by Emile Nakhleh
The State Department’s Inspector General’s report on the US Embassy in Bahrain, which I have been asked to comment on, has generated much reaction, both among the pro-government factions and within the opposition.
The opposition fears that a report critical of the US ambassador’s job and managerial performance might denote a change in US policy toward Bahrain in favor of the ruling family and away from demands for a genuine dialogue with the opposition. The report also has caused some anti-Shia, pro-regime, Sunni talking heads in Bahrain, like Abd al-Latif Mahmud, head of al-Tajamu’, to be gleeful about the harsh criticism of Ambassador Thomas Krajeski’s performance.
Both feelings are misplaced. The report does not denote a change in American policy toward Bahrain, nor is it a rejection of US standing policy in favor of human rights, even if it is being spun in some circles.
Every US government department (ministry, in the parlance of other countries) by law has an in-house Office of Inspector General (OIG), which is required periodically to inspect the operations of different entities in that department, domestically and overseas, and the job performance of key personnel in that entity. These reports are known around Washington as “IG Reports.”
The IG reports, by law must stay clear of politics and policy. The recent State Department IG report is no exception. Their primary purpose is “to promote effective management, accountability, and positive change” in whatever entity that’s being inspected.
The IG reports usually make key judgments and recommendations to the secretary (minister) or other senior leaders in the department relevant to the report. In this case, the recommendations are made to the secretary of state.
The department’s senior leadership is not bound to accept the report in toto; it can accept some recommendations, take others under consideration, and still reject others. When the State Department’s spokeswoman was asked at a March 28 daily press briefing about the report’s recommendations, she gave the following answer:
The State Department values the oversight provided by our inspector general and we take IG recommendations seriously and rely on them to make improvements in how we operate. With regard to this specific inspection report, Department official are reviewing the report and its recommendations and will respond to the inspector general formally. While we agree with some recommendations, we disagree with others… But we believe the report contains a number of factual inaccuracies and take issue with several of the report’s assertions. Our ambassador in Bahrain is qualified, highly capable, and we have full confidence in his leadership of the mission. He has served with distinction for over 35 years in some of our most challenging missions, including Iraq and as our ambassador in Yemen; has repeatedly been recognized for his service and leadership, including multiple Superior Honor Awards and the President’s Distinguished Service Award.
The first key judgment in the IG report states the following: “The embassy has two competing policies: to maintain strong bilateral military cooperation and to advance human rights. The Ambassador has forged strong relationships with U.S. military leaders based in Bahrain to promote common goals.”
On the other hand, the IG report has strongly criticized the ambassador’s management style within the embassy, his dealings with the staff, and his ad hoc management approach to the on-going human rights crisis in Bahrain. Due to the two diametrically opposed US goals in Bahrain, it is a no brainer for the IG report to assess that “Embassy Bahrain faces significant challenges balancing U.S. military interests with U.S. human rights policies.”
The IG report praised the ambassador for forging “a strong relationship with the heads of U.S. Naval forces Central Command and U.S. Marine Forces Central Command to promote consistent U.S. policy messaging. He is respected by many Bahraini officials and is well liked by mission staff.” On the other hand, the ambassador’s “lack of access to some key government officials, his poor media image, and the lack of an effective strategy to address these issues have created friction with principal officials in Washington.”
Most of the recommendations focus on embassy operations regarding personnel, finances, housing, property, etc. but NOT on US policy toward Bahrain.
Ambassador Thomas C. Krajeski is a seasoned, experienced, and distinguished diplomat who has served his country for over three decades. The report has failed to recognize the fact that the ambassador’s “lack of access to key government officials” in Bahrain has been caused by his strong stance on human rights and constant and justifiable criticism of the Al Khalifas’ dismissive attitude and repressive policies toward its Shia majority.
The report should have pointed out that the ambassador’s “poor media image” was primarily caused by the fact that most Bahraini media is either pro-government or government supported and directed. Some pro-government media outlets have even cancelled the ambassador’s appearance when he was planning to discuss one of his hobbies, gourmet cooking!
Since he went out on a limb in pointing out the damaging policies of the ruling family, he found himself in “friction with principal officials in Washington,” according to the report. The report, however, failed to identify who those “principal officials” were.
The ambassador serves at the pleasure of the president of the United States and the secretary of state. It stands to reason, therefore, that his continued service in Bahrain as head of the mission means he still commands the respect and confidence of both “key principals.” I have seen many of these IG inspection reports during my service in the government, and like the State Department spokeswoman, I accepted some of those reports’ recommendations and rejected others. That’s the nature of the beast!
My bottom-line judgment
The report was not written for, or driven by, political or policy reasons. It’s primarily an “Inside the Beltway” Washington report. Pro-government talking heads in Bahrain would be mistaken to take comfort from the report. The criticisms of the ambassador pertain primarily to his managerial style and the internal operations within the embassy, not to his rightful stance on human rights violations in Bahrain.
Abd al-Latif Mahmud and others should take another look at the report. If they continue to misread it, then they don’t understand Washington or the nature of the American political system. I hope Al Khalifa leaders do not make a similar mistake.
Photo: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel meets with Bahraini Lieutenant General Sheikh Mohammed Al Khalifa, Minister of State for Defense Affiars, US Ambassador to Bahrain Thomas C. Krajeski and US Army General Lloyd Austin, upon his arrival in Bahrain on December 5, 2013. Credit: Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo