Disabled protesters spark security scare in Kabul

Al Kamen
Columnist August 16, 2011

Seemed for a while that the security situation in Afghanistan was improving. But then we got this e-mail Monday about an “anti-government demonstration” from a U.S. Agency for International Development official, warning of potential danger.

The memo, from James Hanlon of USAID, was addressed to “AlCON,” or all concerned.

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

“70 disabled people are gathered at the Freedom Circle in Kabul to hold an anti-government demonstration,” Hanlon said, and, as a result, “Significant traffic delays are expected at Freedom and Massoud traffic circles.”

“Those operating in and around the Kabul area,” he warned, should “expect long delays and extended periods of exposure” — that’s the key risk — “while stuck in traffic jams.” The security team “recommends that travel be restricted to mission essential until the protest ends.”

Such “flash” reports, the e-mail says, are designed to provide embassy folks and others with information “regarding security or of a hostile threat-related nature.”

Some people might dismiss the notion of a threat from disabled protesters, but those of us from Ohio recall that President William McKinley was shot by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist from Alpena, Mich., who hid a pistol in a handkerchief wrapped around his supposedly injured hand.

A clean, well-lighted place

It’s not just another Northwest Washington bar with the usual overpriced drinks. The drinks at Hemingway’s Bar, opening in October on 16th Street NW below Columbia Road, are free!

That’s because the bar is in the Cuban Interests Section — in effect the Cuban Embassy, but it can’t be called that, because there are no formal relations between the two countries. Those ice-cold Mayabe beers and those excellent daiquiris are yours for the asking, provided you’ve received an invitation from the Cuban government. Cubans are big fans of Ernest Hemingway, who had a home just outside Havana for some 20 years. The home is a national monument.

The bar, reports Steve Clemons, Washington editor at large for the Atlantic, is “a clever bit of public diplomacy” by the commies, maybe supplanting the traditional “tit-for-tat propaganda” waged through warring billboards and displays put up by the United States inside the grounds of its interests section in Havana and the Cubans outside.

Or it could be the Cubans are somehow trying to promote a further thaw in relations just as the 50-year-old embargo is finally on the verge of toppling — within five or at most 10 years — the Castro brothers. Fidel turned 85 on Saturday, and Raul is 80.

A thaw might be a long time coming as long as American contractor Alan Gross remains in prison after his conviction for distributing satellite telephone equipment to Jewish groups in Havana.

Details, details

There’s been a rush of news about big-time donors, including New Hampshire venture capitalist and Dartmouth adjunct business professor Greg Slayton , going from backing former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty to backing Texas Gov. Rick Perry for the GOP presidential nomination. Slayton switched even before Pawlenty withdrew.

But in the rush, there seemed to be a few errors in the reports. For example, Slayton was called a former ambassador to Bermuda. Except he wasn’t. The ambassador to Bermuda is Louis Susman, who is ambassador to the Court of St. James’s in London, Bermuda still being part of Britain.

Slayton was, from 2005 to 2009, consul general on the island, with a population smaller than that of Ward 3 — though Bermuda is about twice as big as Ward 3 and the beaches are much better. Slayton says he should have made things clearer, though he was “basically the chief of mission.”

True, but the “mission” was a very small one, with some 20 employees, including a handful of U.S. officials and about 15 local hires. By comparison, the consuls general in some places oversee large numbers of U.S. officials, including those in Frankfurt, Germany (159), Guangzhou, China (91), and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico (79). Even the consulate in Florence, Italy, appears to have about as much staff, and there’s no ambassador to Florence.

Maybe reporters and others were confused because, on his contribution disclosure forms, Slayton — or whoever filled them out for him — occasionally wrote “ambassador” in the space listing “occupation.”

And while he was a contributor to the John McCain campaign, he wasn’t a fundraiser for McCain while he was on assignment in Bermuda. That would have been illegal. We’re hearing, however, now that he’s home, he’s in line for a very major role in fundraising as well as in strategy for the Perry campaign.

So who knows? Maybe it was just premature to call him ambassador.

News from Cheney country

A federal judge in Wyoming last week threw out Obama administration rules that would have provided for stricter environmental review of oil and gas drilling on federal land, the Associated Press reported.

Judge Nancy Freudenthal rejected the government’s arguments that oil and gas companies had no case because they couldn’t show how the rules had created delays and added to the cost of drilling.

The ruling said the administration, in issuing its new policies, failed to follow proper rules for public notice and comment. The decision reinstates Bush-era expedited provisions for oil and gas drilling on federal lands. Administration officials were reportedly reviewing whether to appeal.

Freudenthal, Freudenthal. Wait a minute, isn’t she the wife of former Wyoming governor Dave Freudenthal (D). She’s an Obama appointee? What happened to the vetting on this one?

Staff researcher Julie Tate and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this column.

Follow In the Loop on Twitter: @AlKamenWP.

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