About the site: This blog started as a place to house poems, favorites and original poems. Towards the end of ModPo 1, I added a blogroll of blogs showcasing poetic works by ModPo students and friends. Now, we are entering the 10th year of ModPO, and we continue this tradition. We hope it provides a useful place for repose, reflection and reading. Hope you enjoy your visit here and look forward to seeing you again. New poems, links and blogs are constantly being added and updated.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Farewell to Luanda
Farewell to Luanda
Dear friends and colleagues,
We are packing out and already I am
missing this sad, strange place.
Luanda. No place like it. No place like it in this world.
Coming down with malaria is a pain that
I won’t miss. Nor will I miss that
illness we get from time to time that fakes out the malaria test. The locals call it catolotolo, while I call
it total physical misery. But I will
miss the peaceful sunsets and late dinners out on the ilha, the hypnotizing
popular music, dancing (more like watching them dance) the kizomba and the
high-fives shared when one hits that out-of-sync step with rhythmic
I’ll miss the taste of zindungo (a
spicy sauce made from peppers, garlic and whiskey), the smooth harshness of
Angolan coffee, the sweetness of overripe pineapple sold at inflated prices by
the women on the street who swear it will last until tomorrow, and the
bitter-sweetness of gimboa (a type of local greens) fried with onions and olive
oil. More than anything else, though,
I’ll miss the effusive, infectious enthusiasm of our FSN employees, their
willingness to learn, their professional dedication and loyalty.
The war, which resumed in earnest two years
ago, continues in earnest. The rebels
continue to wreck havoc and random mayhem in the distant and not-so-distant
provinces. The government continues to
blame the rebels and, by extension, the war for all the ills of the
kleptocratic society it leads. Luanda’s
majority continues its struggle to survive and overcome desperate, oppressive
poverty. Luanda’s privileged elite
continues to revel in opulent, ostentatious wealth. International oil companies continue to
discover and suck out black gold, Texas tea, like there’s no tomorrow. And then there are diamonds. Diamonds are forever. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Diamonds.
Y’all know the rest of that story.
The American Embassy continues its bifurcated operation in the Miramar
trailer park and on top of the downtown garage known as Casa Inglesa. Continuity, for better or for worse, is
Luanda’s most obvious constant. The
strong get stronger, the weak go further off track. Or, if corruption empowers, then absolute
corruption empowers absolutely.
Angola diz basta, Angola quer paz.
Angola vai vencer. Or so says the steady
flow of local media propaganda. Angola
says enough. Angola wants peace. Angola shall win. An associate with party connections gave me
the red, black and gold t-shirt that repeats the mantra. That makes it so.
The NOB didn’t start on time and may or
may not start in the foreseeable future.
While I am buoyed by our accomplishments of the past two years, I am a
little disappointed over the NOB delays and the failed prospect of being
personally involved in yet another building project in yet another former
Portuguese colony. Never mind. A luta continua e vitoria é certa
(translation: the struggle continues and victory is certain).
We are coming up on two years of official
USG presence in Angola in the post-Cold War era (1992-2002). I am soliciting information, anecdotes,
photographs, etc. from folks who have served in Luanda, and from PMO’s, FBO
Area Managers and desk officers who have paid Angolan dues, so to speak. While talking with people in Luanda and in
Washington, I’ve made interesting discoveries regarding the colonial-era Luanda
consulate and its employees (1952-1975) and the Benguela and Luanda consulates
that supported US Navy ships (the African Squadron) involved in slave trade
interdiction efforts in the 1840’s and 1850’s.
Keep those cards and letters coming and let’s all meet for a big
birthday bash in Luanda in 2002!
They got it all wrong on Benghazi
“You are taking this all too personally, Raymond. It is not about you, it is about Hillary
Clinton and 2016.”Those words were uttered by the State Department ombudsman in January
2013 in an apparently well-intentioned
attempt to simultaneously admonish and console me. Her assessments probably were right, but when
you are run over by the bus it is difficult to appreciate that it was swerving
to avoid somebody else.
The attack on our diplomatic facilities
in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012 and the resulting deaths of four U. S.
government representatives were horrific.
The American people deserve a complete and accurate account of those
events. However, the investigation
conducted by the State Department’s Benghazi
Accountability Review Board (ARB) into the events was woefully incomplete and
consequently misleading. Perhaps most
importantly, the ARB failed to interview a number of key officials who had a
direct role in decisions regarding Libya. Among the officials not interviewed by the ARB
were three high-level political appointees:
Thomas Nides, Deputy Secretary of State and the official with overall
responsibility for management of Department resources in Libya; Andrew Shapiro,
Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs and the Department’s point person for ensuring (to the extent possible) appropriate
employment of the thousands of US-provided shoulder-launched surface-to-air
missiles in Libya; and Ben Fishman, the National Security Council (NSC)
Director for Libya.
