Friday, November 21, 2014

The Great Ambassadorial Con: What "Anastasia" teaches Us About Bilking the People

You're both fools! You're examining her as if she was the real Anastasia. There is no Anastasia! She was shot to death ten years ago by a firing squad. We're not looking for her, gentlemen. We're seeking only a reasonable facsimile.
~ General Sergei Pavlovich Bounine (in the movie, Anastasia)

In the captivating 1956 movie, Anastasia, a cabal of conniving Russian émigrés, led by Gen. Bounine (played by Yul Brynner) seeks to bilk the late Russian tsar's estate out of £10 million by grooming an amnesiac waif, Anna (Ingrid Bergman), into posing as Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, reputedly the sole surviving Romanov. The performances are electric as Bounine/Brynner relentlessly puts Anna/Bergman through impostor royalty boot camp.

BOUNINE: I can make you Anastasia.
ANNA: Please, please. No one will believe it. The family. They will call it a lie.
BOUNINE: No matter what they think, they will accept you.
CHERNOV: For ten million pounds, gladly.
ANNA: They will accept me and pretend to love me for money? Is that what they are like?
BOUNINE: Isn’t everyone?

Since they bombed their confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this year, campaign bundlers-turned-ambassador-wannabes, George Tsunis, Noah Mamet and Colleen Bell reportedly have been undergoing similar training at the State Department's Foreign Service Institute (FSI). Mamet and Bell are scheduled for a full Senate confirmation vote on Dec. 1. Just as Bounine force-feeds Anna, fois-gras goose-style, the esoterica of the Russian imperial court, State Department Bounine-equivalents have been instructing the money bundlers in the esoterica of diplomacy with the desperate hope that by the time they come up for a Senate plenary vote, they will finally be able to know a démarche from their derrière.

To refresh the memories of readers, Mr. Tsunis made abundantly clear to SFRC members that he hadn't the foggiest idea what kind of government Norway had; Mamet described the anti-American Argentinian leadership as our allies; and Colleen Bell's stumbling stream of consciousness answers regarding U.S.-Hungarian relations were more convoluted than the plots of the TV soap operas she helps produce. And, oh, btw, none can carry on an intelligent conversation in any language other than their native English.

One can imagine how the FSI indoctrination has been going. Imagine a Yul Brynner-like career ambassador, say, Ambassador Bounine, struggling to get his charges at least able to parrot the right answers to senators' soft ball questions:

AMB. BOUNINE: Now, let's say the Red Army storms across the Norwegian border and begins to sack and pillage Oslo. As U.S. ambassador, Mr. Tsunis, would you a) send a note verbale to the Norwegian foreign ministry expressing our full moral support? b) invite the Russian ambassador over for cocktails to discuss the matter? or, c) send a Flash telegram to Washington reporting the facts and seeking guidance?
TSUNIS: I would denounce Russia as a fringe element that spews hatred.
AMB. BOUNINE: (staring back with dropped jaw) Uh, George, we've been at this for four months. Think hard. What have I been instructing you concerning the proper diplomatic response to such a crisis?
TSUNIS: Right. Right. Um. I'd invite the emperor of Norway over for cocktails and hand him a Flash note verbale expressing our moral support and seeking his guidance.
AMB. BOUNINE: (speechless) Let's move on, shall we? Noah. The Argentine economy has just collapsed and the government has announced it will no longer pay off its debts. As U.S. ambassador, what would you do?
MAMET: As our close ally, I would inform them that that's okay with us. I would, of course, express this through an interpreter since I speak no intelligible Spanish.
AMB. BOUNINE: Wha'? (pause) Ah, Colleen, Prime Minister Orban has shut down the remaining free media, abolished all political parties other than Fidesz and Jobbik, announced an alliance with Moscow and ordered all synagogues closed. How would you react as the American ambassador?
 BELL: (purses lips) I would go to him, uh, the leader of Hungary and I... I would, um... say, um -- (rapid fire speech) I know that my daughter can quite easily become infatuated with you, and just as easily end up as one of your discarded conquests. But Caroline is my only daughter, my only child and I desperately want for her happiness. And I would do everything in my power to see to it that she does not get hurt. 
AMB. BOUNINE: (incredulous) What the hell is that supposed to... Wait a minute. Is that dialogue from an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful?  
BELL: (red-faced with embarrassed grin - shrug).
AMB. BOUNINE: (popping two Tums) Class dismissed!

Now, American taxpayers, here's what's going on. Listen carefully because your hard earned tax dollars are about to send a bevy of bumbling bundlers to represent your country overseas to the tune of millions of dollars each year in support costs as they play ambassador --

Just as Gen. Bounine and his cronies cynically schemed to put forth an impostor as a real Russian princess in order to cash in on a munificent royal gold hoard, your president, in cahoots with a malleable and corrupt Congress, are about to shoo in two, maybe three, impostors who forked over a grand sum of at least $3.7 million in campaign contributions. As I've written ad nauseam in my previous blog posts and published articles on this subject, a) this corruption is bipartisan and has been going on for decades; and b) there are real costs to America's national security in sending unqualified hacks to represent our country abroad.

