Notebook, 13 May 2011: Washington Whitewash. . . Updated

Somethings are hard to do, but I cannot let this one go unremarked.

Let me first of all commend (yes, commend, you read that right) the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, a body I’ve frequently held in the deepest disrepute, for holding a hearing this week on the Peace Corps at 50, and mostly concerned with the conduct of the Peace Corps regarding the safety of volunteers overseas. My praise, however isn’t unqualified, for the hearing was prompted by a story which appeared from 20/20 about the criminally shabby treatment of rape victims by the Peace Corps:

A Peace Corps volunteer who says she became pregnant after a Peace Corps employee raped her alleges that Peace Corps officials forced her to make a choice: get an abortion or quit the organization.

“I was not pro-choice until that moment,” said Carol Clark, now a schoolteacher in North Carolina, who says she was devastated that the organization she trusted treated her so callously.

Clark says she has come forward to tell her story after more than 25 years because of an ABC News “20/20” report about former Peace Corps volunteers who allege that they were mistreated by the Peace Corps after they were victims of sexual assault while serving overseas.

Witness testimony details rape victims being abandoned, mistreated by supposed care providers and told to keep quiet about their experiences while serving as Peace Corps volunteers.

Evidently, this has been standard Peace Corps practice for decades and like I said, criminal. Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams ought to lose his post in disgrace for not addressing this ongoing situation, but committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (told you this was hard) did the right thing by holding a full committee hearing on the subject.

Another prized American institution shows rot at the core, so let’s hope the needed reform results.


In a seemingly unrelated story, it seems like everywhere in Washington is engaged in poor damage control practice, as reported by Tom Ricks’ post at Foreign Policy, Negligent discharges: One subject the military really doesn’t like to talk about:

Here’s an amazing number that I had never seen before: Since the beginning of the U.S. operation in Iraq, more than 90 U.S. military personnel have been killed there by negligent weapons discharges. Yet I can barely remember seeing official references to the phenomenon. You can be openly gay in the military, but negligent discharges are still pretty much closeted. Here, Billy Birdzell does some asking and telling about the ND problem.

(Emphasis his.)

The Pentagon prefers to call them “accidental” in an effort to misdirect the fact that people who are given guns need to take responsibility to see they are handled properly. Of course, it’s not just the armed forces, but police and private gun owners as ND is the 9th leading cause of accidental death in the US. Surely, proper training and enforcement should avoid incidents like this:

During OIF II, a USMC helicopter pilot accidentally shot and killed himself in the ready room while spinning his pistol on his finger like John Wayne.

Training and the strict enforcement of firearm discipline should be a no brainer, yet we see that someone highly trained and trusted with a multi-million dollar helicopter weapons system indulging in cowboy fantasy.

Would issuing worry beads and/or rosaries instead for those needing to twiddle something be too much to ask?


CYA is neither a healthy lifestyle, good organizational practice nor a viable national policy alternative, and yet, its endemic and possesses a longstanding pedigree, as we recall from the US Army’s “investigation” about the battle of Wanat in 2008, about which Ricks has remained refreshingly seized of the matter. Very good reporting from Ricks there. I can highly recommend the time spent reviewing it.


This is big news, though I don’t quite know what to make of it: Middle East Envoy George Mitchell is resigning.

A man whom I have a great deal of respect for, I suspect the 77 year old ex-Senator and diplomat who has spent the last few years bouncing from Israelis to Palestinians in an effort just to get them to talk to one another has reached some sort of conclusion about his prospects for success versus the personal cost. I have heard nothing of this one way or the other, but I hope his health is ok.

What I get from this news is the sinking feeling that Mitchell has reached the conclusion that there is no progress to be made no matter what. I may be projecting, as I’ve made it no secret that I have not held out any hope for progress for quite some time. Certainly none since Bibi’s return to power and the rise of Avigdor Lieberman, which I feel sealed the fate of the peace process. It is my belief that no matter where negotiations stand, no matter what concessions Palestinians made, Israel would move the goalposts, and pressure from the Israel lobby would force the US to support Jerusalem. Yeah, I know that for some, that last phrase will seem over the top, but events in the last two weeks have convinced me otherwise.

UPDATE: It seems my pessimism is shared. As Blake Hounshell writes at FP’s Passport blog:

What’s amazing is not Mitchell resigned, but that he hung in there so long. As my colleague Josh Rogin reports, Mitchell has long been marginalized: The Israelis weren’t interested in meeting him, and his own ostensible colleague in the White House, longtime peace-processor Dennis Ross, developed his back channel to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The NYT article agrees, impling that Bibi would rather deal through his own special envoy to the US, Zalman Shoval. What a mess.

However, I wish all the best to George Mitchell and thank him for his efforts.


Speaking of those we should praise for remaining seized of the matter, are the Great Orange Satan bloggers who Witness Revolution, who have thus far published 187 diaries devoted to the Arab Spring uprisings. I can think of no better source overview on developments than this series.

Consider that, were these bloggers in Bahrain, they’d be facing arrest and execution right now.


Finally, Stephen Walt pauses to consider just how far we’ve come since 1990 and raises the $64,000 question in foreign policy circles these days: In the war of American decline, should we fight battles at home or abroad? A topic I’ve given some thought to in the last few years. Stay tuned.


Ah, one last thing. It’s time to acknowledge the Pentagon’s crowning achievement. They are the world’s finest PR agency. I imagine some general got a phone call, maybe a text, around 10:30 the night of May 1st, telling him to get to a TV. Were I really cynical, I’d imagine this officer was taken aside and told to prepare his department for a major action which needs instant action.

Time for the Pentagon PR department to take the high ground.

So less than two weeks later, the Pentagon is ready to announce a “second by second” account of the storming of Osama bin Laden’s compound, courtesy of Discovery Communications LLC and the Pentagon (what a team), and scheduled to air at 10:00 PM on Monday, on The Military Channel.”

A unit citation is probably in order. That was fast work.

For the PR department, sure, but let’s not forget Discovery Communications LLC with that unit citation.

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