Friday, January 23, 2009

Is Diplomacy Hot Again or What?

"The old state department building in Washington, as it was in 1865." - From an 1898 publication.

On Hillary’s first day on the job, she gave a well applauded speech, and her new boss and next boss in line came for a visit and not just to shake hands. That's something. I did not applaud because she said smart power need smart people, although I’m sure that endeared her to our brainiacs at Foggy Bottom. My mind was somewhere else… For this institution that had been relegated to the wood kitchen or had been invited only into polite company in folding chairs, that early visit sends quite a positive signal. I hope this is the start of a turnaround.

I hope, too that the new occupant of the 7th floor will have somebody do something about Corridor 1500 (see Dead Men Working's post on this here). It may seem petty, wanting our history back on the wall, but it harms no one; besides they’re mostly dead people now, it’s not as if they’ll ask for directions or a promotion or harangue anyone for any bad decision. Please rescue Elihu Root, William Bryan, Cordell Hull, George Marshall, Dean Acheson, John Dulles, Dean Rusk, even Henry, the Kiss, from the dungeon of Foggy Bottom and let them enjoy their space on our walls once more. I have to admit that I got a little dizzy yesterday watching Steve Kashkett’s body movement as he spoke (if he is a PD officer, FSI needs to update its training modules on public speaking). Sorry, but I also want a diplomat there who can speak without notes. I hope AFSA is keeping notes for next time. Ambassador Bill Burns did his part just perfectly. I watched the videos and scrolled through the blog comments in the official blog, DipNote (under new management). It crossed my mind that Hillary may exactly be the remedy for the inattentiveness of the American public to the Foreign Service and the work of the State Department.

I still don’t quite understand why Hillary was willing to swap her Senate seat with what is a 4-year, maybe 8-year gig. But if those “18 million cracks” on the ceiling will continue to focus and engage their attention on Hillary and by extension her work at Foggy Bottom, the agency may find its constituent in a roundabout way for the first time. Sure, Colin Powell had rock star quality, but he did not have the 18 million support pack that Hillary carries. At the Benjamin Franklin Room, around mid-afternoon, Secretary Clinton with Vice President Joe Biden announced Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell and Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke. There were speeches all around (excerpts below). The full text is here. The 39 min video is here.

Secretary Clinton:

Mr. President, by coming here to the State Department and through your announcement today of these two positions, you are through word and deed sending a loud and clear signal that diplomacy is a top priority of your presidency and that our nation is once again capable of demonstrating global leadership in pursuit of progress and peace.

We are honored to have you join us on only the second day in office. We are grateful to you for highlighting these urgent issues and the collaboration needed to address two of the biggest foreign policy challenges of our time.

Vice President Joe Biden:

We've come here today to the State Department to send a very clear message, a clear message at home as well as abroad that we are going to reinvigorate America's commitment to diplomacy. This effort will be led by Secretary Clinton.

For too long, we've put the bulk of the burden, in my view, on our military. That's a view not only shared by me, but by your secretary of defense, as well. And our military is absolutely, to state the obvious, absolutely necessary, but not sufficient, not sufficient to secure the interest of this great nation.

President Obama:

My appearance today, as has been noted, underscores my commitment to the importance of diplomacy and renewing American leadership. And it gives me an opportunity to thank you for the services that you perform every single day.

Sometimes I think the American public doesn't fully understand the sacrifices that you and your families make, the dedication that is involved in you carrying on your tasks day in, day out.


This morning, I signed three executive orders. First, I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture.


Second, we will close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and determine how to deal with those who have been held there.

And, third, we will immediately undertake a comprehensive review to determine how to hold and try terrorism suspects to best protect our nation and the rule of law.

The world needs to understand that America will be unyielding in its defense of its security and relentless in its pursuit of those who would carry out terrorism or threaten the United States. And that's why, in this twilight struggle, we need a durable framework.

The orders that I signed today should send an unmistakable signal that our actions in defense of liberty will be just as our cause and that we, the people, will uphold our fundamental values as vigilantly as we protect our security. Once again, America's moral example must be the bedrock and the beacon of our global leadership.

President Obama’s speech includes the following which must also ricochet around Kabul:

The American people and the international community must understand that the situation is perilous and progress will take time. Violence is up dramatically in Afghanistan. A deadly insurgency has taken deep root. The opium trade is far and away the largest in the world. The Afghan government has been unable to deliver basic services. Al Qaeda and the Taliban strike from bases embedded in rugged tribal terrain along the Pakistani border. And while we have yet to see another attack on our soil since 9/11, Al Qaida terrorists remain at large and remain plotting.

Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta was already unhappy with Secretary Clinton for calling Afghanistan a “narco-state” during her testimony, this one is not going to make him or President Karzai feel better. Afghanistan produces more than 90 percent of the world's opium, the main ingredient in heroin. I wonder if calling Afghanistan “opium heaven” would be more diplomatic and palatable than “narco-state?”

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