The Daily Demarche
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Enough, Joel. Can you help, or not?
Joel Mowbray has a bone to pick with the State Department. From his columns with National Review On Line to his book “Dangerous Diplomacy” and now with TownHall.com and other electronic forums it is clear that there is something about State that just rubs him the wrong way. I have often read his columns and agreed with his central theme, but wondered at the bitter tone.

On Valentines Day he posted a column at Town Hall entitled “Condi’s tough road ahead.” In this piece he made much of two issues: a 2003 report on democracy and dominoes in the Middle East and his all time favorite theme, visa issuance, in support of his theme that State is filled with people who are willing to sell out America in order to prove the Bush doctrine wrong.

Regarding the report (which I have not seen) Mowbray says the following:

Sometimes, though, State battles Bush more directly. On February 26, 2003, the State Department released a report—which was leaked to the LA Times—called “Democracy Domino Theory: Not Credible.” On the same day, Bush laid out his vision for, well, a democracy domino theory in the Arab world.

A simple Google search for the article from the LA Times revealed that the title of the report in question is actually "Iraq, the Middle East and Change: No Dominoes", while “Democracy Domino Theory: Not Credible” is the title of the L.A. Times article. Mowbray made the same mistake last June when he referred to the report by the title of the L.A. Times article, in not one article, but two. One has to wonder, did he even read the L.A. Times article?

Based only on my own reading of the Mowbray piece and the L.A. Times article I have defend the writers of the report. If the research and analysis that they completed led to the conclusions that "Liberal democracy would be difficult to achieve," and "Electoral democracy, were it to emerge, could well be subject to exploitation by anti-American elements" than it is their duty to report that. Policy makers than must take the report into account when considering their options. Such reports are meant to provide background and analysis, not to rubber-stamp anyone’s plan or central idea.

Who in their right mind thought liberal democracy would be easy to achieve, anyway? I never heard the President or any other elected official state that. As for exploitation by anti-American elements, that is always the risk with electoral democracies. We are looking to establish democracies, not puppets. Once democracy is established it is up to us to work to overcome anti-American sentiments.

When it comes to Consular Affairs Mowbray has long had it in for the Bureau of Consular Affairs and Assistant Secretary Maura Harty. From the Town Hall piece referenced at the top:

But on her most important task—preventing terrorists from again exploiting ridiculously lax visa polcies—Harty has failed. Consular training has not been beefed up, and her subordinates at Consular Affairs still believe the customer they serve is foreign visa applicants. Worst of all, the country that sent us 15 of 19 terrorists still receives the red carpet treatment. Nearly 90% of all Saudi nationals applying for visas receive them—a far higher figure than almost anywhere else in the Arab world.

I have no idea what the issuance rate is in Saudi Arabia, he may be correct on that point. The rest of that paragraph, however, is hogwash. No one, not a single Consular officer, believes that serving visa applicants is more important than weeding out the bad guys. Consular staff numbers have increased and training has been greatly expanded. I urge you to read the “Statement of Maura Harty to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon The United States” for a glimpse at how A/S Harty and Consular Affairs view the role of consular work in the war on terror.

I would also remind Mr. Mowbray and the rest of the world that Consular Affairs (CA) and Consular officers, especially in the non-immigrant visa (NIV) sections around the world, work within a framework of laws established by the Congress and validated by the President. These very same members of Congress put unbelievable pressure on Consular officer around the world to issue visas important to their constituents- to the point that you can find form letters to get help with visa problems on some Congressional web sites (of course some are better than others). It is drilled into each and every FSO that relations with Congress (the keepers of the purse) are vital, as a result many officers are loath to deny a visa case that a Congressman has asked for assistance in. This is one of the dirty little secrets of the NIV world, and should be the real target of “investigative journalists” like Mowbray. If the immigration system is broken (and I think it largely is) it is the lawmakers that are to blame.

I challenge Mr. Mowbray to offer some constructive criticism, an idea or two, that CA could pursue to tighten visa security if he wants to continue to push for reform at State. He is certainly free to express his opinions; he is after all an opinion columnist. I for one, however, would like to see some evidence that he is researching his pieces and perhaps a little less vitriol. Smiley and I refer to ourselves as part of the Republican Underground, but when we do so we are not implying that there is an element in the Department of State which is actively countering the President. Are there those who did not vote for the President? Sure there are. Is there opposition to some policies? Without a doubt, even I don’t blindly follow the lead of the President. Is that healthy? How could it not be?

We are not supposed to be an echo chamber for the administration. Occasionally we are going to offer opinions that differ from what the White House expects. That is what they pay us to do. I have yet to meet anyone in this job, from a blue state or a red state, who does not care deeply for the United States of America. You couldn’t do this job if that were the case. Mr. Mowbray has made his name and reputation as an outspoken, even shrill, detractor of the State Department. UNfortunatelt he has been beating the same drum for so long he now sounds like any other extremist. The time for sloganeering and pandering to the "blame it on State" crowd is past. What we need now are fresh ideas and legitimate, constructive criticism. Mr. Mowbray, can you deliver?
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dé·marche 1) A course of action; a maneuver. 2) A diplomatic representation or protest 3) A statement or protest addressed by citizens to public authorities.

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