A must read for anyone interested in national security is an opinion piece published in The Washington Post of April 11, 2013 and written by the presidents of the American Foreign Service Association and the American Academy of Diplomacy and a retired career ambassador.  The arguments made convincingly in the article may be old hat to members of the trade (Foreign Service), most of whom, judging from recent history, will find them neither remarkable nor worth repeating. 

     The statistics that can be consulted via the article record the dismal practice over the past half-century of appointing to both the most senior policy positions in the Department of State and ambassadorships in the most comfortable and/or sunny world capitals, people whose only claim to those jobs is knowing where to put their money.  The article can be accessed by searching the on-line Washington Post for any one of the authors’ names, worth repeating here for the service they have performed: Susan Johnson, Ron Neumann and Thomas Pickering.

     Two figures provide ample proof, one concerning policy makers at State and one American Ambassadors abroad: in 1975, 61% of top executive positions at State were occupied by career officers, a figure that had fallen to 24% by 2012; and, taking Paris as an example, of the eighteen ambassadors named since 1960, two were Foreign Service Officers.  As has been noted elsewhere, President Barack Obama is breaking records: it has just been revealed that his (i.e., America’s) new man for the Paris Embassy, succeeding a rich supporter of Muppets fame, is a New York billionaire equally supportive of his boss, whose appointee has been headlined in the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur of April 1l as “a not very diplomatic ambassador” for some dismissive reference he made to France a few years ago.  Might the French wonder why both Berlin and Tokyo get a higher percentage of professional diplomats than does Paris?

     The important statistics require a little research, but the article itself is repeated here for instant access.  

Presidents are Breaking the U.S. Foreign Service

American diplomacy is facing a crisis. The professional career service that is intended to be the backbone of that diplomacy no longer claims a lead role at the State Department or in the formulation or implementation of foreign policy. The U.S. Foreign Service is being marginalized — just as military efforts to resolve major diplomatic challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan have failed, and as diplomacy has become both more complex and more important to our national security and prosperity.

The Foreign Service is being relegated to a secondary status: staff support to political elites who set and manage policy. Long-held concepts about the disciplined, competitive, promotion-based personnel system are being called into question.

 The Rogers Act established the Foreign Service as a merit-based, professional diplomatic service in 1924. This concept was reemphasized in 1946, after the U.S. experience in World War II ratified the need to model the Foreign Service’s personnel system after that of the military rather than the domestic civil service. The 1980 Foreign Service Act reiterated that “a professional career Foreign Service based on merit principles was necessary to meet the challenges of a more complex and competitive world.” The importance of a professional diplomatic service has been underscored by our national experience in the simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the broad array of current and foreseeable challenges.

What is wrong at State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, our embassies and other agencies that together are the vehicles for American diplomacy? What accounts for the Foreign Service being marginalized?

The most visible factor is the overwhelming — and growing — presence of political appointees in mid-level and top leadership positions at the State Department. For all their merit, political appointees are short-term officials, subject to partisan, ­personality-specific pressures. They do not notably contribute to the institution’s longer-term vitality, and their ascension creates a system inherently incapable of providing expert, nonpartisan foreign policy advice.

When the bulk of its leadership positions are held by transient appointees, the Foreign Service is undermined. This situation spawns opportunism and political correctness, weakens esprit de corps within the service and emaciates institutional memory.

Diplomatic capacity needs professional, institutional leadership. A career service must nurture a deep bench of high-quality professional diplomats. But the trend has been in the opposite direction. Since 1975, the number of top leadership positions at the State Department, defined as deputy secretaries, undersecretaries and assistant secretaries, has increased from 18 to 33. The share filled by career Foreign Service officers has fallen from 61 percent in 1975 to 24 percent in 2012. Only five of the 35 special envoys, representatives, advisers and coordinators appointed during President Obama’s first term were Foreign Service officers.

In exceptional cases, political ambassadorial appointments are understandable. But when a large number of these positions go to people with little exposure to the environment and practice of international diplomacy, it deprives the American people of the full value of their investment in some embassies, and it denies career officers the opportunity to advance. Treating these positions as rewards for political support or contributions devalues diplomacy.

