Cairo Embassy Statement Work of Rogue PAO

A PAO named Larry Schwartz issued yesterday's infamous statement against the explicit orders of his superiors.

Foreign Policy‘s Josh Rogin provides his typical outstanding reporting on the already-infamous statements that came out of the US Embassy in Cairo yesterday:

One staffer at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo was responsible for the statement and tweets Tuesday that have become grist for the presidential campaign, and that staffer ignored explicit State Department instructions not to issue the statement, one U.S. officials close to the issue told The Cable.

[…]

President Obama commented on the controversy in an interview to be aired Wednesday evening on 60 Minutes.

“In an effort to cool the situation down, it didn’t come from me, it didn’t come from Secretary Clinton. It came from people on the ground who are potentially in danger,” Obama said. “And my tendency is to cut folks a little bit of slack when they’re in that circumstance, rather than try to question their judgment from the comfort of a campaign office.”

But Obama’s remarks belie the enormous frustration of top officials at the State Department and White House with the actions of the man behind the statement, Cairo senior public affairs officerLarry Schwartz, who wrote the release and oversees the embassy’s Twitter feed, according to a detailed account of the Tuesday’s events.

As I’ve previously outlined in great detail, I found the statement outrageous as an expression of US Government policy, even if there’s little I object to in substance. But part of my outrage was that, as events unfolded yesterday afternoon, the impression was that the statement followed the attack on the sovereign soil of our Embassy when, in fact, it was a desperate if misguided attempt to ward off such an attack.

While I continue to deplore the notion that American citizens should stifle their speech in order to avoid inflaming violent extremists around the world, I nonetheless second President Obama’s sentiment here. Schwartz needs a refresher course in the First Amendment and closer supervision for a while before he should be allowed to issue statements in the name of my government. But, yeah, the circumstances ought afford him a little slack.

UPDATE: John Burgess, a retired Foreign Affairs Officer who also spent his career specializing in Middle East public affairs, weighs in here.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, World Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I continue to deplore the notion that American citizens should stifle their speech in order to avoid inflaming violent extremists around the world

    The sad thing is, we aren’t talking about speech that we consider “good” by plain old American values. We are talking about speech we should deplore.

    Some people get it wrong. They try to draw a line, but they do it in the wrong place. They say “Jones is an ass, but I have to defend his speech.” No, you don’t.

    You can stand for fee speech while deploring both Jones and his message. You can condemn anyone who seeks to incite, and stop there. There is no slippery slope on this.

    A condemnation of Rev. Jones is not a condemnation of Rev. King.




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  2. nitpicker says:

    Odd, I still can’t find the post where you condemned Bush for actual administration statements condemning Jones or calling the Danish cartoons offensive, etc. Surely I’m just missing it and your not changing your tune to support the right…




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  3. Anderson says:

    Very interesting, JJ. Anyone know is this guy an appointee or permanent service?

    …that FP comment thread is an insane asylum.




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  4. JKB says:

    So, we have a PAO running our foreign policy in Egypt when the ambassador is back in the US? The initial tweet might be forgiven, but then they issued a formal statement, then after the attack, they reconfirmed the statement six hours after the initial ill-conceived release.

    We have a serious problem in our State Department.




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  5. ElizaJane says:

    Just a sec. This fellow at the embassy, who felt under immanent threat of incited violence, should not have the free speech rights to try to defuse the situation? To say, wow, we do not agree with the f*ckwit who exercised his undeniable rights to really stupid free speech, and we regret that he said those things? That is an “already infamous” piece of speech, while the anonymous pseudo-movie is lovingly protected?

    I really must be misunderstanding this argument.




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  6. Moderate Mom says:

    While the original statement might be understandable as an attempt to diffuse the situation, the continued doubling down on the Embassy’s twitter account wasn’t. And it seems that the White House and the State Department were mighty displease. Something tells me that Schwartz is about to fall under the wheels of the bus.




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  7. Tlaloc says:

    The thing is Jones’ speech is not just inadvertently resulting in violence, provoking violence from radical muslims was exactly his goal. Doesn’t that mean he bears some responsibility for the harm caused? Not all, but some?




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  8. David M says:

    @JKB:

    So, we have a PAO running our foreign policy in Egypt when the ambassador is back in the US? The initial tweet might be forgiven, but then they issued a formal statement, then after the attack, they reconfirmed the statement six hours after the initial ill-conceived release.

    Just reading the articles about the incident should make it clear that it was a single staffer that sent out the press release and tweets, so there is no “they”. Your commentary on this has seemed particularly focused in how this makes the Obama Administration look bad, which seems rather ironic given how classless Romney ended up looking after attempting the same thing.




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  9. HankP says:

    This really is the most uninformed opinion about free speech rights that I’ve read in a long time. No one at the embassy was criticizing the first amendment or free speech rights, in fact they specifically endorse them. They were criticizing the content of an inflammatory movie. That’s not a first amendment issue, it’s an anti-religious bigotry issue. Freedom of speech also means the freedom to criticize.




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  10. KariQ says:

    @HankP:

    No one at the embassy was criticizing the first amendment or free speech rights, in fact they specifically endorse them. They were criticizing the content of an inflammatory movie. That’s not a first amendment issue, it’s an anti-religious bigotry issue. Freedom of speech also means the freedom to criticize.

    That’s the way it looks to me too. I keep asking people who think the original statement was “outrageous” to explain to me exactly why it was. I don’t want to argue with them, I just can’t see how they are looking at it and would like to understand.




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  11. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: As a private citizen, I absolutely condemn the content of Jones’ speech; my government has no business doing so. Nor, as a general rule, should Americans stifle their speech in fear that asshole religious nuts across the world might get their feelings hurt. Jones’ speech has little redeeming value, because his treatment of the issue is so offensively puerile; but the larger principle is important.

    @nitpicker: I had dozens of posts defending the Danish Muslim cartoons. I don’t recall Bush’s words on the subject or what, if anything, I said in response. But I actually hold presidents to a different standard than I do embassies, in that we understand that the former are politicians while the latter purport to speak for all of us.

    @Anderson: Career FSO and a senior one at that. Acting against explicit orders not to publish from above.




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  12. KariQ says:

    @James Joyner:

    So it isn’t so much what they said as who was saying it?




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  13. James Joyner says:

    @KariQ: Absolutely. The United States Government should be neutral on the content of the speech of its citizens. Citizens have every right to call out the clowns.




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  14. KariQ says:

    Okay, I can understand that. I don’t completely agree with you; I think there are certain kinds of speech that are far enough outside our norms as a society that it is completely reasonable for the government to simultaneously denounce what is said while defending the right to say it. But I do understand how and why you would feel that way.

    Thank you.




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  15. Anderson says:

    If he’s not a political appointee, then I see even less merit in trying to equate him with “the administration.”




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  16. Morning Joe defended the condemnation pretty strongly this morning, and Joe forcefully put in context with GWB’s similar condemnations. FWIW.




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  17. John Burgess says:

    @Anderson: Career, Senior Foreign Service, with a commendable record. Up ’til now.

    http://www.state.gov/r/bios/151037.htm




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