Friday, April 11, 2008

State Department urges President Carter not to meet with Hamas

Once again, the Department of State has demonstrated its incredible resistance to the practice of diplomacy. Jimmy Carter, whose record of defusing international crises won him the Nobel Peace Prize, has been "counseled" by State not to meet with Hamas political leadership because such a meeting would undermine our policy of isolating terrorist groups — a policy that, in my view, has proven to be totally misguided. Nothing is more valuable, after all, to effective diplomacy than eyeball-to-eyeball contact with one's "enemy."

Here is a link to an excelllent Aljazeera video report on YouTube about President Carter's proposed peacemaking trip and the Department's advice to Carter against meeting with Hamas. The text of an Al Jazeera news report appears below.

US tells Carter not to meet Hamas
Hamas said Carter requested a meeting with Meshaal [EPA]
FRIDAY, APRIL 11, 2008
5:07 MECCA TIME, 2:07 GMT

The US state department has urged Jimmy Carter, the former president, not to violate foreign policy by meeting Hamas's political leader during a tour of the Middle East next week.

The "advice" follows plans by Carter to meet Khaled Meshaal in Syria on a nine-day trip that is to include Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
On Thursday Hamas officials said Carter had requested a meeting with Meshaal, the Palestinian group's political leader in exile in Syria.

"There is an agreement to hold the meeting and arrangements are under way," Ayman Taha told Reuters, adding that the meeting had been fixed for April 18.
The US-based Carter Centre did not confirm the meeting or "any specifics" in Carter's undisclosed itinerary.

But Sean McCormack, the state department spokesman, said the former US leader was "counselled" against meeting any Hamas representatives because it went against US foreign policy of isolating the group.

"US government policy is that Hamas is a terrorist organisation and we don't believe it is in the interests of our policy or in the interests of peace to have such a meeting," he said on Thursday.

The former president had earlier discussed with David Welch, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, plans to meet Meshaal.

The centre said Carter, a Nobel Peace laureate, was leading a study mission as part of his efforts to "support peace, democracy and human rights" in the Middle East.

"This is a study mission and our purpose is not to negotiate but to support and provide momentum for current efforts to secure peace in the Middle East," it said in a statement.

"Our delegation has considerable experience in the region, and we go there with an open mind and heart to listen and learn from all parties."

Israel, which also calls Hamas a terrorist organisation, expressed concern over the meeting, which would be the first public contact between a US leader and Hamas officials in two years.

"The unintended consequences of such a meeting would be to embolden terrorists and undermine the cause of peace," Sallai Meridor, Israel's ambassador to the US, told Reuters.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

In defense of the US Foreign Service

Support our troops — and our diplomats!
Now and then, it's necessary to stand up and defend our diplomats, the 9,000 or so courageous men and women of the U.S. Foreign Service who staff our embassies and consulates all around an increasingly hostile world. After all, it's not only our uniformed military forces who face danger on America's behalf in zones of conflict and violence. In fact, our career diplomats — unarmed and pitifully few in number — are usually on the scene well ahead of our troops, contending with the same terrorists, religious radicals, suicide bombers, unfriendly governments, and hostile mobs. Their job is to safeguard and promote American interests without resorting to armed force, if possible. And the job is getting tougher, not easier.

I've been out there myself, so I know how it sticks in their craw to be compared unfairly to our brave troops and labeled cowards, or worse, by armchair patriots. So it made me feel good to read the stirring letter their "union boss" John Naland (the president of the American Foreign Service Association) published in their behalf, when they were ridiculed by a writer for Congressional Quarterly in an online article late last month. Mr. Naland's letter follows; you can read the article that riled him if you wish at the website.

Jeff Stein,
Congressional Quarterly
Washington, DC

Mr. Stein,

I write in response to your Sept. 21, 2007, article "State Department Cajoles Young Diplomats into Iraq Service.". Your article reflected unfamiliarity with some basic facts about today's Foreign Service, so I offer the following information to inform your future reporting.

I am a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service who is currently serving my second term as president of the American Foreign Service Association (the professional association and union representing U.S. diplomats). My assignments have included U.S. Embassy Bogotá, Colombia (an unaccompanied, danger pay post) and the White House Situation Room (under Presidents G.H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton). I am also a former U.S. Army Officer (1/1 Cavalry, 1st Armored Division, West Germany 1981-84) and a 2006 graduate of the U.S. Army War College (via a State Department training detail).

To begin with, here are some baseline facts about the Foreign Service.