The State Department has two personnel systems: the General Service, its civil service system, and the Foreign Service. The structure of the Foreign Service makes it more suitable for global diplomacy: Its officers are mobile and available for worldwide service. Unlike in the civil service, they can be reassigned or promoted between jobs at home and abroad without having to compete for a vacancy in the system. The department has struggled to manage these distinctly different systems, and the result has been an increasingly fractious and dysfunctional corporate environment, draining energy and focus.

The civil service has grown significantly the past few decades, at the expense of the Foreign Service, especially in the policy bureaus that deal with issues such as refugees, law enforcement, environment and disarmament. If this trend is not reversed, the United States will lose the invaluable contribution of people with overseas experience. The State Department’s civil service personnel system must be adapted to conform more closely to the requirements of professional diplomacy.

Needed are a fresh approach and a strategic vision to build a strong, professional diplomatic service and State Department as the central institution for U.S. diplomacy. The basic requirements include a rigorous, exam-based entry; worldwide availability and mobility; programs to strengthen capacity through professional education and training, integrated with competitive, merit-based advancement; and efforts to foster the knowledge, cross-functional thinking and broad perspectives a premier diplomatic service brings, especially at the senior levels.

Every major country ensures that the competence of its career diplomats is constantly improved to meet 21st-century challenges. We can do no less. The United States can no longer rely on economic and military preeminence to compensate for a less-prepared, less well-resourced, less professional diplomatic service. With a new secretary of state, the time to begin is now.


Barack Obama, Caroline Kennedy     We can hope the reporting was just an April Fools joke, but is there really a possibility that President Obama is considering sending Caroline Kennedy as American Ambassador to Japan?  Has she had some related experience?  How good is her Japanese?  Would she like to join the ranks of those who, for no substantive reason, are charged with representing the USG and the American people in countries of great importance to the US and its national security?  Has she contributed money to Democratic candidates -Obama or others – or is she expected to do so in the future, or is it a question of family name and reputation?  Let’s hope it was a joke, but the matter of political appointments to ambassadorships abroad is not funny.

     It was also reported recently that Hillary Clinton is for the moment not accepting donations to the presidential campaign she is widely expected to conduct as 2016 draws near.  Now, then, is the time to extract promises in advance from potential or declared successors to Obama that professionals, i.e., experienced foreign service officers with proven expertise, will be assigned to run our embassies and conduct relations at the highest level in foreign capitals.  Obama has outdone his predecessors in rewarding big donors with nice embassies in glamorous capitals or sunny climes, continuing the practice of hampering the conduct of foreign relations and insulting our friends abroad in the bargain.  Our recently departed Secretary of State, who is surely aware of the problem, should be bombarded now with pleas that she should discontinue this disgraceful, purely American, sale of our embassies to the highest bidders.


  The heralded and most welcome rapprochement between American friends and allies Turkey and Israel will need, as is normal, some time before it bears fruit.  As reported from Ankara by the Associated Press on March 24, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has been cautious in presenting his agreement with Israeli counterpart Netanyahu to his domestic constituency, along the lines of “actions speak louder than words”.  (At the same time, Netanyahu has been sharply attacked for apologizing for the 2010 Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla by his former Foreign Minister Lieberman.)  There is nothing remarkable about a leader protecting himself at home from charges of weakness in dealing with “the enemy”, and Erdogan’s announced intention to visit Gaza and the West Bank in the near future need not upset the substance of the agreement.  Let us hope that is so but not disregard the warning signals in the AP report, worth repeating here in full.

          QUOTE:  Associated Press ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested “normalization” of ties with Israel would take time, hinting that Turkey wanted to ensure the victims of a flotilla raid were compensated and Israel remained committed to the easing of restrictions of goods to Gaza before restoring relations.

Erdogan’s comments on Sunday came days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the Turkish leader to apologize for the botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010 that killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American. Erdogan accepted the apology and both leaders said they would begin the work of restoring full relations.

But in a public address Sunday, Erdogan suggested there would be no quick restoration of ties.

“We have said: ‘an apology will be made, compensation will be paid and the blockade on Palestine will be lifted. There will be no normalization without these,” he said. “Normalization will happen the moment there is an implementation. But if there is no implementation, then I am sorry.”

The statement was largely seen as effort to ease concerns of his religious and pro-Palestinian support. Erdogan has won praise both at home and the Arab world for his criticism of Israel and for breaking off ties with the Jewish state over the flotilla raid.

