It's Who? You Know.

By Al Kamen
Monday, October 30, 2006

State Department career diplomats are in an uproar over the recent appointment of a mid-level civil servant who worked for Undersecretary Karen Hughes to a top job running the new Public Diplomacy Rapid Response office in Brussels.

In an unusually strong letter last week to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice , J. Anthony Holmes , head of the American Foreign Service Association, called the selection of Diane Zeleny a "pre-cooked deal," apparently done by manipulating the process and violating personnel rules and standard practices. AFSA, he said, was filing a grievance "to undo this assignment."

The job opening was never properly advertised. It was quietly announced at virtually the last minute in the personnel selection cycle, sources said, so there was no way top officers could apply for it.

Not so, say department officials. There was nothing untoward. The Brussels job wasn't created until the yearly State Department selection process was largely completed, and most people had already received their next posting. In addition, Hughes and Rice believe Zeleny is "the right person for the job," a spokesman said, "and they have full confidence in her."

Holmes's protest comes at a time when career officers were already upset over a wave of lower-level officers with political connections leapfrogging to top jobs. Also new rules require service in hardship posts, especially Iraq, before anyone can get the cushier European jobs. And many of those jobs are being shifted to send diplomats to Sudan and other garden spots.

The Brussels job, Holmes said, "might well have been a perfect fit . . . for a veteran coming out of . . . Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia." But Zeleny was the only one who applied. Holmes called the selection "unfathomable."

Well, not really. Zeleny, who moved to Brussels for this new job at the end of August, has worked for several years in Europe, including in Brussels and at other posts. Besides, Zeleny is married to Reuel Marc Gerecht , an author and a former CIA Middle East specialist who was an early participant in the Project for the New American Century, the neocon hub and center for Iraq war enthusiasts. Gerecht, an expert on terrorism, was a prominent promoter of the war and has met with President Bush to offer advice on Iraq.

Victoria Nuland , a career officer now in Brussels as our ambassador to NATO, is a pal, and Nuland's husband is Robert Kagan , an author and Washington Post columnist and a PNAC founding member. So now there's four for bridge.

Hardly "unfathomable."

They Weren't Even Pool Reporters

White House spokesman Tony Snow was hounded by reporters last week as he insisted that Vice President Cheney 's approval of "a dunk in the water" during a radio interview in no way indicated that he approved of waterboarding, a torture technique meant to simulate drowning.

Snow pointed out to incredulous reporters that Cheney was very careful in his use of language and the word "waterboarding" was never uttered. If he meant waterboarding, he would have said it.

Reporters weren't buying it.

"So, wait a minute," CBS reporter Jim Axelrod said. "So 'dunk in the water' means what? We have a pool now at Guantanamo and they go swimming?"

"You doing stand-up?" Snow asked.

"Saying that Vice President Cheney doesn't make mistakes like this," said ABC's Ann Compton , doesn't quite wash. "He did go up and curse a senator to his face on the Senate floor and accidentally shot his friend. So he's not perfect," she noted.

"Not germane," Snow said.

It is clear from the transcript that the interviewer brought up "dunking" in a discussion about terrorism and questioning techniques.

Perhaps Cheney thought he was talking about those county-fair water tanks: five tickets for $10, throw the ball, hit the target, and the person sitting above drops into the water?

As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters: "Back off."

Invading Iraq, Invading Normandy

Speaking of Rumsfeld, Friday's column omitted a statement in one interview that gave important perspective to the current deep divisions over Iraq.

"I think that our country has always had dissent of various types. I lived through World War II," he said. (Rumsfeld was 13 years old when the war ended.) "And there were vicious comments made against our political leadership during that conflict. But the American people absorbed it. We persisted."

Yes. Who can forget those huge riots in Times Square, protesting the D-Day landings?

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