Tuesday, December 31, 2013

'Twerking', 'selfie' and 'hashtag' on list of annoying words

'Twerking', 'selfie' and 'hashtag' on list of annoying words -- BBC News

Barack Obama and David Cameron pose for a selfie picture with Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt in Johannesburg (December 10, 2013)Did Michelle Obama nominate "selfie?"

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Word-watchers at a US college have released their annual list of words that should be banned, with "selfie", "twerking" and "hashtag" coming top.
Lake Superior State University (LSSU) collected suggestions from members of the public for its 39th annual list.
It recommends the words be "banished from the Queen's English" because of misuse, overuse or just being useless.
Last year it tried to ban expressions including "double down", "bucket list" and "YOLO" (you only live once).
For LSSU's 2014 list, "selfie" received the most nominations.
The term, which refers to a self-portrait photo, was named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries only last month.
"Put the smartphone away. Nobody cares about you," wrote one member of the public, identified only as David from Wisconsin.
Josh from Arizona asked: "Why can't we have more selflessies?"
In this Aug. 25, 2013 file photo, Miley Cyrus performs a move known as "twerking" at the MTV Video Music Awards at the Barclays Center in New York.Miley Cyrus twerking: Nothing to do with the Twittersphere, it turns out
"Twerk" (a raunchy dance move) similarly attracts LSSU's opprobrium, even though it was also shortlisted by Oxford Dictionaries.
"Twerking has brought us to a new low in our lexicon," wrote Lisa, a contributor from New York.
The college's vocabulists also lamented the rise of "hashtag" and "Twittersphere", terms from social media that have seeped into everyday speech.
Combination words using variations of -mageddon or -pocalypse, such as "snowpocalypse" or "budgetmageddon", also ended up on the forbidden list.
It is not clear whether the US college's roster will be a game-changer (an expression LSSU tried to ban in 2009).
Last year's banned words remain stubbornly resilient in usage. And many of the terms banned in recent years, recorded on the complete list,such as angst, 24/7, no-brainer and spoiler alert, continue to flourish.

Public Diplomacy as a Global Phenomenon: China -- highbrow and low class

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Learn@China, Win@China

Talk about the work of the Information Department Qin Gang: both highbrow and low class

Original title: Qin Gang talk about the work of the Information Department: both highbrow and low class

People Beijing December 25 (by Yang Mu Zheng Qingting) Foreign Ministry Qin Gang's Press Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs this afternoon at the 2013 China's foreign Talk about introduced the Foreign Ministry spokesman and public diplomacy. Qin Gang said that the main responsibilities of the Information Department of the Foreign interpretation is, declaring China's foreign policies, is responsible for planning, implementing public diplomacy, is also responsible for foreign media and foreign correspondents work in China.

Qin Gang said, the news department has three characteristics. The first feature, engaged in public diplomacy Information Division, the focus is to solve the problem of mutual understanding between China and foreign countries, it is the first step of diplomatic work. Mutual recognition of the problem, if not solved, we and other countries will deal with a bad relationship.

The second feature, the news department's work both highbrow and low class. Highbrow means that if we want to declare China of foreign diplomacy, it is necessary to understand and master the Chinese foreign policy and principles. This looks very high-end, but our public diplomacy work, to face the public at home and abroad, so we must use the language and the way the public can understand and explain our foreign policy and policies to the public at home and abroad can be more better understanding and acceptance of diplomatic work. Ministry of Foreign Affairs in their daily work, with a major event for each treatment, each made an important decision or decisions reflect public opinions through from start to finish in our deliberation, discussion, decision-making and implementation process, which indicates that the public diplomacy, public opinion and the country's image, has an important role in our diplomatic work.

The third characteristic, public diplomacy work we are engaged in is a sunrise industry, occupies an increasingly prominent and important role in our country's diplomacy. We used to engage in diplomacy, more focus on content. Now China's development, and has attracted worldwide attention, and we not only want to well done, but also well said. The work of public diplomacy in our country's overall diplomatic work is increasingly important. Public diplomacy name suggests, is spread by means of communication, referral to the international community to declare the conditions shown in our country, roads, philosophy, and introduce the public to our domestic policy of the country's foreign policy, the public status of our country and the international community have an objective, comprehensive and correct knowledge, understanding and support of our national policy and diplomacy.

The 124 states of America": Notes for a talk, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."


