Monday, November 13, 2017

Depletion of Foreign Service

As a retired Foreign Service Officer, I want to call to your attention the rapid depletion of the ranks of the State Department Foreign Service under the Trump administration.  Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, the president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), recently wrote an open letter in the Foreign Service Journal calling attention to the problem.  By Washington standards, the Foreign Service is a small organization.  It is often said that there are fewer Foreign Service officers (about 6,000) than there are members of military bands.  It will be difficult for the Foreign Service to recover from a mass exodus of senior Foreign Service officers. 

I was pleased when President Trump named Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State, and to a certain extent I sympathize with his desire to reduce the size of government, but I do not think the small Foreign Service is the place to start drastic cuts. Good senior officers are important to the nation, as well as to the Foreign Service because of the skill and experience they bring from their years of dealing with foreign countries.  When I was a junior officer I was fortunate to work with Ambassador Tom Pickering, who was one reason I decided to stay in the Foreign Service and make it a career.  In Denver we have a senior FSO who has brought us his talent and experience, Ambassador Christopher Hill, the head of the Korbel School at Denver University. 

I admit that I retired from the Foreign Service under similar circumstances in the 1990s.  Under President Clinton, the US had promised multi-year funding for two projects I was working on, one in Poland and one involving North Korea.  When Newt Gingrich brought in the House Republican majority, they cut off funding for both projects, despite America’s earlier promises.  I was disappointed and ashamed of being called dishonest by foreign governments.  Thus, I sympathize with the current retirees, but I think the US government should do something to keep a cadre of experienced Foreign Service officers.  Otherwise, the US will suffer genuine losses in its future diplomatic dealings around the world. 

I hope that you will do whatever you can to prevent further gutting of the Foreign Service. 

Links to Ambassador Stephenson’s letter and to her appearance on the PBS NewsHour are below. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

US Government Failure to Honor Its Commitments

Hillary Clinton on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria

On Fareed Zakaria’s CNN program last week, Hillary Clinton complained about how the US was failing to honor its promises under Trump.  This is true.  I am disappointed that Trump is not honoring the Iran nuclear agreement in full without complaint as long as there is no indication that Iran is violating its terms.  The fact that Iran may be doing some things we dislike, is a point for discussion, but not reason to invalidate a working agreement that is reducing the threat of nuclear war.  I also think it was unwise for the US to leave the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement.  It’s purpose was to try to forge a closer agreement between the US and Asian countries neighboring China in order to offset China’s dominance in the region.  Withdrawing probably strengthens China’s hand.  

Nevertheless, failing to honor international agreements is nothing new for the US.  It usually happens when administrations change and a new party takes over the White House, which is the case with Trump.  I personally experienced three occasions when the US failed to honor its agreements, and I was not happy to be representing the US when it did.  

Brazilian Nuclear Reactor

After I had served in Sao Paulo, Brazil, issuing visas in the 1970s, I was assigned to the Brazil desk as a junior officer.  Before I arrived on the desk, Westinghouse had signed an agreement with Brazil to build a commercial nuclear power reactor for about one billion dollars.  There was no legal objection to the sale.  Later, however, Senator John Glenn (the former astronaut) sponsored and passed a bill saying the sale could not take place unless Brazil imposed full scope nuclear safeguards required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  At that time Brazil adamantly refused to join or comply with the NPT, because it claimed the NPT was unfairly discriminatory between nuclear powers, like the US, and non-nuclear states, like Brazil.  As a result, Westinghouse had sold much equipment to Brazil, and much of the reactor was constructed, but the Glenn amendment meant that the US could not sell the uranium fuel to run the reactor.  

In its obituary of Senator Glenn, the New Yorker said:

Glenn was a good legislator, in the end, more comfortable operating the machinery of government than he was selling it. His greatest success came in 1978, when the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act, a bill that was designed by one of his top aides, Leonard Weiss, became law. The act provided a framework for nations that were not bound by international treaties—India, Brazil, South Africa—to safely acquire nuclear-energy technology.

