A Little Bit State Department, a Little Bit 'The View'

(By Manuel Balce Ceneta -- Associated Press)
By Al Kamen
Friday, August 17, 2007

It's good the "surge" has finally gotten things under control in the Middle East. That's given Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and public diplomacy undersecretary Karen Hughes plenty of time to kill doing other things -- like gushing over baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. in an in-house digital media interview on Monday.

Hughes hit the first softball from the interviewer, State Department aide Heath Kern, who asked Hughes how Ripken's appointment as special envoy came about.

"Cal and I both have a shared . . . " Hughes began, " -- Is it okay to call you Cal?" The trio, perched on a couch, all laughed. "You're a Hall of Famer and I'm calling you by your first name, but -- "

"What else would you call me?" Ripken asked, to more laughter.

Kern bored in on Rice with a breathtakingly trite one: "Do you see sports having the ability to bring people of competing interests together?"

"Oh, absolutely," Rice said. "I'll bet he'll find people who want to be Cal Ripken in Pakistan" -- a notion so goofy they all laughed yet again. Although in truth the Waziristan Orioles are having a pretty good year, even without a solid middle reliever.

The country's top diplomats stayed on message throughout. Hughes: "We're just grateful that someone of Cal Ripken's stature . . . " Rice: "We're just delighted that somebody of Cal Ripken's stature . . . "

The bona fide icon took it all in stride. Though Ripken probably won't spend a lot of time in Syria, in October he'll be off to China, where baseball has a toehold, and will surely be a hit in places such as South Korea and Japan and Mexico. Then there's baseball-crazy Cuba. Well, maybe not. Or Venezuela. Also kinda iffy.

Don't miss the remarkable video, prominently featured on the State Department's home page ( http://www.state.gov) in recent days.

As for Diplomacy . . .

Speaking of diplomacy, the State Department said yesterday that career diplomat Patrick Syring, indicted in federal court here Wednesday on charges that he threatened Arab American Institute President James Zogby and other employees there, has retired.

Syring allegedly sent e-mail and voice-mail messages during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon last summer cursing, accusing Zogby of being anti-Semitic and saying: "The only good Lebanese is a dead Lebanese. The only good Arab is a dead Arab. The United States would be safer without you."

A department spokesman said that "Syring has chosen to retire from the State Department," which he did last month.

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