The Fix

The 124 states of America

Secessionist movements are all the rage these days. A handful of counties in Colorado tried to secede from the rest of the state earlier this year.  There's an attempt to create the State of Jefferson (northern California/southern Oregon) via ballot initiative in 2014.  And there's plenty more.
What would the U.S. look like if all of the secession movements in U.S. history had succeeded?  Well, Mansfield University geography professor Andrew Shears built a map to answer that question. (It covers secession movements through the end of 2011.)  His 124 states of America is below. Click the map to enlarge it.
Map courtesy of Andrew Shears
Map courtesy of Andrew Shears

In the wake of the tragic event in Volgograd, reposting the below thought-provoking April 2013 piece on the also tragic Boston bombing

Cui Bono? Vladimir Vladimirovich? - Re Boston Bombing

ITEM 2a: Ken Jensen: Cui Bono? Vladimir Vladimirovich? Unpublished, April 20-21 (via ACFR NewsGroup No. 2143, April 27, 2013)

Cui Bono? Vladimir Vladimirovich?

When it comes to terrorist events like the Boston Marathon bombings, it often pays to think in speculative ways and to ask oneself obvious questions.  As with murders, the first and best one of these, adapted to current circumstances, is “who benefits most from what transpired at the Boston Marathon and subsequent mayhem?” Here follows one such exercise of answering that question.

In the case of Boston, an experimental answer to “cui bono?” might be “Vladimir Putin.”  If nothing else, he certainly got a nice boost from events by the Tsarnaevs’ being Chechen, something he hardly deserves given Moscow’s past and present antics in the Caucasus. It leads to the further question “What if the Boston bombing was Putin’s (or the FSB’s or “Russia’s”) doing?”  How could that have happened and why?

The Sochi Winter Olympics are coming up in 2014, and Putin will have to put on a major effort to keep anything untoward from happening in the greater neighborhood, which is, as we know, full of anti-Russian and Islamist elements. Putin’s effort is very likely to involve extremely ugly incidents of Russian repression.  The Russians are not known to be quiet and tidy repressors, after all. It will not do for the international community of nations coming to Sochi to become upset about what Putin feels compelled to do.  Some may pull out, either in fear of getting caught in the crossfire or in protest against atrocities. Others may back the “rebels” and embolden them.

So what better could happen for Putin than a terrorist incident in the U.S. involving, ostensibly, dissident elements from the Caucasus? Wouldn’t that make the crackdown easier and create a certain amount of international sympathy for Moscow?  Not an overwhelming amount, maybe, but perhaps enough to get the Russians through Sochi.

We know that in 2011 some foreign state inquired of the U.S. regarding the “political” activities of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  If that state was Russia (which is pretty much assumed now), why, then, did it allow Tsarnaev to enter and stay on Russian territory for six months in 2012? Family said it was to renew his Russian passport.  Six months to renew a passport? Of course, Moscow could have let him in to tail him as a known anti-Russian and Islamist of Chechen origin and see what he did, with whom he met, etc.

On the other hand, it may have crossed the FSB’s mind that Tsarnaev, as a relatively recently convert to Islamist, could be turned to an even more useful purpose. He had immediate family in Dagestan (mother and father) and in the U.S. (a wife and child and brother). Threats of harm to those family members could have been used to make Tsarnaev pliable.  Alternately, FSB agents who had infiltrated certain Chechen or Dagestani circles in the “Caucasus Emirate” could have convinced him that it was in the interests of the cause to do something in Boston.

Tsarnaev could have been trained in bomb-making and terrorist trade-craft, given money, and sent on his way.  Such training could have been done in Moscow, or the Caucasus, or even Afghanistan or Pakistan (where affiliates of the Caucasus Emirate has strong connections), depending on his handlers’ connections and abilities to appear convincing dissidents.

If Moscow proceeded even less than skillfully, Tsarnaev could have been set up in such a way that would leave very few FSB fingerprints on the operation.  Recall that the explosive devices used were primitive and well within the abilities of a “lone wolf” to create. Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev made no attempt to disguise themselves, nor did they have either an escape plan or assistance in escaping.  The latter may have been promised, which might explain the mayhem that ensued once their photographs were made public. They may well have felt they had to fight it out for martyrdom’s sake. All the better for the FSB.

