his full term as Secretary of State, and was never prosecuted, punished or sanctioned for his lies. He now reportedly earns $40,000 a speech, and is in demand for fundraisers and motivational sales events.

    We’ll enjoy your statue in New York City Colin. You eventually will enjoy your time in Hell, cellmates with Robert McNamara, and please spend every day you have left on this planet meditating on the souls of the people who died in Iraq because of your lie, and your utter lack of responsibility in not speaking up. Only cowards remain silent, and that is your legacy. But do enjoy the money. That is your penance.



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    Interview with Blog “Random Thoughts”

    June 9, 2013 // 4 Comments »

    I enjoyed a recent interview with the blog Random Thoughts. A sample:

    Teri: In light of new reports on the wasted money we spent on Iraq’s reconstruction, I suspect you got an apology from the State Department. Did you?

    Van Buren: You’re a funny person. My apology may have been lost in the mail.

    Teri: You’ve worked for the State Department under a number of Secretaries. Who was the most effective of these, in your opinion?

    Van Buren: Ironically, the first half of the Colin Powell tenure. Powell, likely because of his military background where caring for the troops is an essential requirement for any leader, was the only Secretary to make positive changes to the life and work of the rank and file. Powell, for example, overruled Diplomatic Security’s ban on the internet inside of the State Department. Security claimed it was dangerous to info security while Powell said the reality of our modern world demanded access. Without him State employees would still be getting their news a day late in paper form. The irony, of course, is that it was Powell who plunged State into Iraq and thus helped to destroy the rank and file by wasting their time, energy and lives inside that failed war.


    Have a look at the whole discussion on Random Thoughts.



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    Please Please Please Buy Me This OIF Train Set!

    August 12, 2012 // Comments Off on Please Please Please Buy Me This OIF Train Set!




    For the occasional few who write in asking how they can help support this blog, please please please buy me this Operation Iraqi Freedom train set! I know it is out of production, but maybe on eBay or at some yard sale!

    If you buy me this, I promise you can come over. We’ll pretend there are weapons of mass destruction in my back yard, and drive the train to look for them under the bushes. We’ll drink beer, and fib to each other about finding the massive weapons. Then, when we’re bored, we’ll bust up the train set and invade somewhere else. It’ll be so cool!

    Bonus: If you’re Colin Powell and you buy me this train set, I’ll let you pretend you didn’t do it a year from now.



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    Colin Powell has the Manhood of a Kardashian

    May 4, 2012 // 22 Comments »

    Colin Powell, as Secretary of State, lent his considerable credibility and gravitas to the case for war with Iraq.

    Powell spoke publicly before the UN General Assembly, and privately in depth with America’s allies, about mobile biowar labs, weapons of mass destruction and the imminent danger Saddam Hussein posed. While many people considered Bush an idiot puppet, and Cheney and Rumsfeld psychopathic fibbers, as they beat the drums for war, Powell convincingly represented the United States’ case for war.

    Of course, everything Powell said was a lie.

    Now, pimping a new book, of course, Colin tells all:

    A blot, a failure will always be attached to me and my UN presentation. I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me. There is nothing worse than a leader believing he has accurate information when folks who know he doesn’t don’t tell him that he doesn’t.

    So why did no one stand up and speak out during the intense hours we worked on the speech? Some of these same analysts later wrote books claiming they were shocked that I have relied on such deeply flawed evidence.

    Try to get over failure quickly. Learn from it. Study how you contributed to it. If you are responsible, own up to it.


    Right Colin you gutless turd, it was all someone else’s fault. And of course as soon as you found out the intel was not just flawed, but completely made up, you resigned from the Bush Administration in protest, right? You went to the media and told everyone that the Iraq War was started on false pretenses, that you knew there were no WMDs as soon as you found out the truth in 2003? 2004? 2005?

    Right Colin, you did all those things before 4484 Americans died in Iraq?

    Of course you did not Colin, because you have the manhood of a Kardashian.

    Enjoy your time in Hell, Colin, roommates with Robert McNamara, and please spend every day you have left on this planet meditating on the souls of the people who died in Iraq because of your lie, and your utter lack of responsibility to speak up.



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    I Doubt Iran Tried to Blow Up Washington DC

    October 13, 2011 // Comments Off on I Doubt Iran Tried to Blow Up Washington DC




    Are we doing this again? Exaggerating a minor threat to justify a major war-like response by the US?

    I doubt the Iranians planned to blow up stuff in Washington DC.

    Now, if you generously include every person employed by or remotely connected to the power structure in Iran, including some rogue nutter, then maybe this a “government plot.”

    But if you try to sell this as a state-sponsored action by the Iranian Government, as Eric Holder conveniently is trying to do coincidentally at the same time he is under fast and furious fire, maybe not.


    If Iran wishes to (continue) attacking the US and Israel, they need only (continue) to do so through proxy forces in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere.

    Iran striking so transparently in Washington DC *DEMANDS* a war-like response from the US and Israel. The Iranians have not shown a desire to pick that kind of fight.

    Wiring money from Tehran, through New York to Mexico? Making direct voice calls to Iran? This is not cloak and dagger tradecraft. The Iranians might as well have bought commercial time during the MLB playoffs.

    And who to fight the fight? Trained Qods commandos? Experienced operatives from the Lebanese battlefields? Nah, how about some used car salesman. Even if Iran was persuaded this American could operate quietly, they would have used him to assist serious bad guys, not do the job.

    And for the cartels, $1.5 million bucks is what, a pickup truck full of dope they run across the border six times a day? Why risk the full fury of the US military for pocket change?


    Sure, governments can do dumb things. But this just does not add up. Too much theatre, not enough sense.



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