The State Department Foreign Service is made up of approximately 11,500 people. Of them, 6,500 are Foreign Service officers (for example, political officers) while 5,000 are Foreign Service specialists (for example, Diplomatic Security agents). There are another 1,400 or so Foreign Service members at USAID, the Foreign Commercial Service, the Foreign Agricultural Service, and the International Broadcasting Bureau, but I will focus on the State Department Foreign Service, which is what most people think of when they think of diplomacy.

More military band members than diplomats
Let's put the size of the State Department Foreign Service in perspective. The U.S. active-duty military is 119 times larger than the Foreign Service. The total uniformed military (active and reserve) is 217 times larger than the Foreign Service. A typical U.S. Army division is larger than the entire Foreign Service. The military has more uniformed personnel in Mississippi than the State Department has diplomats worldwide. The military has more full colonels/Navy captains than the State Department has diplomats. The military has more band members than the State Department has diplomats. The Defense Department has almost as many lawyers as the State Department has diplomats.

I will not even get into the huge disparities in operating budgets, which are widely known.

The key point -- especially for observers who think in terms of the myriad capabilities of our nation's large military -- is that the Foreign Service has a relatively small corps of officers.

ixty percent of the Foreign Service currently stationed abroad, mostly in hardship posts
Moreover, in contrast to the military, the vast majority of Foreign Service members are forward deployed (thus the word "foreign" in Foreign Service). Today, in a time of armed conflict, 21.1 percent of the active-duty military (290,000 out of 1,373,000) is stationed abroad (ashore or afloat). That compares to 68 percent of the Foreign Service currently stationed abroad at 167 U.S. embassies and 100 consulates and other missions.

There is nothing new about this high percentage of Foreign Service forward deployment. The percentages have not changed from two decades ago when I joined. Thus, the typical Foreign Service member serves two-thirds of his or her career abroad. Over a 30 year career, that adds up to 20 years spent stationed overseas.

Where are these overseas Foreign Service members? Two-thirds are at posts categorized by the U.S. government as "hardship" due to difficult living conditions (for example, violent crime, harsh climate, social isolation, unhealthy air, and/or terrorist threats). Of those hardship posts, half are rated at or above the 15-percent differential level which constitutes great hardship. Thus, unlike the old stereotype seeing most Foreign Service members serving in comfortable Western European capitals, only one third of overseas posts are non-hardship -- and the majority of people at such posts are decompressing after serving at a hardship post.

Again, the contrast with the military is instructive. As previously mentioned, 78.9 percent of the active-duty military is stationed stateside (including 36,000 personnel in Hawaii). Of those serving abroad, there are more U.S. military personnel serving in the United Kingdom or Germany or Japan than the State Department has diplomats worldwide.

The military does have a greater percentage of its personnel serving in unaccompanied tours (ashore or afloat) than the Foreign Service. I have not found solid statistics on this point, but subtracting those stationed at accompanied postings in Western Europe, Japan, and South Korea around 11 percent of the military serving in unaccompanied tours.

But the Foreign Service is catching up. Since 2001, the number of unaccompanied and limited-accompanied Foreign Service positions has quadrupled to 700 (representing 6.1 percent of the Foreign Service) at two dozen danger pay posts including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. This represents a dramatic change for Foreign Service members, who previously had fewer than 200 unaccompanied slots to fill at a few posts such as Bogotá and Beirut.

Moreover, consider these facts. Around 40 percent of the 11,500 Foreign Service positions come up for reassignment each year (including all 700 one-year unaccompanied posts and a mixture of two-year great hardship posts and three-year lesser-hardship and non-hardship posts). This means that, in any given annual assignment cycle, over 15 percent of the Foreign Service jobs to be filled are at unaccompanied or limited-accompanied danger pay posts.

One out of five
Foreign Service employees has served, or is serving, in Iraq
But what about the toughest duty assignment: Iraq. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an Oct. 1, 2007, interview with the New York Post editorial board, stated that more than 20 percent of the Foreign Service has served, or is serving, in Iraq. I would have guessed that the percentage was a little lower, but let's stick with Secretary Rice's official estimate that 20 percent of our nation's diplomats have served in war zone Iraq since 2003.

I have not found comparable military statistics. Presumably, at least for the Army and Marine Corps, it is over two-thirds with many troops serving two or more tours. But again, unlike the military which maintains 78.9 percent of its active members stateside, the Foreign Service has worldwide staffing responsibilities that necessitate posting the majority of its members in the 188 countries besides Iraq. Thus, of the 80 percent of Foreign Service members who have not (yet) served in Iraq, most are now at, or have recently returned from, a hardship assignment.