Turkey and Israel were once strong allies but relations began to decline after Erdogan, whose party has roots in Turkey’s Islamist movement, became prime minister in 2003. Erdogan has embarked on a campaign to make Turkey a regional powerhouse in an attempt to become a leading voice in the Muslim world, distanced from Israel.

Animosity increased after the flotilla incident and ambassadors were later withdrawn. Netanyahu had previously refused to apologize, saying Israeli soldiers acted in self-defense after being attacked by activists.

Israel lifted most restrictions on the import of goods into Gaza following the flotilla incident and only restrictions on some construction materials and most exports remain in effect.

During Friday’s conversation between the two leaders, Netanyahu said Israel had substantially lifted the restrictions on the entry of civilian goods into Gaza and the Palestinian territories and this would continue as long as “calm prevailed.”

But Israeli military officials have taken to punishing Gaza residents for breaches of a November truce. Since Thursday, in response to militant rocket fire from the territory, all movement through a civilian crossing between Gaza and Israel was cancelled, except for humanitarian cases. Gaza fishermen had their permitted fishing territory restricted and a commercial goods crossing was shut down, according to Israeli rights group, Gisha.

Netanyahu said Saturday concerns over Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile were the motivating factor in restoring ties with Turkey. He said the two countries, which border Syria, needed to communicate with each other over the issue.

Meanwhile, Erdogan said he plans to travel to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank “within the month, in April.”  END QUOTE

     Where do the other parties named in the title of this post fit in?  Turkey has occupied some 40% of Cyprus going on 40 years, proclaiming the existence of a “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”.  Such an entity has never been recognized by any country in the world, Israel, Russia, all EU members and the US prominent among those that have refused.  In May 2012, Turkish jet fighters challenged an Israeli plane hovering near a gas and oil exploration region off of Cyprus, a challenge based on Turkish defense of the “rights” of the fictional republic.  A year later, Turkey continues to challenge the right of the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus to explore for energy resources in its exclusive economic zone, an exercise it has been conducting in cooperation with American, Israeli and other partners.  Moreover, it has been reliably reported that Russia, which currently supplies EU countries with well more than a third of their gas supplies, has been pressuring the Cypriots to let the Russian gas giant “Gazprom” into the bidding as the price of helping Cyprus out of its desperate financial dilemma.  Figures indicate that the exploitation of Cypriot gas by, among others, French and American companies could potentially reduce the EU’s dependency on Russian supplies.

     According to the French newspaper Le Monde of March 23, the Russians have been making another, equally important, proposal to the Cypriots in exchange for Russian financial help: the provision of a naval base for Russian warships.  With continued use of Syrian port facilities out of the question, Russia will be left with no berthing or basing rights in the Mediterranean, leaving Cyprus as the only feasible option.  (This scenario was hinted at, perhaps foreshadowed, in a post of July 23, 2012 headlined “Cyprus, Russia, Syria, America, the EU, Turkey et al”, which reported the docking of two Russian Black Sea Fleet warships in the Cypriot port of Limassol – and not, it must be mentioned, in the Turkish-occupied port of Famagusta.)


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Major US Foreign Policy Breakthrough

Created on:  March 22, 2013  

President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they walk across the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 20, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they walk across the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 20, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


  It has been announced on major European TV broadcasts, at the instance of President Barack Obama, Israel at the highest level has issued an apology, or regrets, for the deaths of Turkish participants in 2010 when Israeli naval forces intercepted a ship heading for Gaza to deliver humanitarian supplies.  Moreover, it has been reported that the Turkish leadership has accepted the apology, stubbornly refused by the Israelis until this day.    
    This issue has poisoned the relationship between these two major allies of the US for almost three years, rendering impossible the cooperation between them, the only non-Arab powers in the Middle East, required for meaningful confrontation of the dangers current and threatening in this area of supreme importance to American national security.  In combination with yesterday’s news of (1) Obama’s promotion of renewed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and (2) the cease-fire between the Kurdish militant separatists in southeast Turkey and the Turkish regime, this additional breakthrough is a major triumph for US foreign policy and diplomacy and offers hope for the resolution of several intractable issues, current and future.