In the end, Brazil was able to acquire uranium fuel from Europe, but the deal with Westinghouse, which could have included several more reactors, was terminated.  In addition Brazil was so offended that it signed a big deal with Germany to get the technology to produce its own reactor fuel, which also would have given it the ability to produce enriched uranium for a bomb.  Whether by design or not, the German enrichment system never worked properly, and Brazil poured a lot of money into a useless technology.  

More recently, Brazil joined the NPT in 1998; so, Sen. Glenn was ultimately successful in getting Brazil into the nonproliferation regime, but by imposing new terms on the Westinghouse sale after it was signed, he created bad blood between the US and Brazil for years.  

Maria Skłodowska Curie Fund

When I was assigned to American Embassy in Warsaw in the 1990s, shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall, one of my main duties was oversight of the Maria Sklodowska Curie Fund, which the US had just signed agreeing to cooperate with Poland to fund joint US-Polish scientific projects for five years.  The US funded two years of cooperation for $2 million each year, matched by the Poles.  After two years, the Republicans under Newt Gingrich won control of the House and refused to approve any more funds for the remaining three years.  The Poles wanted very much to continue the cooperation and offered to match any level of US funding, but the US refused to commit any money.  

My predecessor had not funded any projects.  The only expenses had been for two meetings to discuss cooperation, one in the US and one in Poland.  Counting on the five year agreement, I had approved cooperative projects using all the money that had been appropriated so far.  I was blindsided by the decision not to fund the program.  One of the meetings I remember with the most disappointment was a meeting with the head of the Americas Department of the Foreign Ministry (who usually spoke to the Ambassador, not me) in which he harshly criticized the US (and me) for being dishonorable.  However the reason he met with me was that more than anything, Poland wanted to be part of NATO as a protection against Russia, and it did not want the funding dispute to interfere with its potential NATO membership. But I still remember sitting in his office and being very embarrassed for my country and myself.   

North Korea  and KEDO

I left Warsaw and went to Rome at the request of the State Department because Italy was taking over the Presidency of the European Union, which meant double the work for Embassy Rome, just as the Science Counselor there was leaving because of some personnel problem.  One of the issues I was responsible for was the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, which had been created as part of an agreement to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program.  In return, the KEDO group which included Japan and South Korea, would build two light water power reactors for North Korea, which would not provide material that could be used in bombs.  While the reactors were being built, they would supply North Korea with heavy fuel oil to produce electricity in conventional power plants.  The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training has just posted an oral history by Ambassador Stephen Bosworth describing his problems as head of KEDO.  In this interview, he describes how because of the change in administrations the US effort to fulfil the agreement was hobbled.  

Fuel deliveries were proceeding. We never had enough money for that either. The political reality is that within about a week after the U.S. and North Korea signed this agreement, the Republicans gained control of the U.S. Congress, and the conservative branch of the Republican Party hated this agreement because it was seen as basically submitting to North Korea and its forces. So, there was a strong determination from the beginning to kill this plan.

One of the efforts Bosworth made was to try to persuade the European Union to put uf some of the funds which the Republicans were refusing to supply.  As Science Counselor I had the job of asking the Europeans to give us money so that we could meet our obligations.  Our main argument was that the world would be safer without North Korean atomic bombs.  However, the argument looked pretty weak if it didn’t persuade our own Congress to meet the terms of the agreement.  Coming on the heels of the US failure to fund the Madam Curie joint science project, this failure of the US to honor its promises felt pretty bad.  It was a major factor in my decision to retire from the Foreign Service.  I didn’t make a stink about it, but I did not want to be part of something that I was not proud of.  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Kurdish Independence Vote

