Monday, February 25, 2008

Disney, Management Consultant

Bet you didn't know Walt Disney Co. was in the management-consulting business. They are, and today's Post reports that the Disney Institute is giving Walter Reed Army Hospital tips on customer service. Using video of an enraged Donald Duck. No, I am not making this up: "... experiential training, leadership development, benchmarking and cultural change for business professionals across the globe."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Africom, R.I.P.

When President Bush announced plans for a DoD African Command (Africom) last year, it raised hackles across the very continent it was intended to help.

Africom's flaws were many:

—The administration put forth no clear rationale for why Africa needed its own command, when U.S. military interests in Africa were being managed adequately from Germany.

—Similarly, there was no strong idea for how Africom would differ from its more combat-oriented cousins, beyond vague ideas that it would be decentralized in five African nations and more focused on soft power.

—African nations were not consulted beforehand about hosting Africom bases or other operations.

In "No Bases Planned for Africa, Bush Says" in today's Post, President Bush admitted that Africom was dead in the water, but only after Ghanaian president John Kufuor was, well, rude to his guest:

...The Bush administration has had trouble convincing Africans that it wants to use the new command to coordinate humanitarian and security aid to Africa more effectively, not to station large forces on the continent.

The tension evidently came to a head during talks with Ghanaian President John Kufuor in Osu Castle, a 17th-century oceanfront estate once used as a slave-trading post and now the seat of government. By Bush's own account, Kufuor brought it up pointedly during their private meeting.

"You're not going to build any bases in Ghana," Kufuor told him.

"I understand," Bush recalled replying. "Nor do we want to."

It would have been preferable for the Bush administration to prepare the ground in Africa for Africom before making an announcement last year; the president could then have appeared with a stage full of African leaders to announce the new command as the final step in a consultation among partners. Now, unfortunately, those consultations have to take place ex post facto, and will be the next president's problem, as this quote by J. Stephen Morrison at the Center for Strategic and International Studies implies:

"They're now in a quiet phase where they're trying to build up their credibility and their consultations."

For now, the [Africom] headquarters remains in Stuttgart, Germany, home of the European Command.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Wrong Briefing


Peace Corps volunteers live in host countries’ hinterlands for years at a time, building, cultivating and teaching. And then, whenever the host government feels put upon by the U.S., it uses Peace Corps volunteers as convenient whipping boys because, of course, they are “foreign influences” or worse, spies.

A friend of mine had to abruptly evacuate her post in Chad’s hinterlands in the late 1990s after Libya’s Qaddafi made these kinds of accusations, and another friend had to flee the Philippines with just the clothes he wore after Abu Sayyaf threatened that country’s Peace Corps contingent.

And now to Bolivia, where U.S. embassy official Vincent Cooper apparently gave the wrong briefing to a group of inbound Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright scholar:

[U.S. Embassy La Paz] released a statement Monday explaining that Peace Corps volunteers had been mistakenly given a security briefing meant only for embassy staff, asking them to report "suspicious activities" [of Venezuelans and Cubans in Bolivia].

"Nobody at the embassy has ever asked American citizens to participate in intelligence activities here," U.S. ambassador Phillip Goldberg said during a flood relief visit to the eastern city of Trinidad. "But I want to say that I greatly regret the incident that was made known this weekend."

Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, declared Cooper undesirable but no word so far on whether La Paz formally PNG’d him. Regardless, Cooper has left Bolivia, but not before creating an excuse for Morales et al. to jack up anti-U.S. sentiment and hysterically summon the armed forces to protect it from sinister yanquis.

How’d the story break in the first place? Apparently, a Fulbright scholar who Cooper also mistakenly asked to “spy,” John Alexander van Schaick, went public with the news:

"My immediate thought was 'Oh my God. Somebody from the U.S. Embassy just asked me to basically spy," he said. "I was in shock that something like that would happen to me -- just a humble Fulbright scholar who's here to do research."


The controversy erupted after van Schaick said Cooper asked him in a November meeting at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz to report the names and addresses of Cuban and Venezuelans working in Bolivia, according to the Bolivian Information Agency.

"I smiled and just sat there because I did not want to show that it completely dismayed me to be asked such a thing," van Schaick said, according to the news agency.

Van Schaick might consider turning the “shocked, shocked!” bit down in the future. The “humble” Fulbright scholar hasn’t been born yet, as indicated by the fact that he apparently outed Cooper to the press over a mistake, in the process damaging the Peace Corps program that’s probably helping Bolivia a lot more than his research.

Not to mention the Fulbright program itself, which is sponsored by the State Department and will now be looked on by host governments as yet another nest of spies.

But look on the bright side: Van Schaick is undoubtedly a hero in Caracas. He could always get a teaching post there.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Burqa Business


PostGlobal has a nice short piece on how cheap, machine-made Chinese burqas are displacing the hand-made (and Afghan-made) sort in Kabul.

I've heard some talk lately about how widely disliked Chinese workers are in any area of Africa where there are a lot of them. This is a purely economic dislike, as one person hinted, because when a PRC business does a big infrastructure project in Africa they tend to bring in a lot of Chinese workers, rather than employing local Africans. (Come to think of it, when the PRC constructs a new embassy in Washington D.C., they bring in a lot of Chinese workers too, but that's a different matter.)

However, when it's just inexpensive, well-made and even stylish goods that turn up in a foreign market, rather than Chinese workers visibly displacing locals, PRC businesses gain market share.

At least Afghans still have a choice about who they buy their burqas from. In contrast, the U.S. has completely lost the ability to clothe itself, a fact that must be widely known and operate to the detriment of America's usually can-do reputation.

The fact is that in 2005, 89.3 percent of apparel sold in the U.S. was manufactured abroad, and 98.5 percent of footwear, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association's figures for that year. Insert your emperor-has-no-clothes gag here.
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