Friday, February 11, 2011

The Luxembourg Affair: Rebuttal received, responded to and more headline bait for lots of fish

The front office blow out at the US Embassy in Luxembourg is not the first, nor will it be the last. When a Bush appointee in Trinidad and Tobago went through five deputy ambassadors during two terms of George W., there was barely a ripple in the news. (Read That Did Not Work Out Very Well, Did It? US Embassy Port of Spain Sets Record/s). That was two years ago.

So, anyway, we read NPR's coverage recently: "Sometimes after a situation like this, however, an administration will go with a State Department professional in order to bring some much needed stability to an embassy. So it's not a foregone conclusion that she'll be replaced with another big political donor type."

Sorry, did we laugh out loud? No such luck for US Embassy Dysfunctional in sunny Trinidad and Tobago, which got another political appointee for needed stability.

 Today it may be US Embassy Luxembourg, but tomorrow, it'll be another embassy. Sometimes the review is good, sometimes it's bad. But the buck always stops at the front office of every chancery. Unless, it's a political appointee, in which case, the buck stops at the appointing authority, the WH. After all, the President's personal representative in a foreign country is responsible not just for the affairs of the state but ultimately, the entire mission including people and leaking faucets. Who says it's all glamor and gowns?

Career ambassadors, unfortunately, are not exempt from similar leadership deficiencies, like this one who was posted in an African post. The OIG says that "the Ambassador's leadership is authoritarian, and staff believes dissent is unwelcome." Sounds like an awful boss, too, but for some reason they don't make quite a similar splash in the news. And even when some do, they can get recycled to other missions or get kicked upstairs (so hello, again). Or there is always retirement. 

In any case, if Luxembourg turns out to be the OIG's most requested report in years, then that's a good learning opportunity for taxpayers. The OIG's review of our embassies is about all the publicly available report we're going to read about our diplomatic missions in far away lands.

L'affaire Luxembourg is all over the news now. We are, of course, still quite amazed how a 61-page report can generate all sorts of headlines.

We have to admit that our current favorite is ...At Luxembourg Embassy, Staff Begged to Be Sent to Baghdad from Slate Magazine's blog.

Begged! Is that beg as in please, please take me I'm yours?!

Seriously, we'd like to know if any of the Iraq/Af/Pak recruiters wrote a thank you note.

Then there's The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg in Is It Possible To Screw Up as US Ambassador to Luxembourg? are welcome to answer that question.

Michael Beckel of the Center for Responsive Politics reports that Democratic Financier Cynthia Stroum Flames Out After Brief Stint as Barack Obama's Ambassador to Luxembourg...
Flames out, okay ... very good recap there on the money angle.

The AtlanticWire's Elspeth Reeve writes Why Giving Donors Ambassadorships Is a Bad Idea

Well -- not always, of course. Some have been known to fly their own plane (140 official trips out of pocket in the eastern Caribbean) when Uncle Sam had severely limited travel money, or known to restore the ambassador's residence when there was no repair money or build a wine cellar when there ...well, Uncle Sam has not been known to fork out money for wine cellars.

Wall Street Journal's Robert Frank wanted to know -- Do Rich People Make Good Ambassadors?

What's money gotta do with it?

Anyway, there's more below; quite a competition for your eyeballs ....

Ex-Ambassador Left Luxembourg Embassy in 'State of Dysfunction,' Watchdog Finds Fox News - William Lajeunesse

US Ambassador Exits Europe Post Before Scathing Report About Her NPR (blog) - Frank James

Obama mega-donor resigns plum ambassador post in Luxembourg amid scathing ...Los Angeles Times - Matthew Lee

Cynthia Stroum: 5 Facts on the Former Ambassador to Luxembourg Now Under Fire | AOL News

From Weasel Zippers: Obama Bundler Turns Into Diplomatic Blunder

In American Thinker, Rick Moran writes, Obama's Luxemburg Ambassador an epic disaster

Taegan Goddard's Political Wire concludes that Luxembourg Is No Paradise for Embassy Staff.

Bad ambassador: Political appointee blasted for dragging down US embassy screams the San Francisco Examiner.