Keep in mind that Putin’s offer to cooperate with U.S. authorities in investigating the bombing (in the form of a phone conversation with Barack Obama) came Friday morning and was reported in the media before noon.  Accordingly, Putin’s offer came after Tamerlan was killed. Watertown was locked down and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was still at large. On the (unsure but possible) assumption that Dzhokhar knew less (possibly MUCH less) than his older brother, the timing of the call after Tamerlan’s death would have been the most beneficial for Moscow.  (Putin might also have been assured that Dzhokhar would not allow himself to be taken alive. Or, if he was, that deniability wouldn’t be problem.)

All of this does not in the slightest convince this writer that the aforementioned was what REALLY happened. The notion is plausible, nothing more.   In things like this, every lead has to be followed.  We saw only the other morning that the Tsarnaevs’ Uncle Ruslan has claimed that he was told by someone that Tamerlan was “brainwashed” into becoming a jihadi by a Muslim convert of Armenian descent, and also that Tamerlan’s radicalization occurred in the United States, not during his stay in Russia.  Lots of Armenians in Watertown, Massachusetts, what?  Of course, Uncle Ruslan may have a thing about Armenians.  The Wall Street Journal, this morning, contains a well-researched piece on the Tsarnaev family that suggests that Mrs. Tsarnaev was radicalized either before or at the same time as her son Tamerlan, and that this occurred while both were in Boston.  Was it “do-it-yourself” or assisted?

It will be important for all sorts of reasons to know how Tamerlan Tsarnaev was radicalized, where it occurred and when. Clearly, it would be most troubling if he had been radicalized in the U.S. The scant current evidence is rather more suggestive of that than an international conspiracy.  But most important is finding out what he did for six months in Russia.

Here follows something received from one of my best “informed sources” that helps explain why one might consider the “theory” above:

“Regarding your ‘cui bono’ theory: The possibility of provocation or manipulation by the Russian FSB or other government-backed actors is not necessarily quite as far-fetched a scenario as it might at first appear. For example, in his recent book on the Moscow apartment bombings of 1999, Hoover’s John Dunlop explores the possible connection of contemporary political upheavals in Russia to possible FSB complicity in the apartment bombings, blamed by the government on Chechens. The subsequent "Riazan incident," in which a bomb was found and defused, was later explained by the FSB as having been their own training exercise. The head of the FSB at the time? Vladimir Putin, who soon after vaulted to power. (Reichstag fire, anyone?) The famous and horrific episodes at the Nord-Ost Theatre in 2002 and at the school in Beslan in 2004 have raised serious questions about possible FSB complicity from no less serious figures than the late journalist Anna Politkovskaia and the (also horribly late) former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko.”

An Aside: Another, less bizarre theory, is that Chechen dissident elements were egregiously offended by the deal the U.S. cut with Russia on terrorism on May 26, 2011.  Not only was anti-terrorist cooperation agreed to, but the U.S. at the same time listed Chechen Doku Umarov of the Caucasus Emirate as a “specially designated global terrorist” and specifically called him a danger to both the U.S. and Russia.  See U.S. Executive Order 1322.  Was this enough to inspire a terror attack in the U.S. in the Chechen and/or Islamist cause? Perhaps it was.