The results of the vote on Kurdish independence are not yet in, but are almost certainly to be in favor of independence, according to the Washington Post.  While the Kurds have been great allies of the US in Middle East, the creation of a Kurdish state is certain to create problems among the four countries with large Kurdish populations - Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria.  Each of these countries view the creation of a Kurdish state differently, but none of them entirely favorably.  The most strongly opposed is Turkey, which views some Kurdish organizations as terrorists, and for that reason is suspicious of all Kurds.  Iraq has enough problems with ISIS and the Sunni-Shiite split without adding Kurdish independence or autonomy to its inbox.  In Syria the Kurds pursue their own self-interest in creating a Kurdish state, but sometimes this means fighting against the Syrian government and in some cases fighting for it, or at least fighting its enemies.  Assad has many more important problems on his plate than Kurdistan, although Kurdistan would occupy a significant part of Syria, about one-quarter of it.  Iran opposed the vote on Kurdish independence, but it too has not put Kurdish issues at the top of its agenda; the Kurds seem to have a better relationship with the Iranian government than with the governments of the other three countries affected.  The US is also upset by the vote because of the confusion it may create in the region, although the Kurds have been America’s best ally in the fight against ISIS. 

In any case the creation of a new Kurdish state out of portions of four existing nations is almost certainly to be problematic.  The most recent example is the creation of South Sudan, which has led to civil war, famine, and thousands of deaths.  Arguably the creation earlier creation of several nations from the disintegrating Yugoslavia should have been peaceful, but it led to a terrible Balkan war among the new states - Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Montenegro.  The split up of Czechoslovakia into Czech and Slovakia went somewhat more smoothly. The creation of Israel has led to seventy years of violence and unrest in the Middle East.  Given the existing conflict in the Middle East and the countries involved in the creation of Kurdistan, it seems likely that it would be violent. 

Iraq has said that it will not recognize the results of the vote, but the Kurds may not allow the Iraqis to ignore it.  Iraqi Kurdistan is rich in oil; the Kurds will want it, and the Iraqis will not want to give it up.  Turkey will not want to do anything that it perceives as strengthening the hand of Kurdish separatists in Turkey.  This already appears to mean closing the border to shipments of oil, according to the NYT. 

As a sign of things to come, Iraq has demanded that Kurdistan surrender its airports.  Iraq asked other countries’ airlines not fly into Kurdistan.  Kurdistan does not have its own airline.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

PBS News Hour on North Korea

Bob Gallucci and Michael Pillsbury were on the PBS News Hour as the hawk and the dove on North Korea.  Pillsbury, the hawk, is a Pillsbury doughboy heir, and worked in the Pentagon back 30 years ago.  Of course, the Pentagon was almost always the enemy of the State Dept, and Pillsbury was the enemy.  I can’t remember exactly what issue he was involved in, probably missile proliferation and North Korea, but he was affiliated with Asst. Sec. of Defense Richard Perle under Reagan and Steve Hadley, who replaced Perle under G.H.W. Bush.  

To PBS’ credit, in the run-up to the panel, they talked to Sigfried Hecker, the former head of the Livermore National Lab.  Like Los Alamos, Livermore builds America’s bombs.  For some reason the North Korean’s liked Hecker and showed him all kinds of stuff when he visited years ago.  Maybe it was  just scientists showing off.  But because he builds bombs, he understood it all.  I think he probably knows more about North Korea’s bombs than anybody outside of North Korea, but people seldom talk to him.  On PBS he was less alarmist on N.K.’s bomb, saying they probably still have a few years to go to develop one for a missile.  

Of course, the Missile Technology Control Regime, which I worked on off and on for five or  more years was supposed to prevent countries like N.K. from getting strategic missiles.  But it was only an export control regime, and the Chinese have never fully committed to it.  It may have helped slow down N.K., but now I think they probably have the national capability to develop long range missiles without outside help.  So, export control doesn’t help much.  

I found this interesting old article about Michael Pillsbury.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

NYT on Iran, Russia, and Myanmar

Today’s NYT has a huge editorial calling on Trump not to go to war with Iran.  I agree with the editorial, and I think it is a good sign that Trump so far seems to be more interested in criticizing Iran than in taking concrete actions against it.  I am less sanguine about the Republicans in Congress, who will pressure Trump to take stronger actions against Iran.  Trump seems inclined to do the right thing, but he might bow to GOP pressure, especially if it is linked to healthcare or tax legislation.  

