U.S. diplomats’ influence at home

On this week’s episode of Conversations with Nicholas Kralev, we discuss the role career diplomats play in making U.S. foreign policy, and why presidents tend to distrust the Foreign Service, with James Jeffrey, former ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, and Avis Bohlen, former assistant secretary of state for arms control.

Are U.S. embassies fronts for the CIA?

On this week’s episode of “Conversations with Nicholas Kralev,” former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte talks about how diplomacy and intelligence influence each other, the frequent tension between them, whether U.S. embassies are fronts for the CIA, and the “WMD fiasco” in Iraq.

Ambassadorship to Russia goes political

“Going political” is a phrase used in the U.S. Foreign Service to indicate career diplomats’ frustration that yet another ambassadorship has been taken from them and given to a political appointee. For 20 years, the post in Russia has been reserved for professionals because of its difficulty and sensitivity — but that’s about to change.

Although President Obama’s decision to nominate Michael McFaul as the next U.S. ambassador to Moscow, which the White House announced late last week, surprised many in the Foreign Service, it’s unlikely to be met with serious criticism. Despite my recent series of critical columns on political ambassadors, I have no reason to question Obama’s motives in this case, either.

Why are political ambassadors tolerated?

President Obama is a very smart and highly intelligent man who knew more about the world than most presidential candidates do before taking office. So why did he appoint a political ambassador whose tenure has been nothing short of a disgrace, just because she was a significant contributor to his election campaign?

There are some excellent political appointees, but Cynthia Stroum, ambassador to Luxembourg, wasn’t one of them. She was forced to resign last week, following a scathing report of her management style and the damage she did to her embassy by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

Where are my ex-secretaries of state?

I began the week reminiscing about my travels with four secretaries of state, so I thought I’d end it by answering another question I’m frequently asked: What happened to the three secretaries I covered before Hillary Clinton? Starting with the most recent, they are Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright.

I’ve also been asked often about the differences between those former chief U.S. diplomats, especially during travel. I usually point out an obvious similarity among them first: None of them is a white male. In fact, the last secretary to fit that description was Warren Christopher, who left office in January 1997, when Albright ended the centuries-old tradition.

Obama keeps distance from tribunal

A pushback from the military and a skeptical secretary of defense have dashed the hopes of some Obama administration officials for closer cooperation with a global war-crimes tribunal that some fear could prosecute American service members, current and former U.S. officials say.

Although the United States has rejoined the meetings of the International Criminal Court (ICC) member states after an eight-year absence, it has taken little new action to work more closely with the court. In fact, many international legal analysts argue that there was a more significant change in U.S. policy toward the ICC from the first to the second term of President George W. Bush than there has been since President Obama took office last year…

U.S. downplays extremism in foreign outreach

The Obama administration is shifting the focus of U.S. public diplomacy efforts to play down the past emphasis on countering violent extremism in order to avoid offending foreign audiences opposed to terrorism.

Judith A. McHale, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, said in an interview with The Washington Times that “a very narrow segment” of the world’s population is at risk of turning to extremism, and the policies adopted by the Bush administration should be broadened. “Looking back, there was such a focus on countering violent extremism that everything got swept into the same category or the same bucket,” Ms. McHale said.

U.S., EU face off over travel, again

Why is it that most major disputes between the United States and the European Union have to do with travel? First it was the war between Boeing and Airbus, then the furor over personal passenger data, and now it’s a new fee Washington is about to impose on visa-free travelers to the United States.

It was stunning to read a public statement by the EU’s top diplomat in Washington earlier this month that was anything but diplomatic and compared America to Alice’s Wonderland. It seems the Europeans have had it. They can’t quite understand why Washington is so intent on making traveling to America more difficult for them year after year, coming up with one policy or requirement after another…

Press ready for Obama, Clinton travel

The arrival of a new administration in Washington signifies different things to different people, and for some of us it means that we’ll have new travel companions for the next four years. It looks like we in the diplomatic press corps will be sharing a plane with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

People often roll their eyes when I tell them that traveling around the world with the secretary of state is not that glamorous, but the waning months of an administration are a case in point. Reporters are happiest when they cover good stories, and it has been a while since a trip by Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s chief diplomat — or by Mr. Bush, for that matter — created real excitement among the press corps.

Ups and downs of diplomatic life

Carol Hazzard was a 20-year-old secretary at the University of Buffalo in 1969, but the life she dreamed about was far removed from the monotony of upstate New York. “My only goal in life was to travel and see the world,” she recalled recently.

One night, her mother asked her to go to the corner grocery store for some milk, and on her way there, she ran into her old high-school basketball coach, who was working as a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines.

Ms. Hazzard thought such a job would help her realize her dream of traveling. But the former coach was not enthusiastic about recommending her new profession to others. Instead, she advised Ms. Hazzard that she could see the world while continuing to work as a secretary…