Computers Jump to the Head of the Class


Computers Jump to the Head of the Class

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TOKYO — If a computer could ace the entrance exam for a top university, what would that mean for mere mortals with average intellects? This is a question that has bothered Noriko Arai, a mathematics professor, ever since the notion entered her head three years ago.
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“I wanted to get a clear image of how many of our intellectual activities will be replaced by machines. That is why I started the project: Can a Computer Enter Tokyo University? — the Todai Robot Project,” she said in a recent interview.
Tokyo University, known as Todai, is Japan’s best. Its exacting entry test requires years of cramming to pass and can defeat even the most erudite. Most current computers, trained in data crunching, fail to understand its natural language tasks altogether.
Ms. Arai has set researchers at Japan’s National Institute of Informatics, where she works, the task of developing a machine that can jump the lofty Todai bar by 2021.
If they succeed, she said, such a machine should be capable, with appropriate programming, of doing many — perhaps most — jobs now done by university graduates.
With the development of artificial intelligence, computers are starting to crack human skills like information summarization and language processing.
Given the exponential growth of computing power and advances in artificial intelligence, or A.I., programs, the Todai robot’s task, though daunting, is feasible, Ms. Arai says. So far her protégé, a desktop computer named Todai-kun, is excelling in math and history but needs more effort in reading comprehension.
There is a significant danger, Ms. Arai says, that the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence, if not well managed, could lead to a radical restructuring of economic activity and the job market, outpacing the ability of social and education systems to adjust.
Intelligent machines could be used to replace expensive human resources, potentially undermining the economic value of much vocational education, Ms. Arai said.
“Educational investment will not be attractive to those without unique skills,” she said. Graduates, she noted, need to earn a return on their investment in training: “But instead they will lose jobs, replaced by information simulation. They will stay uneducated.”
In such a scenario, high-salary jobs would remain for those equipped with problem-solving skills, she predicted. But many common tasks now done by college graduates might vanish.
“We do not know in which areas human beings outperform machines. That means we cannot prepare for the changes,” she said. “Even during the industrial revolution change was a lot slower.”
Over the next 10 to 20 years, “10 percent to 20 percent pushed out of work by A.I. will be a catastrophe,” she says. “I can’t begin to think what 50 percent would mean — way beyond a catastrophe and such numbers can’t be ruled out if A.I. performs well in the future.”
She is not alone in such an assessment. A recent study published by the Program on the Impacts of Future Technology, at Oxford University’s Oxford Martin School, predicted that nearly half of all jobs in the United States could be replaced by computers over the next two decades.
Some researchers disagree. Kazumasa Oguro, professor of economics at Hosei University in Tokyo, argues that smart machines should increase employment. “Most economists believe in the principle of comparative advantage,” he said. “Smart machines would help create 20 percent new white-collar jobs because they expand the economy. That’s comparative advantage.”
Others are less sanguine. Noriyuki Yanagawa, professor of economics at Tokyo University, says that Japan, with its large service sector, is particularly vulnerable.
“A.I. will change the labor demand drastically and quickly,” he said. “For many workers, adjusting to the drastic change will be extremely difficult.”
Smart machines will give companies “the opportunity to automate many tasks, redesign jobs, and do things never before possible even with the best human work forces,” according to a report this year by the business consulting firm McKinsey.
Advances in speech recognition, translation and pattern recognition threaten employment in the service sectors — call centers, marketing and sales — precisely the sectors that provide most jobs in developed economies. As if to confirm this shift from manpower to silicon power, corporate investment in the United States in equipment and software has never been higher, according to Andrew McAfee, the co-author of “Race Against the Machine” — a cautionary tale for the digitized economy.
Yet according to the technology market research firm Gartner, top business executives worldwide have not grasped the speed of digital change or its potential impact on the workplace. Gartner’s 2013 chief executive survey, published in April, found that 60 percent of executives surveyed dismissed as “‘futurist fantasy” the possibility that smart machines could displace many white-collar employees within 15 years.
“Most business and thought leaders underestimate the potential of smart machines to take over millions of middle-class jobs in the coming decades,” Kenneth Brant, research director at Gartner, told a conference in October: “Job destruction will happen at a faster pace, with machine-driven job elimination overwhelming the market’s ability to create valuable new ones.”
Optimists say this could lead to the ultimate elimination of work — an “Athens without the slaves” — and a possible boom for less vocational-style education. Mr. Brant’s hope is that such disruption might lead to a system where individuals are paid a citizen stipend and be free for education and self-realization.
“This optimistic scenario I call Homo Ludens, or ‘Man, the Player,’ because maybe we will not be the smartest thing on the planet after all,” he said. “Maybe our destiny is to create the smartest thing on the planet and use it to follow a course of self-actualization.”