There are approximately 200 Foreign Service positions currently at Embassy Baghdad and another 70 or so at the 25 Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Compared to the U.S. military presence in Iraq, those numbers look small. Of course, the U.S. civilian presence in Iraq includes a range of other types of employees. But if press reports are accurate that around 1,000 U.S. citizens work at Embassy Baghdad, then the Foreign Service positions constitute about 20 percent of that total. Turning to the PRTs, which comprise up to 600 members, the Foreign Service component is 10 to 15 percent.

Diplomats as oil and gas engineers? Electrical grid managers?
There are good reasons for those ratios. As Secretary Rice has repeatedly explained in public statements, no country's diplomatic corps has people with many of the skills now needed in Iraq: oil and gas engineers, electrical grid managers, urban planners, city managers and transportation planners. If any U.S. defense planner in 2003 thought that the State Department and other civilian federal agencies had such people on staff in large numbers (Arabic speaking or not) ready to rebuild Iraq, they were wrong. Obviously, if they wanted to do so, the President and Congress could staff up civilian agencies to take responsibility for stabilization and reconstruction. But they have not done so.

Some other points to consider: While some Foreign Service members in Iraq are engaged in support activities that do not require them to leave the International Zone, many do travel in the "Red Zone"-- working out of Embassy Baghdad, serving at one of the pre-surge PRTs, or serving at one of the 10 new PRTs embedded in Brigade Combat Teams.

Also, although this was not the case right after the 2003 invasion, most Foreign Service members serve one-year tours in Iraq with only a relative few going for shorter temporary duty assignments. A small but growing number of Foreign Service members have served more than one tour in Iraq. None, except perhaps for Diplomatic Security Special Agents, are permitted to carry a weapon for self-defense.

An all-volunteer diplomatic army in Iraq
The State Department so far has been able to fill all of its Iraq positions with volunteers. Every one of the more than 2,000 career Foreign Service members who have stepped up to the plate to serve in Iraq has done so as a volunteer. They receive no special preparation to serve in a combat zone (unlike their predecessors 40 years ago who received three to four months of training before deploying to South Vietnam in the CORDS program). While Foreign Service volunteers in Iraq do receive added pay and other incentives (but not tax-free income like the military enjoys), surveys show that most are motivated by patriotism and a professional desire to contribute to our nation's top foreign policy objective. If the State Department ever does run out of volunteers, the Secretary of State retains the legal authority to direct assignments.

I will now comment on the specifics of your Sept. 21 essay, in which you say: "Evidently * young * FSOs * signed up to go somewhere with more cocktail parties than road mines, [so it is difficult] to get them to go to Iraq - or anywhere outside the cozy playgrounds of Europe* Today's crop of young diplomats don't want to go to anywhere hot and dirty* Why doesn't Foggy Bottom just order its weenies to Iraq and other critical posts?"

I do not see any validity to those statements. As detailed above, a new U.S. diplomat today will spend an average of 20 of his/her next 30 years overseas. If current trends hold, 16 of those years will be at hardship posts, including perhaps three years at unaccompanied posts.
Relatively few will serve in Western Europe where there are decreasing numbers of positions as resources are being shifted elsewhere.

But what about the Government Accountability Office report that you quote? That report, "Department of State Staffing and Foreign Language Shortfalls Persist Despite Initiatives to Address Gaps" of August 2006 ( ), presents 2005 statistics showing that Foreign Service positions at non-hardship posts (for example, Dublin, Vienna, and Ottawa) had a median 21.97 people expressing interest in each job vacancy whereas positions at high-hardship posts (for example, Nairobi, Guangzhou and Karachi) had a
median 3.22 expressions of interest per job.

But Appendix IV of the GAO report contains State Department comments explaining why those statistics are deceiving. I would explain the situation as follows:

-- Seventy people may express interest (i.e., "bid") on a position in Paris, but only one will get it. The other 69 will go elsewhere -- most of those "elsewheres" will be at hardship posts.

-- Most of the bids on places like Paris are "throwaway" bids.
This phenomenon is a product of assignment rules that require employees to bid on at least six positions. In reality, most employees focus their lobbying efforts on just four or five vacancies. But, because they can be immediately assigned to any place they bid on, for the remaining one or two mandatory bids they list somewhere like Dublin, Toronto, or London where they know there is no chance they will be assigned unless they lobby very hard. Thus, the number of serious bids on such non-hardship posts is a fraction of what they appear to be.

