May 28, 2013

The State Department’s Failure to Protect Diplomats

May 14, 2013 by

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives to announce the deaths of the Americans in Benghazi

Always unarmed, ambassadors often are protected only by the goodwill of the countries in which they serve. But when hostilities arise, when governments fall, when their very lives are threatened, ambassadors and their staffs can rely only on the will and the strength of their homeland to ensure their security.

Before taking their assignments, U.S. ambassadors are given a presidential Letter of Instruction stating that the secretary of state “has responsibility for the coordination and supervision of all U.S. government activities and operations abroad” and “must protect all United States Government personnel on official duty.”  Congressional investigations into the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, have shown that the State Department failed to do just that, breaking its covenant with its diplomatic corps.

As a former U.S. ambassador who had received the Letter of Instruction, I was appalled when then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, testifying before Congress in January, tried to minimize the deaths of U.S. personnel in Benghazi by saying, “What difference at this point does it make?”  It makes a big difference. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, State Department officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were killed when heavily armed extremists overran the U.S. diplomatic compound and, several hours later, assaulted a nearby CIA annex.


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U.S. Foreign Policy on Coerced Labor: Eradicating Global Sex Trafficking

May 8, 2013 by

Anti-trafficking campaign in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by Manuel Faisco

Currently more than 12 million people around the world are enslaved. Of those, about 9.8 million are victims of sex trafficking, while others are involved in agricultural work, mining, or labor in small factories. This modern slavery unravels economies, incites violence, infringes upon families, undermines the notion of an individual’s inalienable rights, weakens public health, affronts the value of human life, and is one of the fastest growing criminal industries. This debasement to humanity is a worldwide, $32 billion industry and remains prevalent in 177 countries.

Despite numerous organizations, existing international partnerships, and legislation that targets the cessation of human trafficking, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center states that there are approximately 800,000 to 4 million men, women, and children transported across international borders and coerced into labor annually. The time has come to actively work to eradicate this repulsive crime.

President Barack Obama emphasizes that human trafficking “ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime.”


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The Non-Closure of Guantánamo

May 2, 2013 by

Obama again renewed his calls for the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility

“I think at this point they feel their only way out of Guantánamo is in a coffin.”

– Pardiss Kebriaei, Attorney with Centre for Constitutional Rights, May 1, 2013

Guantánamo’s resplendent carceral facilities remain a classic example of double realities, the co-existence of totemic impulses and the reflex of taboo. On the one hand, it has become an institutional reminder of the extensive, vague and indefinite “war” on terror, a foolish, reactive statement to calamity. On the other, it has assumed the most negative connotations, a rebuke to law, extra-legal subversions and a mockery of the legal system. To close it, however, would be deemed a violation. To keep it open similarly remains a violation of principle.

The Obama administration promised to close it but caved in under pressure from Congress and pro-camp advocates. As with so many matters, the power of the budget spoke volumes. Furthermore, these detainees, kept wrongfully in many instances without a tissue of evidence against their name, might well have a crack at the United States once they leave. Ever was there a disgruntled person made a criminal by a prison. Governments from other countries similarly balked – why should they receive such damaged cargo?


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25 Steps towards a Smarter U.S. Foreign Policy

April 21, 2013 by

Pictured: Chuck Hagel answers a question during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Armed Service Committee in Washington D.C.

Major events like September 11th, the US invasion of Iraq, and the global financial crisis disrupted the Western-driven globalization process and revitalized a state-centric political model of the world. Although the US chose an economic-centered globalization strategy and relied on international political institutions in the 1990s, national sovereignty became the new norm and the global system shifted from globalist rationale to geopolitical realism. Fear, war, the threat of war, provocation, territory, regional influence and military build-ups weakened international institutions as nation-states countered each other to reassume power.

There is now an unfettered international political instability crisis as a result of stalled engines of globalization all stemming from this neglect of the “political” dimension in the international system. The decline of liberal international foundations did not occur because people no longer desired them, but because of the lack of a strong ideological commitment from the world’s declining superpower and partners. The consequences of rising authoritarian states present crisis conditions for international liberalism and stability. They are also now in direct proportion to the decline of the Western political influence. Thus, as the West weakens, other challengers will present and push their perception of what they desire the global system to become.