Ask yourselves: just as we appoint real soldiers as generals to defend our nation, doesn't it make more sense to send real diplomats to represent the U.S.A. abroad as ambassadors rather than rich plutocrats who buy the positions and will at best be "reasonable facsimiles"?

I have no doubt that Misters Mamet and Tsunis, Ms. Bell and other political appointees are American patriots who wish to serve their president. That, however, makes them as qualified to be America's diplomats as I am to be a hotel baron, political agitprop or TV soap opera producer.

Write your senators. Tell them America's security in these precarious times calls for professionals manning our diplomacy. Tell them to end cash-for-ambassadorships.

As the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovona (Helen Hayes) said in Anastasia, "I will tell them that the play is over, go home!"

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Our Broken Foreign Policy Machine

The Demilitarization of American DiplomacyJohn F. Kennedy famously dismissed the U.S. Department of State as "a bowl of jelly" (it jiggled when shaken, but otherwise retained its shape). Presidential aide Patrick Anderson wrote in 1970, "Some day, some President is going to have to undertake the long, thankless job of reorganizing and rebuilding the State Department." The author of the containment doctrine, George Kennan said, "I would have mixed emotions about recommending the Foreign Service as a career to any bright young person who asked me today (1970). The late columnist Joseph Kraft wrote, "The fact is that the (State) Department has not been run as a decision-making instrument. It has been run as a fudge factory. The aim has been to make everyone happy, to conciliate interests, to avoid giving offense or rocking the boat." The brilliant young Foreign Service officer John Franklin Campbell took his cue from Kraft in his 1971 book, The Foreign Affairs Fudge Factory, stating, "The past four presidents have cursed the State Department while at the same time presiding over a twenty-year decline in its effectiveness, abetting the process by building an intermediary foreign office in the White House."

So, how have things fared over the past four-to-five decades since those observations were made? Not well. "The State Department's internal organization is a management consultant's nightmare, and it consoles itself in its irrelevance with globalizing fantasies and a trendy obsession with social media. The result is a vicious cycle of irrelevance," asserts Laurence Pope in his book, The Demilitarization of American Foreign Policy: Two Cheers for Striped Pants. Pope goes on to describe a Washington foreign policy apparatus that has real decision-making concentrated in a bloated White House National Security Council staff, overseas operations largely subsumed by a well-resourced military-intelligence complex and a State Department that has become a dumping ground for political hacks and whose Foreign Service component has been largely marginalized.

Pope notes that George C. Marshall's State Department saved Europe from communism with ten senior officials working directly for the Secretary. Today's Department has two deputy secretaries, six undersecretaries, 32 assistant secretaries and 33 "coordinators, special envoys and representatives." Of those below the rank of undersecretary, only six are devoted to actual geographical regions. The rest dedicate themselves to "gauzy 'global' concerns," ranging from women's issues to entrepreneurship to youth affairs to something called "global intergovernmental affairs." The upshot is a lack of focus and irrelevance as State more resembles a Rube Goldberg perpetual motion machine than a functioning foreign ministry.

 Making matters worse has been a steady trend to gut and marginalize the Foreign Service, traditionally the government's selectively recruited central core of diplomats. Only 14 percent of the Department's senior positions are now occupied by career FSO's, the rest taken up by political appointees. And in Obama's second term, over half of ambassadorships have been sold to campaign money bundlers or given away to cronies. At some 8,000 officers, the Foreign Service is dwarfed respectively by CIA case officers, FBI agents, Forest Service members and even military band musicians. Add to the Foreign Service's marginalization a concerted policy to man diplomatic positions with civil servants and non-State agency personnel.

The state of dysfunction is such that the resultant decision-making and operational vacuum is filled by the White House and Pentagon and intelligence agencies. The NSC staff has at least quadrupled in size under the current administration, with several hundred staffers (few of whom are FSO's) taking on all significant foreign policy decision-making to the point that foreign ambassadors routinely do their business at the White House rather than at Foggy Bottom and officials at State are frequently blindsided by diplomatic initiatives emanating directly from the White House.

The consequences of working with a broken foreign policy machine are fraught with dangers, ranging from bad, short-sighted decision-making to militarization of our foreign policy as DoD, the combattant commands and intelligence community increasingly take on functions that a dysfunctional State Department is incapable of carrying out. As Pope says, "A functioning foreign ministry and a sound diplomatic service are essential components of a healthy national security system, and their weakness contributes to the militarization of our approach to the world."

The Demilitarization of American Foreign Policy is a concise (77 pages) and highly readable study of a malfunctioning U.S. foreign policy apparatus that is in danger of derailing, written by a veteran Foreign Service professional and former ambassador. I recommend it as a must-read for foreign affairs scholars and practitioners alike; it deserves broad dissemination as a resource for sparking a much overdue debate on reforming the State Department and how U.S. foreign policy is formulated.

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