-- Even if it is true that there are more serious bids on London than Lagos, is that surprising? Gen. George W. Casey Jr., U.S. Army chief of staff, in an interview published in the Oct. 1, 2007, issue of Government Executive, explained that one of the keys to retaining Army captains was helping them get "assigned to the post that they wanted to be assigned to." Thus, in both the military as well as the Foreign Service, tying to find the occasional non-stressful living environment for families is a fair goal.

-- Having a median of 3.22 bids on each job in the greatest hardship posts is still 222 percent more than is needed to fill each job.

As for the GAO's criticism that the State Department too often fills positions with people who lack the experience and language abilities required by their job, that is unfortunately true in some cases. But as the GAO notes, this is one result of staffing shortfalls. After hiring below attrition during the lost decade of the 1990s and shifting positions to Iraq in recent years, the Foreign Service has a significant staffing shortfall. Thus, contrary to how the game of "musical chairs" is normally played, when the music (bidding) stops and everyone sits down (gets assigned), there are hundreds of unfilled chairs (positions) and some of the filled ones are occupied by people with sub-optimal experience and language abilities.

For a detailed critique of staffing and training shortfalls in the Foreign Service, I invite you to see my essay "Training America's Diplomats: Better than Ever, But is it Enough?" in the Oct. 2007 issue of the Foreign Service Journal.

I hope that this information will be useful to you. I doubt that I have answered all of your questions, so I stand ready to meet with you to discuss these important issues further.


John Naland
American Foreign Service Association

Friday, May 18, 2007

Monday, April 16, 2007

NYT: "Paraguay’s Ruling Party Faces Threat of a Populist Bishop"

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay, Feb. 24 — No political party currently in power anywhere in the world has governed longer than the Colorado Party here, not even the Kim family’s Communist dynasty in North Korea. But a charismatic Roman Catholic bishop recently suspended by the Vatican is threatening that hegemony and has emerged as the front-runner for next year’s presidential election.

Known as “the bishop of the poor,” Msgr. Fernando Lugo Méndez has been strongly influenced by liberation theology, which emerged in Latin America in the 1960s and contends that the Roman Catholic Church has a special obligation to defend the oppressed and downtrodden. But he is reluctant to position himself on the political spectrum, saying that he is interested in solutions, not labels.

“As I am accustomed to saying, hunger and unemployment, like the lack of access to health and education, have no ideology,” he said in an interview here. “My discourse, my person and my testimony are above political parties, whose own members are desirous of change and want an end to a system that favors narrow partisan interests over those of the country.”

The Colorado Party has been the ruling party here since 1947. Gen. Alfredo Stroessner led a dictatorship notorious for corruption and brutality from 1954 to 1989, but, thanks to its tight control of patronage and the bureaucracy, the party managed to retain control of the government even under the current system of free elections.

Monsignor Lugo, 55, is a spellbinding orator in both Spanish and Guaraní, the indigenous language spoken by the peasants and urban poor who make up a majority of the population in this landlocked country of 6.5 million. In speeches, he rails against corruption and injustice, saying, “There are too many differences between the small group of 500 families who live with a first-world standard of living while the great majority live in a poverty that borders on misery.”

Recent polls here support Monsignor Lugo’s status as the most respected and popular political figure in the country, and he runs ahead of all other potential candidates in such surveys. But both church and state are seeking to block his road to the presidential palace, which has led some of his supporters to threaten to take to the streets if he is disqualified.

The Constitution forbids ministers of any religious denomination to hold elective office, and the Roman Catholic Church enforces a similar prohibition on its clergy. Monsignor Lugo resigned from the priesthood in December to free himself from those restrictions, saying, “From today on, my cathedral will be the nation.” But the Vatican, while suspending him from his duties, has rejected his request to be laicized.

In a letter made public on Feb. 1, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the Vatican official who supervises bishops, wrote that Monsignor Lugo must “remain in the clerical state and continue to be obliged to its inherent duties” because “the episcopacy is a service accepted freely and forever.” He added that “the candidacy of a bishop would be a cause of confusion and division among the faithful, an offense to the laity.”

Monsignor Lugo — he and his followers use the title, which is used for bishops in Latin America, despite his resignation from the clergy — ignored the ruling and declared his candidacy this month. Church officials have responded with warnings of more severe sanctions, with one Paraguayan bishop warning that he is “exposing himself to the punishment of excommunication” unless he desists.

With his clerical status in question, it seems likely that only the Supreme Court or the electoral tribunal here can determine his eligibility for office.

His legal advisers contend that the Vatican’s edict has no judicial validity in Paraguay. But both the court and the electoral tribunal are regarded here as beholden to the Colorado Party and therefore inclined to keep him off the ballot.

