I spent the night outside the Donner Pass town of Truckee. After 12 days on the California coast, it was surprising to see there was still plenty of snow in late June. I took the sharp right north on I-80 into Nevada—past Reno, Fernley, and landed in God-forsaken Winnemucca, where I stayed in one of the hemisphere’s ugliest RV parks. After dinner at possibly the greasiest Mexican restaurant ever, I walked through downtown, which had the saddest little strip of casinos in the (...)
Ryan Crocker: Good Diplomat / Lousy Ambassador
The price tag for his “success” in Iraq was endless scandals
Sunday 1 May 2011, by
On April 28, 2011, President Obama announced that Ryan Crocker would be replacing Karl Eikenberry as U.S. Ambassador in Kabul. While the departure of the ineffective and largely invisible Eikenberry should be welcomed by all Afghans, his replacement arrives with a questionable record. Ryan Crocker’s tour as U.S. Ambassador in Iraq from March 2007 to March 2009, saw significant diplomatic successes, for which he should receive credit, but his failure as a manager led to a seemingly endless series of Embassy scandals, from the Blackwater mercenary scandal, to massive cost overruns on the new Embassy, to huge and wasteful Embassy overstaffing, to billions wasted on USAID development programs. This resulted in the overall failure of the civilian “surge” in Iraq. These failures were largely ignored by the mainstream media as they were overshadowed by the spectacular success of General Petraeus’ military surge.
Good diplomats are not necessarily good managers. In Iraq, Ryan Crocker seemed incapable of standing up to corrupt security contractors, an ineffective USAID, waves of politically connected Beltway Bandit consultants who were soaking up Iraqi aid funds, an abusive and careless Bureau of Diplomatic Security and a ponderous and inept State Department bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. The result was that Ambassador Crocker was directly or indirectly responsible for the largest waste of public funds in the history of the U.S. Department of State.
With the mainstream media singing the praises of Ambassador Crocker, this article seeks to counterbalance that by briefly highlighting just a few of the Crocker failings.
THE NEW U.S. EMBASSY IN BAGHDAD
The Bush Administration originally proposed to spend $595 million to construct a 21 building Embassy complex, creating a Vatican-type city in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Here American diplomats would live and work in a protective bubble separated from ordinary Iraqis. The Embassy was scheduled to open in June 2007. Instead the Embassy was opened by Ambassador Crocker on January 5, 2009, at a cost of more than $700 million. The delays were caused by shoddy blast wall construction, a defective fire suppression system and excessive formaldehyde fumes, among others defects. Responsibility for this debacle belongs to the prime contractor (First Kuwaiti), a fired subcontractor (Cosmopolitan, Inc.), the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, a State Department contract official named James L. Golden, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security which was the site manager and Ryan Crocker as Ambassador.
One of Ambassador Crocker’s contributions was a multimillion dollar change to the construction contract. He apparently wanted to provide General David Petraeus and his staff with offices in the Embassy’s Chancery Building, essentially turning the civilian embassy into a quasi military headquarters. This poorly thought-out decision made the Embassy a legitimate military target for Sunni and Shite rebels.
In October 2009, the State Department’s Inspector General recommended that the Government demand $132 million from First Kuwaiti due to overcharging and deficient performance. The report did not explain how such massive fraud could have occurred and it refused to demand that Ambassador Crocker or any other senior official be held responsible for their spectacular lack of oversight for this crucial project.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad hired Blackwater USA to be its security contractor. On September 16, 2007, a Blackwater convoy opened fire with no provocation on civilians in Nisoor Square in Baghdad, killing at least 17. This was not the first such incident by Blackwater guards. Despite that the Embassy had allowed Blackwater to operate convoys without direct oversight by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. The Bureau immediately released a SPOT Report #091607-1, drafted by Darren Hanner (Watch Officer) and approved by Ricardo Colon (DRSO) which supported Blackwater. The Report was issued without any apparent investigation. Ambassador Crocker should have immediately fired his senior diplomatic security managers but he instead apparently protected them. This mistake led to even more problems as Diplomatic Security agents at the Embassy then improperly pressured Blackwater suspects into giving statements about the incident. This misconduct derailed any prosecution of these suspects. Again, Ambassador Crocker took no apparent action against any of these security officials.
In July 2009, the State Department’s Inspector General released yet another audit report on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. It had been in the works for apparently a year. It revealed that the Embassy was massively overstaffed. The estimate was that as many as 600 of the 1200 State Department positions were unnecessary. With one study showing that it cost about $500,000 to deploy one U.S. official person to Iraq for a year (considering all the direct and indirect costs and expenses), the Embassy overstaffing was costing approximately $300 million per year. Ambassador Crocker must have known that he had twice as many officials in his Embassy as he needed, yet never apologized for his mismanagement and was never held accountable for this massive waste of public funds.