An Interview with Amb. Robert Gosende

An Interview with Amb. Robert Gosende

The Politic speaks with Ambassador Robert Gosende, who served for 36 years in the Foreign Service and the State Department.
By Elizabeth Miles and Justin Schuster
Gosende interview
Ambassador Robert R. Gosende served for 36 in the Foreign Service, in the U.S. Information Agency and the Department of State before joining The State University of New York (SUNY) in December of 1998. Gosende’s overseas experience includes tours of duty as a Cultural Affairs Officer in Libya, Somalia, and Poland and as Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs in South Africa and in the Russian Federation. He served as President Bill Clinton’s Special Envoy for Somalia, with the personal rank of Ambassador, at the height of the crisis in 1992-93. During 1994, he was Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, directing the U.S. Government’s support of the first multi-racial elections held in South Africa in April of that year. Following his career in the Foreign Service, Gosende served as Associate Vice Chancellor for International Programs at SUNY and as the John W. Ryan Fellow in Public Diplomacy at SUNY Albany. Gosende received Presidential Awards from Presidents George W. Bush and Clinton for his service as USIA’s Director for African Affairs and as the President’s Special Envoy for Somalia.
The Politic: Why did you join the Foreign Service?
I have asked myself that question a lot, and I attribute my start to a very inspirational high school social studies teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts. She turned me on to thinking about government and public service, which led to me to become a high school social studies teacher myself. My parents were also immigrants, and I think that because of this, I felt a connection to and curiosity for the outside world that people who aren’t born from immigrant parents maybe don’t feel.
My father died young when I was thirteen, leaving us in dire financial straits. After undergraduate school, the Foreign Service offered me a job for $3,600 a year. $3,600 a year, not nearly enough to provide for a younger brother in college and a mother as well. So, I became a high school teacher, which is when I met my wife. We were teaching in a school just outside of Springfield, Massachusetts, and the principal was hired the head of an AIDS project in Uganda. He got in touch with my wife and myself in 1963, and he said, “You guys should come to Uganda with me.” This was a time when the last place a person would think of going to work was the federal government — it was perceived to be ineffectual and useless. But Kennedy broke us out of that spell, and we were moved by the appeal of his words, “You shouldn’t be asking what your country is going to be doing for you, but rather you should be asking what are you going to do for your country.”
The project was to set up a secondary school and teach in a training college for women in the eastern region of Uganda, right on the Kenya-Uganda border and just north of Lake Victoria. They offered my wife a job because she was a licensed dietician and could run a food service program at the school. But, they didn’t care for a social studies teacher. Maybe ten years later she would have said, “I am going to Uganda, what are you going to do?” Instead, she said, “If there isn’t a job for both of us then we aren’t going.” Three months later, when they couldn’t find anyone else like her, they agreed. We ended up staying in Uganda from 1963-1966, before the days of the Idi Amin — when it was like a paradise, safe and wonderful, with children more literate than those I had been teaching in MA because there was no television to distract them from reading all the time.
It was in Uganda that I discovered the U.S. Information Agency, a separate executive agency under the president that works closely with the State Department but is not explicitly part of it. It used to do public diplomacy work for our government, but we abolished it after we won the Cold War — which, I’ll say, was a stupid thing for us to have done. I then joined the Foreign Service in 1966, and we were sent to Tripoli in Libya.
The Politic: From 1966-1968, you served as the Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer in Tripoli, Libya, and you departed Libya one year before [Muammar] Gaddafi’s overthrow of King Idris. Could you hear the war drums beginning to sound by the time you left Libya one year prior to the coup?
Yes, and it is all much clearer now than it was in foresight. We were scheduled to arrive in Tripoli on June 6, 1967, and we were flying from London to Tripoli. Halfway through the flight, the plane made a 180-degree turn, and the pilot announced we had lost our landing rights in Tripoli and we would be returning to London. What was that all about? June 6, 1967 was the day the Arab-Israeli war broke out, and shooting was going on in Tripoli. When I went into the embassy in London, they ended up just telling me to take it easy for a little bit. So, after two weeks of unexpected vacation in London, I was told to go on to Tripoli and my wife was told that she should stay in safe haven in Europe.
Tripoli, in those days, was ruled by an elderly gentleman named Idris the First. He was the King of Cyrenaica — which is the Eastern region of Libya and was a strong ally of the U.S. during World War II. The King was more of a religious, aesthetic leader than he was a secular leader. He had a group of Viziers — senior advisors — and the King hardly ever looked into what they were doing. As far as the civic practical governance of the country is concerned, the Viziers would appoint a prime minister and the prime minister would appoint a cabinet, and those chaps would run the government.  As a side story that I think is pretty telling, the Viziers would read the Koran and decide why each day was important. They had a switch at the King’s palace, right into the radio service, and if they decided it was an important day in history, they would cut into the radio service and declare a holiday. In the 19 months that we were in Libya, we hardly ever worked a full week because at least one day a week, something was found in the Koran to require the country to be on holiday.