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There is a common saying, so common that it is broadly accepted as a valid reason for burying the past and, in the process, excusing past leaders and decision-makers responsible for actions that not only “haunt” us today, but continue to have a very real bearing on our national security: “old news is no news”.  President Barack Obama is no less guilty in this respect than is the general public or the Foreign Service community, active and retired, having clearly adopted the strategy of looking forward, not back, of focusing on the future and letting the past recede into dim memory.  If he cannot be said to have explicitly endorsed such a strategy, his apparent willingness since taking office to let his predecessor’s crimes fade into oblivion is clear enough. Those crimes, labeled as such with no exaggeration and some restraint, include the deliberate lying to the American public and the world at large about the responsibility for the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001 and using the lies as justification for going to war against an innocent party.

Two media events, a film to be aired on television this very evening (March 15) all over America and an interview appearing recently in a French journal, may serve to revive both national and international interest in those crimes.  The first, previewed in today’s New York Times, is “The World According to Dick Cheney,” best characterized in the following excerpt:  “The film asserts that Mr. Cheney masterminded the march to war, building the case, since debunked, that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and links to Qaeda terrorists. It goes into some detail about how Mr. Cheney snookered Representative Dick Armey, the House Republican majority leader and an ally, who nonetheless did not believe that Hussein presented an imminent threat to the United States…. Mr. Cheney privately misled his friend, telling Mr. Armey that the top-secret evidence was actually worse than he had said publicly and that Iraq was close to developing a suitcase nuke that could be used by Qaeda terrorists. Mr. Armey changed his position and voted for war.”  There is much more and even worse, and the NYT preview offers hope that the film will be widely and repeatedly viewed all over the world.

The related media event noted above is an interview of Colin Powell, George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, published in the French journal, Le Nouvel Observateur of February 28-March 6, 2013, apparently inspired by Powell’s 2012 memoir, It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership, but concentrating on his assigned presentation to the United Nations of the justification for the Bush decision to invade Iraq.  Powell admits that he was traduced by Bush, Cheney and CIA Director George Tenet, and that his success in convincing Tenet to appear beside him at the UN for the sake of credibility turned out to be meaningless: Tenet has never acknowledged what he knew then or knows now to be the case, i.e., that the most extreme claims about Saddam Hussein’s plans and capabilities were totally false.  Most painful for Powell, it seems, is that the “evidence” he was given was produced not by intelligence services but by one of Cheney’s own underlings.

To repeat, American national security interests can only benefit by renewed attention to the crimes committed in the past, no matter how long ago.  We can only hope that the Cheney film and Powell’s interview gain traction.

After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!

Turkey and U.S. National Security

The combined weight and importance of Turkey’s political, military, economic and geo-strategic circumstances in the consideration of American national security interests require the most serious attention, and one must assume that fact escapes nobody’s attention in Washington.  By way of illustration, Turkey is the only Islamic country that is both a member of NATO and a candidate for accession to the EU; it fields more than twice as many active-duty military personnel than does France, the UK or Italy; its potential role as a conduit for oil coming from various directions is clear; and its neighbors, by sea and/or land, include Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Cyprus and Greece.

Surely that abbreviated description puts Turkey in a class with Russia, China, India, Pakistan and the EU/Germany/France with respect to key political entities always prominent on our horizons and in morning briefings.  Full treatment would require a book and more expertise and experience than is readily available.  Deserving brief mention here, however, are recent developments in two areas requiring only attention to the daily press: Turkey’s role in the Middle East; and a shift in the prospects for eventual Turkish membership in the EU.

Given Turkey’s attributes as outlined above, it would be well-nigh impossible for it not to play a prominent part in cascading events in its neighborhood.  It is no surprise, then, that the major outside actor in the ongoing conflict within Syria is its neighbor to the north.  The massive intake of refugees from Syrian President Assad’s murderous forces has both saved countless lives and earned the respect and gratitude of Western powers still in the throes of making decisions about whether and how and when to intervene.  (Turkish policy vis-à-vis Syria, humane and charitable though it may be, is surely motivated in large part by the growing national and religious enmity between Turkey and Iran, Assad’s principal outside champion.)