Smaller states through international organizations are gaining influence in uniting the world against the economic and political models of Western liberalism. Russia, China, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, and Pakistan are making increasingly threatening advances, from warning and rhetoric, to alliance building. These states claim Western “aggression” is pouring into their regional spheres of influence. Regional organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the G77, and the Union of South American Nations are moving past the resistance of collective movements toward promoting an alternative global system. Other states like China and Russia are strictly engaging in increased bilateral diplomacy with smaller states to increase their influence, and these countries’ propaganda and public diplomacy initiatives are far more advanced than the US’s ability to counter it.


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The Upcoming HRC Resolution on Sri Lanka

February 28, 2013 by

Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka, addresses the Human Rights Council’s Special Session on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

Soon another US-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka will be tabled at the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC). It’s very unlikely that the recent high-level US delegation that came to Sri Lanka would have announced that a procedural resolution would be backed if Washington wasn’t absolutely positive that it had the votes to get another resolution through the council.  The votes for another resolution on Sri Lanka are there; that’s for sure.

India has already come out and announced that it too will support the resolution – taking a bit of drama out of the whole affair. But it’s also quite revealing because it shows how much the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has overplayed its hand. Let us not forget that less than a year ago, Delhi was reminding people that it wouldn’t support any country-specific resolution at the HRC. Now it looks like Delhi will have supported two in a twelve-month span.

Along with the major international organizations like International Crisis Group (ICG) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), there are probably a few Western countries – though not necessarily the US – that are pushing for something stronger than the draft resolution in its current form.  In spite the circumstances, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) is still sticking with its (untrue) story – saying that they are doing all they can to implement the LLRC recommendations and comply with the previous HRC resolution. Unfortunately, the problems with the GoSL’s most recent progress report on the LLRC recommendations start on the first page of the first sentence.


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John Brennan and the New Americanism

February 10, 2013 by

We should regain for ourselves the faith of our founding fathers in the dignity of man and bend every effort to see that the rights which they cherished are denied to none in our time.

– Willard B. Spalding, “Americanism”, The Phi Delta Kappan, Apr. 1946

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in questioning John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s nomination for the role of CIA director, showed the delicate foot tapping currently taking place in the Senate. The issue was, as ever, the program that is emblazoned on John Brennan like a conspicuous coat of arms. Yes, we are having a nice chat about drones and the handiwork of their operators, which we should expect if the questioner is the chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “One of the problems is, once the drone program is so public, and one American is caught up, people don’t know much about this one ‘American citizen’ – so called.”


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A Failure of Diplomatic Security

January 30, 2013 by

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington, on Jan. 23, 2013. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

“The Secretary of State is responsible for the overall coordination and supervision of all United States Government activities and operations abroad…. The Secretary of State must protect all United States Government personnel on official duty abroad….”

– President George W. Bush, January 2002, (Excerpts-Letter of Instruction to U.S. ambassadors)

As former United States ambassador to three island nations in East Africa, I had a number of attack threats to deal with during my service from 2002-2005. I am appalled that Secretary Hillary Clinton would minimize the importance of the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens stating: “What difference at this point does it make”. Madam Secretary, a U.S. ambassador is dead—you were his boss, and should have had security measures in place to minimize the risk of a fatal attack. A chief of mission knows there are risks serving in conflicted areas, but with the on-going jihad against the United States, the State Department needed to be better prepared to protect the diplomatic troops.


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The U.S. Aided Mohamed Morsi’s Rise to Power in Egypt

January 17, 2013 by

“Morsi has usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh, a major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences.”

– Mohammed ElBaradei

The Obama Administration supported the Arab Spring uprisings, which led to regime change in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. In Tunisia Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was deposed and found a new home in Saudi Arabia. In Egypt Hosni Mubarak was deposed and imprisoned. In Libya Islamists hunted down and killed Muammar Gaddafi. However in the aftermath of the regime changes, neither of the countries has seen stability or a better quality of life for their people.


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Can John Kerry change State Department Culture?

January 8, 2013 by

As the next Secretary of State, Senator John Kerry will need to focus on changes at the Foggy Bottom headquarters in Washington, DC. At the top of the list is redundancy—overlapping job descriptions—which needs to be streamlined. The constant rotations of Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) should be considered, followed by an overhaul of the Employee Evaluation Review (EER) system for promotions, in which peers take part in the preparation and approval process. Above all, the State Department needs to change how we deal with the host countries. To win back friends, we need to be more consistent, and not just be a provider of aid.