In 1952, the United Nations declared Libya to be one of the three or four poorest countries in the world. They had exports of maybe 300,000 dollars each year. But then they discovered oil — not a little oil but more oil than anyone could imagine. Occidental Oil Company brought in the world’s single largest producing well in the desert of Libya — over 170,000 barrels of oil a day. The wealth was mind-boggling, and Libya quickly became a test case of what would happen if you gave a poor country all the money you could imagine it could ever have. Oil wells are not something that lead to democratic development in a country, and the United States also had a great deal to do with that. What I mean is this: the port of Tripoli could only handle four ocean freighters at a time, and offshore there would be, anchored, maybe 40 waiting to get in the port.  Running around the port were representatives of American oil companies trying to pay off the harbor managers to get the ships in.
The corruption was just rampant. You would see a new building going up and hear, “Oh, that’s being built by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs,” or “oh, that’s being built by the former Minister of Finance, that’s being built by the current Minister of Commerce.” The corruption was just everywhere, and there were constant rumors about potential overthrows. So of course, there were warning signs.
The Politic: What are the biggest ways in which Libya has changed since you departed from your post over forty years ago?
It changed vitally a year after we left Tripoli, when Gaddafi overthrew Idris. The country then went into a spiral of madness because Gaddafi was crazy. You guys are a little bit younger than me, but you certainly remember the killing of Gaddafi. This guy lasted for years. He came in probably 1969 and left power just two years ago. It was horrible. It was unpredictable. It was run by a group. There is no real central government in Libya. There is no central police force and no central authority. Gaddafi ruled the place by webbing together a network of plants ruled in one part or another of the country. It was unbelievable that ambassadors could even go to Benghazi.  Knowing that we had farmed out security there to a local warlord — that’s a risk beyond our ability to calculate. Ambassador Chris Stevens was doing the kind of work that I did, trying to set up an American corner or breeding room somewhere at a Libyan educational institution. You can’t do that kind of work without a basic knowledge of security or the likelihood is that you’re going to get killed. Why he was lured into believing that it was safe, I will never understand. I can’t understand it.
The Politic: We spoke with Ambassador [Marc] Grossman, a Yale professor, last week about a trend he had noticed in regard to embassies overseas. Embassies, be it Libya or Iraq or Pakistan, have moved toward a more fortress mentality, in that, for the obvious need of security, it has also come at the cost of cutting the embassy off from the people in the civilization around it. So I suppose my question for you is, especially in these troubled and dangerous security areas, how do you balance the need for security with the equally important need to integrate the American presence?
Gosende interview - Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. September 11, 2012
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. September 11, 2012
That’s what I was trying to answer in the earlier question. First of all, in Benghazi, there was no fortress to get by — it didn’t work at all. People got right in on the site, poured fuel on the fort, set it on fire, and suffocated Ambassadors inside the building. At one consulate, two security people were killed on the building’s roof. That consulate was also hardly a fortress — it was more of a wretched villa on a large compound, with maybe a little bit of barbed wire thrown up. There was no real security available, and there was inadequate personal security. It’s mind-boggling. So, yes — Marc Grossman speaks about how we have created fortresses all over the world to protect our diplomats and how we diplomats now live and work inside those fortresses. And, for all intents and purposes, diplomats are cut off from the people of the country in which they are serving. That is an absolutely horrible situation, and we need to get outside those fortresses and take reasonable risk. But what I’m saying about Benghazi is that the risk was unreasonable. It was beyond detail.
The Politic: You served in South Africa from 1970 to 1974 and then from 1983 to 1986. Could you describe the mood of the nation in the heat of apartheid? Is there a particular memory that stands out to you as encapsulating the country’s divisiveness at the time?
Yes. A couple of us are actually just now publishing a book that will come out in the fall calledOutsmarting Apartheid. It’s a series of interviews with people who served doing public diplomacy work in South Africa from 1970 until the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994. It tries to speak to what we were doing there and how we thought we were contributing to a democratic transition. First of all, about South Africa, I would say, however horrible things are now, they’re not nearly as bad as everyone predicted they would be. People regularly said there wouldn’t be peace in South Africa without bloodshed — that black people would try to kill all the white people. That didn’t happen. And when I first served in South Africa in 1970, I never believed that it would happen.