On the other hand, I find it disturbing that the NYT is so jingoistic about fomenting war with Russia.  It has not called for war with Russia, but its harsh criticism of Putin seems to characterize him as a latter-day Hitler, who needs to be stopped.  Putin is not a saint, but I don’t see him as evil as the NYT does, or ther other Democratic media outlets like CNN or MSNBC.  Putin has many nuclear weapons.  War with him would be a disaster for the whole world.  A little moderation in our dealings with Russia, as well as with Iran, is called for.  The NYT needs to tone down it hate-Russia rhetoric.  

Finally there is an article in the NYT about growing Chinese influence in Myanmar (nee Burma), by Jane Perlez, who interviewed me in Poland about 20 years ago.  She blames Trump for the coolness in relations between the US and Myanmar, yielding the Chinese a leading role in Myanmar's development.  However, she barely touches on the fact the the main foreign policy issue with Myanmar during the Obama administration was the Rohingya Muslim minority.  As a champion of Muslim rights, the US loudly criticized the government of Myanmar for its treatment of the Rohingya.  Making criticism of human rights the central point of our policy was not likely to build better relations between the two countries.  The Chinese are much less squeamish about human rights abuses, and thus are a much preferred interlocutor than the US.  Perles ignores this irritant in US-Myanmar relations in her analysis.  

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Two Million Added to ObamaCare Group of Uninsured This Year

The media have made a big deal out of the fact that about two million people have been added to the group of people with no health insurance this year.  Examples of coverage are in Time, CNN, and the NYT.  When commentators talk about this decrease in coverage on TV, they try to pin responsibility on Trump and the GOP, when in fact it is due to problems with ObamaCare.  All of these print articles point out that the reason for the decline is that millions of young, healthy people are leaving ObamaCare, because it’s a bad deal.  ObamaCare counted on young, healthy people’s insurance payments to subsidize coverage for older people with higher medical expenses.  Younger people are apparently deciding that it’s better to pay the ObamaCare tax penalty than to buy the ObamaCare insurance.  

This phenomenon is to some extent evidence that the Republicans are right.  If left alone, ObamaCare will self-destruct.  

Monday, July 17, 2017

Echoes of Old Anti-Communists Days

Joe McCarthy & Roy Cohn

The current hearings of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence look ominously like the 1950s  hearings of the House Unamerican Activities Committee and the hearings led by Senator Joe McCarthy in the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations.  Ironically, McCarthy’s chief lawyer, Roy Cohn, was a mentor to President Donald Trump early in his business career.  

The current committees are seeking connections to Russian spies, while their predecessors in the 1940s and 1950s were seeking connections to Communist spies.  In the Senate today Senator Mark Warner is playing the role of Joe McCarthy, screaming treason and treachery at the top of his voice.  Today Congressman Adam Schiff is playing the role of Congressman Richard Nixon in pursuit of Alger Hiss for spying, as reported by the Washington Post.  

Roles are reversed.  Now it’s Democrats who see Russian spies under every rock, spies so powerful they can turn an ordinary American like Donald Trump, Jr., into a traitor, simply by being the the same room with him for a meeting. The Democrats portray Rinat Akhmetshin as just such a man.  Strangely for such a powerful spy, Akhmetshin is a US citizen and lobbyist, who meets regularly with American politicians without turning them into traitors.  

I think the hearings are ridiculous, just like the old 1040s and 1950s anti-Communist hearings.  Their pursuit of Russian spies is a kangaroo court or a “witch hunt” as President Trump has said.  The Democrats are profoundly embarrassed by having lost an election that should have been an easy victory because of their gross incompetence and contempt for the electorate.  Now the Democrats are trying to blame the Russians for the failures of the Democratic Party.  They are so obsessed that slander and persecution are acceptable tools to an end.  They are disgracing themselves a second time and befouling the halls of Congress in the process.