Every year of Ambassador Crocker’s reign as Ambassador in Iraq, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) issued audit reports lambasting the waste and mismanagement of billions of dollars in development contracts by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Iraq. Every year, Ambassador Crocker refused to publicly act against any of the culpable USAID officials and therefore every year the problems got worse. As Ambassador, Ryan Crocker can take credit for all diplomatic successes in the country (whether he had any involvement with them or not), but he also has to take the blame for all the failures and scandals.
THE FAILURE OF THE CIVILIAN SURGE
The end result of all of these scandals is that the civilian “surge” largely failed in Iraq. The U.S. military successfully distributed funds to members of the Sunni Awakening and other groups, effectively buying off the insurgents. In contrast the Embassy wasted billions on civilian development projects. The Embassy staffed Provincial Reconstruction Teams, but the staffing was largely superficial. Personnel were deployed in the field for tours that amounted to less than a year; few (if any) could speak Arabic and they all lived on U.S. military bases with no access to the Iraqi public. When they did venture off the base, they did so only in body armor and under heavy military or mercenary escort. The success of the military surge covered up for the dismal failure of the Embassy’s programs.
EMBASSY ALCOHOL PARTIES
When this author was working for the State Department in 2008, he was briefed that officials and contractors at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad consumed huge volumes of alcohol each month. The State Department had the data because it was overseeing all the supplies being shipped to the facility. The amounts were so staggering that the Department refused to publicly release them. This author met State Department officials leaving for Iraq and the main topic of conversation was the planning of Green Zone parties. This alcohol use by diplomats was occurring and continues to occur in Iraq and Afghanistan while U.S. military members are banned from all alcohol. U.S. soldiers fight and die in the field while U.S. diplomats party in Baghdad and Kabul. Ambassador Ryan could have changed this sordid behavior in Iraq but he refused to do so and by all accounts he still refuses to ban alcohol use and abuse in his new post in Kabul.
This is only the tip of the iceberg regarding Ambassador Crocker’s failures as a manager, as an executive, and ultimately as Ambassador. There are many incidents that should be explored in his confirmation hearings, including his bizarre “banishing” of “James L. Golden” from Iraq. Mr. Golden was supervising the construction for the State Department of the new Embassy construction. Despite his ouster from the country, he remained the project manager, which has not been explained. There are also questions raised about why politically connected State Department contractor Louis Berger Group has not been debarred, along with dozens of other favored consultants who continue to receive multi-million dollar contracts for “development” work of dubious merit.
Ryan Crocker has not provided any hint that he has reformed. He has never apologized for his stunning management failures in Iraq. He has not promised to stand up to the State Department’s bureaucracy and he refuses to enforce accountability against irresponsible Embassy officials. His tenure in Afghanistan is likely to see more scandals, more negative audit reports, a continuing failure of the civilian surge there and billions more in Afghan aid funds wasted or siphoned off by the same politically connected consultants Crocker championed in Iraq (who have now followed the money to Afghanistan).
The only way the U.S. Senate should confirm Crocker is if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also sends to the Senate her nominee for Deputy Chief of Mission in Kabul. It cannot be another “distinguished” senior diplomat toady. It should be someone akin to the skill and personality of the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Someone who is more concerned about the success of the mission than about their pathetic careers. Someone who will kick butt, stand up to the State Department’s bureaucracy and actually fire people and consultants who fail to meet the highest standards. Someone who will ban alcohol use by U.S. Embassy employees, require all diplomats to learn Dari or Pashto and insist on two-year tours for all diplomats and contract employees so that they can bond with their Afghan counterparts.
U.S. diplomats need to be pushed out of their bubble-Embassy and military forts and begin working in the countryside. Short tours, fear of the Taliban, a refusal to arm diplomats and a glaring lack of language skills have all had a debilitating effect on the civilian surge.
The U.S. Department of State has to change its current position that “Failure is an Option in Afghanistan.” It cannot rely on the U.S. military to bail it out in Afghanistan as the military did in Iraq. It is not enough for Ryan Crocker to be a skilled diplomat. The American people need a strong and decisive Ambassador in Kabul who can competently managed all the precious financial resources that the hard-pressed American taxpayers are donating to the Afghan people and who can finally force abusive security contractor ArmorGroup NA out of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and Blackwater out of its consulate contract in Herat.
If we cannot locate an Ambassador with all the necessary skills, then a team of officials need to be assembled who can (together) perform this job.