I always believed that the black people would peacefully work for change if given the opportunity to do so. And, thank goodness, in April 1994, they got that opportunity. They elected Nelson Mandela, the first black president, in elections that were almost completely free. That was a great success for South Africa — that they went through this change without violence. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it solved all of South Africa’s problems. They have a very small group of very wealthy people and a huge underclass, which they need to overcome, and I don’t know that they’re making the kind of progress they should be on that. Another thing that characterizes South Africa today is absolutely horrible security. It’s just unsafe in too many parts of the country. How did the country change? In the end, the Afrikaners were convinced that they couldn’t kill everybody and they couldn’t go on with apartheid. They realized, I think, that it was likely to lead to terrible violence.
The Politic: You served in Somalia from 1992 to 1993 as President Clinton’s special envoy, at which point you obtained the rank of ambassador. During this time, needless to say, there was a significant amount of strife, most commonly represented in the United States as the Battle for Mogadishu. Before we talk about your actual time in Somalia, could you speak a little about how you first found out you would be serving in this capacity and what your thought process was?
I had been working in the area of sub-Saharan Africa in the U.S. intelligence agency until the summer of 1992, and I was scheduled to open our embassy in Eritrea in the summer of 1993. Between the two summers, I was the fellow at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown. But in November of 1992, I got a phone call from a close friend of mine, who was a Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, calling from Addis Ababa. I was quite frankly thunderstruck — what I learned on the phone was that we were going to send two American divisions to Somalia. They were on the phone with me, asking me to go to Mogadishu at the beginning of summertime as Ambassador and press spokesman. I thought, oh my god. At the same time, I thought, You know, the Cold War’s over. This is the beginning of the new world order. And remember, I’m the guy who followed Kennedy’s appeal to do something for our country. If you join the Foreign Service, you sign a worldwide availability certificate. What that means is that you will go wherever they ask you to go, whenever they ask you to go there. So my answer was yes, I would of course go.
Initially, I was only supposed to go out there for two months during the winter break between semesters, because I was still scheduled to become Ambassador to Eritrea during the summer of 1993. The day I got back, though, I learned that the President was planning to make me a special envoy for Somalia. Ambassador Oakley had retired; he didn’t want to stay on in Mogadishu for a long period of time, and because he and I had worked together, he played a significant role in me being chosen as his successor. That delayed my assignment as Ambassador to Eritrea. And then, the way in which things played out in Somalia made it impossible for me to be appointed ambassador anywhere after that. What I mean is that Somalia was seen to have been a mistake pretty soon after Black Hawk was shot down. The administration wasn’t going to send my name up to the Senate Foreign Relations committee for confirmation for ambassadorship anywhere, because the first thing people would have asked was, “Oh, tell us — what’s going on in Somalia?” And the administration didn’t want to talk about that with Congress. The bureaucratic reality was that I wasn’t going to go on to be ambassador anywhere.
The Politic: With regards to Somalia, serving in a war-torn country must have necessitated, understandably, triage to a certain extent. What were your specific objectives while serving in Somalia?
The primary responsibility that my office had was to be the political section for the human intervention in Somalia. We knew Somalia better than anyone else who was in there; we had Somali language experts and understood the politics and land structure of the country. The main thing we could provide was that knowledge.
The Politic: Is there any single memory that stands out to you most from this assignment?
Somalia was the most difficult thing that I was ever asked to do in the Foreign Service. What stands out to me was how many people were killed. What stands out — what rings in your ears for the rest of your life — is the question of whether or not there was something we could have done differently that would have avoided so many people being killed. And I don’t mean only Americans — I mean Somalis, too. I guess what I learned is that, when war begins, war is the ultimate example of chaos. There will be military experts who will say “this is the tactic we were using,” but I have been in the army, and believe me, what was going on was chaos. The people who thought they knew what was going to happen next had no clue what was going to happen next. It was the least civil country we were in, and from the development point of view, it was totally destroyed. All of Somalia’s electricity and telephone wires were ripped out and sold for scrap. Can you imagine? Every single piece of development in the country was laid to waste, and that’s pretty much where it lies now. Somalia is still a failed state. There’ve been some murmurings now that things are changing. We are now setting up an embassy in the airport, but the country’s got some twenty years of absolute hell. Just hell.
The Politic: Moving out of Somalia, I would like to ask a question about your posting in the Foreign Service as the Minister Counselor for Press and Cultural Affairs and the Director of the U.S. Information Service in the Russian Federation from 1996 to 1998. So previously, you’d served in Warsaw during the heyday of the Soviet Union in the mid 70’s. I was curious if you could talk briefly about how Moscow was compared to your tenure in Warsaw.
Battle of Mogadishu, 1993
Battle of Mogadishu, 1993
It’s very hard to compare Moscow and Warsaw. The Poles would object whenever we would say they were part of the Eastern bloc — they would object to the term “Eastern” and the term “bloc.” They felt Warsaw was halfway between Paris and Moscow — in Central Europe. And they were right, of course. The Soviet era in Poland was very different from the same era in Russia; the Soviets were never able to digest the Poles, so comparing Poland and Russia isn’t terribly useful. Especially when we were in Warsaw from ’74 to ’78, at the end of things, Poles had absolute freedom of speech; you could say anything. You couldn’t write anything, but you could say anything.