Also limiting the ARB’s investigation was the fact that the Board, despite its claims to
having unfettered access to documentation, experienced –perhaps unknowingly –the same problems
gaining access to emails, memos and similar materials that Congressional
committees later faced. The Board’s difficulty in gaining access to information was not accidental, it
was by design. When the ARB issued its
call for documents, the executive directorate of the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) was placed in charge of
collecting all emails and other relevant documents. However, once the documents were gathered and
boxed, a select group of NEA staffers spent a weekend in a basement operations
center pouring through the entire collection.
I was not invited to that after-hours endeavor, but I heard about it and
decided to check it out on a Sunday afternoon.
There, one of the staffers from NEA’s Office of Maghreb
Affairs explained the operation to me. “Ray,”she said, “we are to go through these stacks and pull out anything that might put
anybody in the NEA Front Office (i.e., Assistant Secretary Beth Jones or Deputy
Assistant Secretary (DAS) Elizabeth Dibble) or the 7th Floor (State Department
short-hand for the Secretary of State and her principal advisors) in a bad
light.”“But isn’t that unethical?” I asked. “Ray,”she responded, “those are our orders.”A few minutes
later, in walked Cheryl Mills, chief of staff to Secretary of State Clinton,
and Jake Sullivan, another trusted Clinton advisor. When Cheryl saw me she snapped, “Who are you?”Jake explained, “That’s Ray Maxwell, an
NEA DAS.”She conceded, “Well, OK.”A few minutes later I voted with my feet and returned home.
Despite its claims to being independent,
the ARB was anything but. Sworn
Congressional testimony revealed that ARB co-chair Admiral Michael Mullen made
phone calls to Cheryl Mills to report on the fitness of a potential
Congressional witness who had been interviewed by the ARB. When questioned about that September 2013
testimony, ARB co-chair Ambassador Thomas Pickering said he would not have “said that.”His response was carefully parsed diplo-speak. What he did not say was that he would not
have “done that.”Because of the casualness of the remark
that Admiral Mullen made and the oblique reference Ambassador Pickering made to
it, we have every reason to believe that communications between the ARB and the
Secretary’s staff was on-going during the ARB
process. Even if contact occurred only
that one time, that is NOT being independent.
Despite claims to impartiality, several
officials involved in the Benghazi ARB, and in the overall damage control
process following the events of September 2012, had possible tracks to cover from
previous fatal attacks of U. S. diplomatic facilities, specifically the
bombings of the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam,
Tanzania, in 1998. In the 1998 East
Africa bombings, 224 lives were lost, including those of twelve Americans. Susan Rice, currently President Obama’s National Security Advisor and the U.S. Ambassador to the United
Nations in 2012, was Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in 1998
and consequently in the direct chain of command that declined then-Ambassador
to Kenya Prudence Bushnell’s request of
additional security funding. ARB
co-chair Thomas Pickering was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in
1998, also in that chain of command.
Dick Shinnick, a member of the Benghazi ARB committee, in 1998 was
then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s Executive
Director. Current Under Secretary of
State for Management Patrick Kennedy was the acting Under Secretary for
Management in 1998. I remember those
officials and their positions in 1998 because I was a watch stander in the
State Department’s Operations Center in 1998 and was on
watch the night of the bombings. No-one
was held accountable in 1998, which generated increased pressure to assign
responsibility and name names after the Benghazi attack.
Lest we forget, our facility in Benghazi
was not a consulate. That would have
required Congressional approval and direct funding. In fact, the U. S. government presence in
Benghazi was not primarily a State Department operation at all. It was, as has been reported widely in the
media, a CIA operation. Did the ARB
question why the CIA did not provide better security? Was anybody from the CIA held accountable? Was anybody from the CIA even interviewed by
the ARB? No, no and no.
Finally, the ARB report completely let
Congress off the hook, assigning no specific blame to Congress for the security
funding decisions it had made. Almost
certainly, this aspect of the ARB report was specifically designed to persuade
members of Congress to find the report’s findings
palatable. It worked. The chairperson of the House Foreign Affairs
Committee at the time of the report’s release focused
solely on the status of the four people named in the classified section of the
report. “Why can’t they be fired?”she asked. “What is being done to discipline them?”she demanded. Never did she ask, “Did they receive due process?”Or even, “Are we sure the findings are correct?”State Department
political leadership played Congress like the hard-to-tune viola I played in my
Let’s face facts and
call the Benghazi ARB by its proper name.
It was a disgrace. It perpetrated
a disservice to the memory of the U.S. officials who lost their lives on
September 11, 2012. The ARB inquiry was,
at best, a shoddily executed attempt at damage control, both in Foggy Bottom
and on Capitol Hill. I am confident that
history ultimately will judge the ARB report to be a flawed product and will
conclude that the entire ARB process, unfortunately, was little more than an
exercise in misdirection and political theatrics.