In US Crisis In Luxembourg? Ambassador Cynthia Stroum Resigns NowPublic writes, "the IG's report makes Stroum sound like a diplomatic Leona Helmsley."

Across the pond, the Independent's Guy Adams: writes, 'Bullying' ambassador loses Obama's favour.

Not to be outdone, the UK's Daily Mail blares, U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg quits after year dogged by 'leadership deficiencies, personality conflicts and dodgy expenses'

And of course, political ambassadors being what they are -- this is also politics and local. Seattle Times's Jim Brunner remembers something about a certain Washington State senator -- Cantwell vouched for "disaster" Stroum as ambassador.

Not sure we're going to hear from either of the WA senators on this one.

Then there's Calvin Eaves of (satire) who writes about Obama Looking for Smaller Diplomatic Post: "Perhaps if we just find her the right sized mattress, she will be able to get a good night's sleep and be able to better perform the duties required of her post," said President Obama.

We bet that's not at all amusing over in Seattle. Patti Payne of Puget Sound has more in Stroum, envoy under fire, counters.

A couple of days ago, TPMMuckraker reported this: Ambassador: 'Caught Off Guard' Over Criticisms Of Management Style.

The Associated Press also says that Seattle native rebuts abuse charges during ambassadorship.

And this one is not a headline, but striking still the same -- 352 Lux Mag out of Luxembourg cites a French newspaper L'essential, and writes that "there are rumours that Stroum is currently working in Baghdad." Oh, dear.... apparently, this magazine has never heard of the Googles.

At the Daily Press Brief on February 7, 2011, the State Dept's spokesman was asked about the reported rebuttal from Ambassador Stroum:

QUESTION: Are you aware of any contact that the Department has had with your former ambassador to Luxemburg in the last – since Thursday?

MR. CROWLEY: She resigned. Beyond that, I’m not – what kind of contact would you be --

QUESTION: Well, she says that she’s written a rebuttal or – to the IG report.


QUESTION: And I’m just wondering if you’re aware of that.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, if her rebuttal has been received by the IG, I’m sure the IG is aware of that.

QUESTION: Well, but you’re not?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I – she resigned from her office. She has returned to the United States, and she’s resumed her private life.

Well, sure enough, as PJ Crowley said, the OIG is aware of it. When we inquired about Ambassador Stroum's rebuttal, Douglas Welty, the Congressional & Public Affairs Officer of the Office of Inspector General sent us the following response:

"[T]he Office of Inspector General (OIG) received rebuttal comments from Ambassador Stroum on January 10. This was well after our inspection team had departed post in November 2010, and her opportunity to discuss the findings in person had passed. However, after receiving her comments, part of the team was reassembled, and they reconciled her comments with the inspection work papers. OIG found sufficient support for the judgments and conclusions in the report, and OIG responded to her, as such, on January 14."

So rebuttal sent according to Ambassador Stroum, received and responded to according to the OIG.  Also that the "OIG does not share its work papers, Inspection Evaluation Review responses or other material other than our published report."

WaPo's Al Kamen has more of this in Even Obama mega-bundlers must play nice:

[T]he inspector general also does what's called the Inspector's Evaluation Report (IER), a "report card" on the ambassador and the No. 2 official, the deputy chief of mission. These are not made public.

Career employees complain that, for many years, negative evaluations sent to the White House for the 50 or so political ambassadors most often seem to disappear into the void. But this time the State Department - presumably with White House sign-off - moved with dispatch.

Department officials called her in shortly after the IG's assessment circulated internally in December, we were told. Stroum flew back to attend a meeting at Foggy Bottom with her attorney and senior department officials. About three weeks later, on Jan. 13, she publicly announced, "with some regret," her resignation, saying she needed "to focus on my family and personal business."

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports are posted on OIG's Web sites in accordance with section 8L of The Inspector General Act of 1978. It is extremely rare to see revised reports posted there.

Of course, this is a free country. And anyone can write a book and sell it on teevee like the Known and Unknown Rummy. And by the way, the former US Ambassador to Barbados recently launched her book "More Than a Walk on the Beach: Confessions of an Unlikely Diplomat."  No, she's not the most recent one in Barbados with a plane.

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