Russia is a very different place. Once the Soviet yoke was off Russia, Russia was still Russia — an Eastern and not Central European country. Russia’s culture doesn’t come from the West, like Poland’s. There’s always been a tight relationship between the government and the church. Russia much more easily succumbs to a strong leader, whereas the Poles disintegrated as a nation because they couldn’t agree on one leader. In Poland, they had something in the 18th century, where all the principalities had to agree unanimously on one of them to be king. Because they could never agree on a king, they were stomped on between Russia, Germany, and Austria from 1792 until the end of WWI. One of the Fourteen Points was that there had to be a free and independent Poland. And these Poles were never going to stop revolting until they got an independent country back.
I’m not sure I’m answering the question, but after communism collapsed in Poland, it was fairly easy for a Western style democratic government to emerge in Poland because its culture had long been oriented towards the West. That’s certainly not the case in Russia. It’s not easy for a Western style government to emerge in Russia.
The Politic: From 2000 to 2010 you served as the Associate Vice Chancellor for International Programs of SUNY. What thoughts do you have about the value that universities place on international educational engagement?
They don’t place enough value on it. Listen to this statistic: when surveyed, 70 percent of rising high school seniors say that they want to study abroad during their undergraduate career. Do you know what the percentage is that actually end up studying abroad? It’s three. One, two, three. Now what does that tell you? What in Heaven’s name is going on? It would seem that what these students hear at home is not stopping them from wanting to go abroad. It would seem also that hearing from teachers and their colleagues in high school is not stopping them. I think the problem is at the colleges and universities. Because it’s almost impossible, unless a student really sticks to it and really chases it.
Now, Yale may be different in this regard; Yale may be special. But I doubt that the number of Yale students studying abroad approaches 70 percent — I doubt that very seriously. Nobody is really urging the students to do this. The faculty doesn’t want to hear about a student leaving for a semester. The administration doesn’t want to hear about a student leaving and not paying the tuition at Yale! It’s a business decision.
The Politic: I was hoping we could round things out with a series of a few rapid-fire response questions. To start things off, is there a single accomplishment or moment of your career of which you’re most proud?
I think the work that I did in South Africa during the run-up to the elections in 1994, in providing election assistance to the South African government, maybe was one of the most important things I ever did. Those elections came out marvelously well.
The Politic: Out of all the people with whom you have crossed paths during your career, is there one person with whom you’d share a final meal?
Nelson Mandela. We ended up working very closely with him. John Lewis — a Democratic Congressman, probably the most important living member of the United States Congress — started something called the Voter Education Program, which registered over two million black people to vote in the southern part of our country. When the Voting Rights Act was passed, he said the words, “Now the hard work begins. Now we have to get people to register to vote.” And that was one of the things we were concerned about in South Africa — would people actually go to the polls?
The Politic: If you were given the power, are there any elements of U.S. foreign policy that you would seek to change today?
Yes, and there’s an article that I want you to read — American Diplomacy and the Rule of Law, by Chas Freeman. The article is stunning, and he sums up exactly where I think we are. I’m just going to read a few pieces:
“Over the past decade or so, the United States has departed from the rule of law. It is no exaggeration to say that in many ways, this is the greatest menace our freedoms have ever faced . . . .
We must revive the Fourth Amendment’s ban on searches and seizures of person, houses, papers and other personal effects without probable cause . . . . We must reinstate the Fifth Amendment’s protections against deprivation ‘of life, liberty, or property without due process of law’ . . . . We must return to respect for the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of the right of anyone accused of a crime to be informed of the charges . . . . We must reinstate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of ‘cruel and unusual punishments,’ including torture. And we must reaffirm our adherence to the several Geneva Conventions. We Americans can have no credibility as advocates for human rights if we do not practice what we preach.
In short, the path to renewed effectiveness in American diplomacy lies not just in wise and dexterous statecraft and the professionalization of those who implement it abroad. It rests on the rebuilding of credibility through the rediscovery of the values that made our country great in the first place.”
The Politic: As a final question, is there any particular advice you would give to university students today?
Study abroad. I don’t know how to tell you how serious I am and how much you grow from this experience. First of all, you overcome a tremendous amount of parochialism. You can’t imagine how students live in other places, not only in Europe but also in parts of the developing world. This kind of exposure is so broadly necessary, regardless of what students end up doing in their professional lives.