Even Obama mega-bundlers must play nice

Cynthia Stroum endeared herself to the Obama folks as a donor but didn't do quite as well with her underlings as an ambassador.
Cynthia Stroum endeared herself to the Obama folks as a donor but didn't do quite as well with her underlings as an ambassador. (U.s. Air Force Via Ap)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 10, 2011; 9:05 PM

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.

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