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Brief Thoughts on the Kerry Nomination and US-Lanka Relations

December 28, 2012 by

President Obama is still working on remaking his foreign policy and national security team, but it looks like John Kerry will be the next Secretary of State. Inside Washington, John Kerry has been a leading voice on foreign policy for decades. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for twenty-seven years, John Kerry has built up a vast network of contacts abroad. John Kerry understands the politics of the Middle East. And he has already travelled extensively for the Obama administration – going to places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.


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Mali: At Risk of Becoming an Islamic State

December 20, 2012 by

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Image via Foreign Policy

On December 11, 2012, Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra was removed from office by Mali’s military. This comes on the heels of the March ousting of President Amadou Toure, by a junta led by Captain Amadou Sanogo. Mali’s destabilization is the result of the Arab Spring that led to the conflict in Libya–where regime change was the goal–without an endgame plan. Large caches of weapons were left unprotected, which reached radical Islamists in northern Mali.

On December 11, 2012 the Foreign Policy article, Rice: French plan for Mali intervention is ‘crap’, noted, “The crisis in Mali underscores the rising threat…Islamic militancy in North Africa and the Sahel [is] the clearest evidence of blowback from the U.S.-backed military campaign that toppled Qaddafi”. The article also noted that France wanted swift military action in Mali, “with a rapid deployment of an African stabilization force”.


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Fostering a New Generation of African Leaders

December 14, 2012 by

A Tuareg nomad stands near a mosque in Timbuktu. Image via Al Jazeera

My July 2012 commentary “Artistic Endeavor: Can Change the Face of Africa” was about Sundance Institute Theatre Lab’s play premiere “Africa Kills Her Sun”, which I attended. The play was a collaboration of African playwrights and actors, expressing the plight of the Ogoni tribe in Nigeria, under Dictator Sani Abacha’s corrupt regime; human rights abuses, and suppression of free speech. Sundance had brought into focus the injustices in Africa through a social awareness–reaching out to young minds.


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Jon Huntsman to State?

November 30, 2012 by

Jon Huntsman, former U.S. ambassador to China. Photo by Natalie Behring

In light of Susan Rice’s less-than stellar coming out party as a possible nominee to replace Hillary Clinton at State, the Obama administration would do well to find a consensus candidate. Among those mentioned, the one that seems the most obvious is Jon Huntsman, Obama’s former ambassador to China until he stepped down to run for the GOP presidential nomination only to come in 3rd in New Hampshire. Al Gore, the soon to be former Sen. Richard Lugar, Colin Powell and a smattering of other former policymakers and politicos have also been mentioned as possible nominees to replace Clinton.


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Massive Health Care Needs in Africa

November 30, 2012 by

HIV/AIDS health care warning to get checked. Photo by Jon Rawlinson

African countries have massive health care needs. A few basic facts as of 2009 provided by the World Bank about Sub-Saharan Africa illustrate the point. In 2009, life expectancy at birth for Sub-Saharan Africa was 52.5 years; for Ethiopia it was 55.7 years. The under-five mortality rate in Sub-Saharan Africa per 1,000 children was 130; for Ethiopia it was 104.

The prevalence of HIV in the 15-49 age group in Sub-Saharan Africa was 5.4 percent; for Ethiopia it was about 2 percent. The incidence of TB per 100,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa was 344 cases; for Ethiopia it was 359 cases. The total number of clinical cases of malaria reported in 2009 for all of Sub-Saharan Africa was 72 million; Ethiopia accounted for 3 million of these cases. The number of reported deaths from malaria for all of Sub-Saharan Africa was 113,000; Ethiopia reported 1,100 of these deaths.


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The Susan Rice Train Wreck

November 28, 2012 by

The likelihood of a quick confirmation hearing in the Senate vanished following a sit-down between Ambassador Susan Rice and acting CIA Director Michael Morell on Capitol Hill with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). The meeting was an attempt to address any concerns the lawmakers had about Ambassador Rice and to insure that her confirmation hearing would be less bruising. That attempt, according to interviews given after the meeting by McCain, Graham and Ayotte, was not successful.


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