“The government is going to try to use the church’s arguments to kick him off the field, but Paraguay is a lay state, and the Constitution, not canon law, is the final authority,” said Rafael Filizzola Serra, a member of Congress who supports Monsignor Lugo and is a constitutional law specialist. “The pope does not have the authority to tell him he can’t run. Lugo has renounced the priesthood, and he has the same right as any citizen to be a candidate.”

José Alberto Alderete, the president of the ruling party, scoffed at speculation that the government was maneuvering to exclude Monsignor Lugo from the ballot, saying “We want to compete” and are confident of victory because “we are the party of change.” But he criticized Monsignor Lugo, calling him a dangerous and divisive rabble-rouser.

“Today he is preaching and inciting rebellion and confrontation” on the campaign trail instead of “advocating peace, understanding and unity from the pulpit,” Mr. Alderete said. “He is gaining support in some sectors, but he is awakening fear and suspicion in others.”

Monsignor Lugo’s adversaries have sought to undermine his support among the middle class, which has responded strongly to his anticorruption stance, by portraying him as a “Red bishop” and “radical priest” who would steer Paraguay sharply to the left. They suggest that if elected, he would immediately align himself with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and President Evo Morales of neighboring Bolivia.

In published interviews, Monsignor Lugo has described what Mr. Chávez calls his “21st-century socialism” as “interesting and different” and “very stimulating.” But when asked to be specific about what he likes there, he took pains to distance himself from the Venezuelan model and said his relationship with the United States Embassy here was “very cordial and open” and would remain so if he became president.

“For me, the value of the Venezuelan experiment is the social dimension, the better distribution of wealth for the benefit of the poor majority,” he said. But that approach, he said, was also “linked to a strong dose of statism, totally at the service of one person,” and “a lack of pluralism,” which “is dangerous for a real democracy.”

He made clear his discomfort with the idea that he is any kind of “savior” or “messiah” for Paraguay, as both his followers and critics have sometimes suggested. His political style, say those who have observed him, stresses cooperation rather than confrontation, and collaborative leadership over a cult of personality.

“As a priest, he has a good command of group dynamics, and is also a superb organizer,” said Marcial Riquelme, a Paraguayan sociologist. “He knows how to bring people together who don’t like each other and then to mediate all those various sectors to reconcile interests. That’s a remarkable ability in a country where we are normally at each other’s throats.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

BBC: "Ecuador leader celebrates 'win'"

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has been celebrating an apparent landslide victory in a referendum on overhauling the political system. An exit poll showed 78% of voters backed his call for a people's assembly that would by-pass Congress and rewrite the constitution.

Mr Correa said the country had "said yes to the future". He also threatened to kick out the World Bank's representative and said he would no longer deal with the IMF.

Mr Correa has said reform of the country's political system is essential. But his critics accuse him of being authoritarian and following in the footsteps of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Mr Chavez was quick to congratulate Mr Correa after the referendum, saying: "That is how Latin America is moving forward, from victory to victory, from triumph to triumph."

Counting for the referendum is expected to be a long process and official results will not be available for a number of days. However, the BBC's Daniel Schweimler in Quito says supporters of President Correa were out on the streets just minutes after polling stations closed at 2200 GMT.

The president was shown on national television celebrating at a hotel in the country's largest city, Guayaquil. A Cedatos-Gallup exit poll of 40,000 voters nationwide showed 78% in favour and 11.5% opposed.

Mr Correa said "fear had been left behind". "The future was at stake, the country was at stake and Ecuadoreans have said yes to that future."

Mr Correa responded to the referendum with an announcement that Ecuador had repaid its final debt to the International Monetary Fund. He added: "We don't want to hear anything more from that international bureaucracy." The president also warned he would kick out the representative of the World Bank in Ecuador if the government received, as he put it, pressure from the organisation.

Mr Correa has railed against corruption in the country's political system, labelling Congress "a sewer".

But many of his critics have accused him of trying to increase his power and follow President Chavez, who has brought in controversial reforms in Venezuela.

Former Ecuador president Oswaldo Hurtado said of the referendum: "It's not a project for a better democracy. It's a project to accumulate power. All dictators always have had constitutions made to fit them." The assembly at the centre of the vote would be elected within three months and have six months to draft the constitution. The document would then be put to a second referendum.

Mr Correa has said he wants to depoliticise the courts and decentralise the state. The referendum had sparked a political crisis in the country. An electoral court sacked 57 lawmakers in March for trying to block it. When the dismissals were ruled illegal, police prevented the legislators returning to their offices and the deputies were kicked and punched by Correa supporters.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/04/16 03:59:25 GMT