New US Ambassador says ‘global health diplomacy’ is not just re-branding a stalled strategy | 

Nearly four years ago, the Obama Administration announced with great enthusiasm the launch of the Global Health Initiative, which it described as a “critical investment in a new, comprehensive global health strategy.”

Then, nothing much happened. Years went by with occasional bits of celebratory fireworks from Sec. of State Hillary Clinton about how important global health is and what leaders we Americans are — or rhetoric about new efforts to coordinate programs and improve efficiencies.

But the GHI never seemed to come together. The economic crisis and other issues appeared to dominate the Administration’s focus and global health mostly remained off the radar. Funding was maintained for the most part, but few saw much of any vision or coherent strategy.

Last summer, the Obama Administration announced it was closing the Global Health Initiative – by elevating it to a diplomatic tier. The response from the global health, aid and development community was (like this and this) largely: “Yeah, right.”

Eric Goosby, a well-known figure in HIV/AIDS circles as U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, was given the additional job of serving as the chief of the State Department’s new Office of Global Health Diplomacy. Today, the Kaiser Foundation held a fascinating discussion and Q&A with Goosby, who has the arguably difficult job of convincing many that the Obama Administration is actually going to do something this time.

I’m watching it now (catching up) and will provide some highlights later.

I should note that Goosby was asked if his new role as the US global health diplomat will include dealing with the deadly fall-out from the CIA pretending to be health workers, doing vaccinations, in Pakistan. Most agree that the Taliban’s latest practice of murdering of polio vaccinators is a direct result of this ill-advised scheme.

Goosby said the “White House is all over that issue already.” Really? How so?

Here is a brief take on Goosby’s talk by Science Speaks, which poses a number of other questions as to what Goosby actually meant. Some will be concerned about the vague rhetoric, so far a hallmark of the Obama Administration’s approach to global health. My question: Is ‘concretize’ a word?

America’s foreign policy skills crumbling, says leading diplomat | 

“Diplomats without language skills are like soldiers without bullets.”

Ronald E. Neumann

So says Ronald E. Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy and a man with a long career in foreign service, describing just one symptom of the sorry state of affairs that has resulted from the U.S. government’s long neglect of the country’s diplomatic corps and foreign policy apparatus.

Neumann speaks tonight in Seattle at the University of Washington’s Kane Hall, an event sponsored by the World Affairs Council. His main message, he told me, will be that the U.S. has let its diplomatic talent base and clout crumble for many years and that further cuts will only endanger us — and probably cost us much more in the long run.

In a study done a few years ago by his organization, Neumann and his colleagues found that nearly a third of all diplomats the U.S. had posted overseas lacked the language skills needed to converse in that country.

Imagine a diplomat in Egypt who doesn’t speak Arabic. Hmmm … maybe that explains why the Arab revolt in Egypt and throughout the Middle East blindsided even our political top brass? Continue reading

Wikileaks: Hillary Clinton told US diplomats to spy on UN | 

Flickr, by R_SH

Wikileaks' Julian Assange

By now, I assume you’ve heard that Wikileaks has released another batch of documents, this time regarding American diplomacy and foreign policy.

My two cents: Much of what I’ve read that’s been reported out of these leaked documents so far isn’t really too surprising: We learned someone in the U.S. government thinks Iran’s president is like “Hitler” and might be crazy, Pakistan’s intelligence service isn’t really on our side (duh!), that Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi have a “special relationship” (huh?) and China’s government did hack Google.

Some in the aid community are among those arguing, along with the embarrassed politicians, in defense of secrecy.

I’m sure the language revealed here is a bit embarrassing and may make for awkward moments at embassy socials, but most of this so far just seems like a raw dose of reality — peeling back the layers — rather than an expose of any great scandal.

One thing did catch my eye, however:

The leaked documents revealed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered U.S. diplomats to act as spies — work with the intelligence services to spy on their diplomatic colleagues, including our British allies and the United Nations leadership.

The Guardian has this story on the spying campaign and also printed out (online) an entire U.S. diplomatic document, which was written in 2009 as the “new National HUMINT (human intelligence) Collection Directive (NHCD) on the United Nations.”

Apparently, even global health, food and women’s issues were targets of this spy game:

G. Other Substantive Issues 1) Food Security (FOOD-3) 2) Climate Change, Energy, and Environment (ENVR-4) 3) Transnational Economic Issues (ECFS-4H) 4) Arms Control and Treaty Monitoring (ACTM-4) 5) Health Issues (HLTH-4) 6) Terrorism (TERR-5H) 7) Trafficking, Social, and Women’s Issues (DEPS-5H)

I’m sure many people will be outraged to learn that the Obama Administration is acting just like the Bush Administration.

But perhaps the UN brass should be happy to learn we think they are worth spying on. Most of the time, we (Americans) just hear about how useless and bureaucratic the UN has become. Looks like the government thought the UN was important enough to spy on, not to mention compromising our diplomatic integrity.

As for those like Scott Gilmore of Peace Dividend Trust who defend secrecy as a necessary tool to achieving noble ends, sure it can be at times. But that’s a slippery slope.