Still concerning the Middle East, Turkey’s growing animosity toward Israel ever since the 2009 Israeli killing at sea of nine Turks on their way to delivering non-military supplies to Gaza, and Israel’s stubborn refusal to apologize, has taken an ugly – if unintended – turn.  (One cannot but recall Turkey’s unrelenting refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide by its proper name.)  Last Thursday, February 27, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as telling a UN meeting in Vienna the following: “Just as with Zionism, anti-semitism and fascism, it has now become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.”  Secretary of State John Kerry and others were swift to criticize Erdogan’s remark, clearly to protest the inclusion of Zionism in the list of evils.  Whether Erdogan himself or just his speech writer failed to understand the meaning of Zionism, roughly, the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Israel, and that condemning Zionism was itself anti-semitic has not been revealed.

As concerns the EU and Turkish prospects, ever since both French and German leaders made it clear that membership was not in the cards, the Turkish leaders themselves have hardened and public opinion polls show little enthusiasm.  Now, two recent developments have served to keep the proverbial foot in the door.  About to leave Berlin for a visit to Ankara, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, admitting her skepticism, nevertheless spoke of resuming stalled negotiations between Turkey and the EU.  At the same time, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was giving the same message to his Turkish counterpart.  Many years of talks lie ahead, several critical issues must be resolved, and Turkey must relent on some of the most difficult for Ankara, e.g., getting out of Cyprus and signing and ratifying the UN Law of the Sea Treaty.  But, the door is open once more, and US national security interests would be served by an eventual resolution of differences between key friends and allies.


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The U.K. and the E.U. and the U.S.

Much of the noise about possible British departure from the European Union has died down in the wake of strong ridicule from many quarters and the apparent softening of the British threat.  In addition, it was clear from the beginning that Prime Minister David Cameron’s chest-thumping was not unrelated to British electoral politics.  (One wonders whether Cameron, when proclaiming that “we can no more change …British sensibility than we can drain the English Channel”, had not been advised that this body of water, whatever its formal name in the English tongue, consists partly of French sovereign waters.)  In any case, little more need be written of the reckless, foolish, suicidal, mindless, etc. British stance, well pilloried by Harry Blaney in his January 28 post, as we give Cameron and his like-minded isolationists time to remodel their remarks into negotiating tactics as they begin to realize in private who will be the real losers in the case of a British break with the E.U., particularly with talk of a U.S.-E.U. free trade pact picking up steam.

Georgetown University professor Charles Kupchan, writing in the November 20, 2012 edition of the International Herald Tribune (and, presumably, the New York Times), is clear in his understanding of the economic, financial and geopolitical damage that Britain’s withdrawal, even if only partial, from the E.U. would inflict on its own future.  But Kupchan seriously overstates the consequences of such a development in terms of western defense and U.S. – European relations, writing that “Britain has long served as a bridge between the United States and Europe” and that a diminished British role in the E.U. would weaken the latter and “Europe’s tether to the United States.”

The suggestion that America’s relations with Western Europe or any of its members were ever, or are now, mainly dependent upon the policies or good offices of London is fanciful.  While one must acknowledge both Churchill’s encouragement and the importance of the British launching pad for American forces sent to rescue Europe and the world from the Nazi menace, can anyone truly believe that the crucial U.S. entry into WWII and the subsequent American protection of the West from the Soviet threat were motivated by a “special relationship” between Washington and London?  Yet Kupchan wants us (and his Georgetown students, presumably) to fear the worst from a British-European split, to wit:  “An irrelevant Britain and an enfeebled E.U. do not augur well for a trans-Atlantic bond central to the defense of Western values and interests.  As America’s own defense budget shrinks and those of China and other emerging powers rise, Washington sorely needs capable allies.  Britain’s departure from Europe would mean that the U.K., as well as Europe as a whole, (would) gradually slip off America’s radar screen.”  Moreover, lectures the professor, “London cannot remain an important partner on matters of European defense should it become a bit player within the E.U.”.

A few words in reply are in order.  First, shrinkage of America’s defense budget for whatever reason cannot by any real measure reduce its relative global military and strategic superiority.  Secondly, should Britain risk insignificance, if not suicide, by seriously distancing itself from the E.U., neither the latter nor the U.S. will suffer mortal pains.  And finally, with respect to that radar screen, is the professor not aware of NATO, the American- led defense organization, twenty-one of whose twenty-eight members – including Britain for now – are also members of the E.U.?

After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!