February 10, 2011

There may be a silver lining to the brief and disastrous tenure of Obama campaign donor Cynthia Stroum as ambassador to Luxembourg, who resigned last month after less than a year on the job.

For one thing, her departure two weeks ago - just days before a blistering "inspection report" by State Department Deputy Inspector General Harold W. Geisel was made public - heartened the career Foreign Service folks and signaled that even well-heeled political appointees, oft perceived to be immune from discipline even when they behave very badly, can be called on it.

And Stroum, a venture capitalist from Seattle, wasn't just any run-of-the-mill fundraiser/contributor. We're talking mega here, bundling at least $500,000 for the 2008 campaign and $300,000 for the inauguration, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The IG's report detailed and sharply criticized what it called Stroum's "abusive management style." How bad was it? So bad that some staffers either quit or wanted to be transferred to Iraq and Afghanistan. Beautiful Baghdad or Kabul vs. staying in leafy, lovely Luxembourg, a short commute to Paris? Can't get much worse than that.

Most foreign policy observers are familiar with those traditionally mind-numbing IG reports, talking about embassy carpools, computer systems, building conditions and such. But the inspector general also does what's called the Inspector's Evaluation Report (IER), a "report card" on the ambassador and the No. 2 official, the deputy chief of mission. These are not made public.

Career employees complain that, for many years, negative evaluations sent to the White House for the 50 or so political ambassadors most often seem to disappear into the void. But this time the State Department - presumably with White House sign-off - moved with dispatch.

Department officials called her in shortly after the IG's assessment circulated internally in December, we were told. Stroum flew back to attend a meeting at Foggy Bottom with her attorney and senior department officials. About three weeks later, on Jan. 13, she publicly announced, "with some regret," her resignation, saying she needed "to focus on my family and personal business."

The good news is that the IG's report was a major topic of a recent training session for Foreign Service officers, who, we hear, were very encouraged by it.

A different climate

Enviros and their Democratic allies are sure to pick apart Newt Gingrich's energy policy speech Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference here. But the former House speaker also seems to be taking flak from climate-change deniers.

One of them, Myron Ebell, director of an outfit called Freedom Action, fired off an e-mail labeling as "incoherent" Gingrich's address, in which he called for abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency.

Ebell, somewhat unkindly, reminds us not to "forget Newt Gingrich's television ad with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on behalf of Al Gore's We Can Solve It campaign to enact cap-and-trade and other energy-rationing policies."

For those who'd forgotten, Ebell supplies a handy YouTube link.

Oh, dear, it's that ad with Pelosi and Gingrich sitting together on a couch in front of the Capitol talking about the need to act on climate change.

Palling around with Pelosi, huh? Well, in all fairness, that promo was made almost three years ago. Times change.

The pyramids can wait

The crowds in Tahrir Square in Cairo in recent days were getting bigger, the tourist crowds were getting smaller, and the Hosni Mubarak regime seemed to be crumbling quickly.

But the Commerce Department, taking no chances, canceled the Egyptian leg of a U.S. trade mission to Morocco and Egypt, which had been scheduled for the end of March.

These trade missions, most often led by the Commerce Department, usually feature heads of leading U.S. companies looking to begin or expand or at least learning about business abroad.

The volatile situation in Egypt made a visit there impossible to plan, a U.S. Commercial Service official told Government Security News. "We don't know who we'd be meeting with in Egypt and we don't know how long they will be in place," said the official, Anne Novak.

Besides, most of the U.S. personnel in Egypt, the people who would set up the meetings with Egyptian officials and business folks, have left the country, she said.

Well, hold on to the early drafts of that itinerary. Mubarak said Thursday that he was going to stay until September, but it may not take all that long to sort things out.

That map again . . .

Several Loop Fans have called and written to express concern that a West Wing floor map in Wednesday's column appears to have deputy White House counsel/solicitor general nominee Don Verrilli trapped in a doorless office.

Some suggested maybe he escapes through a hidden stairway down to Pete Rouse's office on the first floor or maybe does some Spider-Man maneuver.

One reader in Springfield said folks there were "trying to organize a fund-raising effort in our neighborhood for money for carpenters to put a door in Mr. Verrilli's office."

At ease. We have found the door. (Actually, it was faintly visible on the online version of the graphic but didn't make it to the print version. The door opens into the reception area across from White House Counsel Bob Bauer's office.)

And yes, the offices of deputy chiefs of staff Nancy DeParle and Alyssa Mastromonaco were flipped in the print edition. DeParle has the somewhat larger office closer to Chief of Staff Bill Daley's office.

On the move

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, most recently special envoy to Sudan, which is in the process of splitting into two countries, has been tapped by the White House to be ambassador to Kenya.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.