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20 September 2011, Waldorf Astoria New York

I have been mentioning over a number of blogs now, the corrosive effect of the present United States administration in closing down home-grown dissent.  The United States rightly treasures its tradition of free speech and open, if not discordant, debate.  After all without open discussion and free flows of opinion and information the electorate is deprived of the arguments and facts it needs to make a considered judgement when it comes to elections.  Without open information democracy dies, and one is left with endless televised beauty parades of the oligarchy.

The clip at the top shows Obama at his head-masterly best pontificating deeply with a row of world leaders on this proposition.  More is good, open is best, seems to be the message.

He pressed the need for open economies, open societies, and open governments, pushing that they energise civic governments, giving society greater strength and specifically contributing to better decision making.  Then he banged on at some length about how much stronger we all are when “we engage citizens beyond government” before priggishly rounding off with the trite “Government exists for the benefit of the people”.

The situation on the ground is less happy.

Compare that high flown rhetoric to the second clip of White House spokesperson Jay Carney, on 22nd February 2012 being skewered by Jake Tapper over the Obama’s administration’s increasing use of the Espionage Act to stifle investigative journalism.

The official line seems to be that America embraces the new freedoms that social networking and blogging afford.  A thousand flowers bloom across the States etc, etc.  Even better if those flowers bloom abroad.

Why, only last week we had Alec Ross from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s office tell us that the US Government runs at least 190 Twitter accounts and 150 Facebook pages.  Ross allows himself to get quite excited about it all and suggest that the influence of social media is “a massive shift in global power”, indeed, as he gushes in The Next Web, social media is “mainstream”.

Well that all sounds good.  But is that what is found on the ground?  Far from a blossoming of web pages, Facebook and Twitter, the United States State Department is closing down all those girls and boys who until only recently have been allowed to chatter away happily to the likes of us, the poor bloody peasantry giving us insights on policy, operations and life far off in sunlit places.

Diplopundit, whose blog follows such matters and is hugely recommended to those wishing a better insight into America’s diplomatic community, has noted the demise of the diplomatic blog – a sort of updated “From our Own Correspondent”.  Far from being encouraged they are slowly going dark.

The list that follows is taken from their article.

SD Dispatches (FSO)http://sddispatches.blogspot.com/: Blog not found

Scott At State (FSO)http://scottatstate.blogspot.com/: Blog not found

At Your Service in Switzerland – Aaron Martz (FSO): http://aaronmartz.com/ : online parking lot

Destination Diplomacyhttp://leslieabitz.blogspot.com/ : Blog not found

Diplochickhttp://diplochick.wordpress.com/ : diplochick.wordpress.com is no longer available. The authors have deleted this blog.

Diplomatic Incidentshttp://www.diplomaticincidents.blogspot.com/ : Blog not found

Diplotettehttp://diplotette.wordpress.com/ : diplotette.wordpress.com is no longer available. The authors have deleted this blog.

DipNomadhttp://dipnomad.blogspot.com/ : Blog not found

Hick/Hitchhiker/…Diplomat (!?)  http://4brianhall.blogspot.com/ : posts all gone except for disclaimer that says: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not represent those of the Department of State of the United States of America.

Luffmans.comhttp://news.luffmans.com/index.php : The requested URL /index.php was not found on this server. That’s all we know.

My New Lifehttp://diploadventures.blogspot.com/ : Blog not found

New L’attitudeshttp://ronwardwine.blogspot.com/ : no posts.

Seltzer Water and Other Things (FSS)http://awesomelikeseltzerwater.blogspot.com/http:// :
Blog not found

The Last 3 Feethttp://www.thelast3ft.com/ : 404. That’s an error. The requested URL / was not found on this server. That’s all we know.

The Navigator (FSO)http://traviscoberly.blogspot.com/ : Blog has been removed

The Vegan Diplomat (female FSO)http://vegandiplomat.blogspot.com/ : Blog not found

Two Red Marys and a Yellow Rose (female FSO)http://tworedmarysandayellowrose.wordpress.com/http:/ : Sorry, no posts matched your criteria.

You Can’t Get There From Here (FSO)http://www.valdysses.com/ : online parking lot

Doubtless this list is already longer.

So why is this happening? Well all it seems to have taken off because the State Department have rather taken agin the blog written by one Peter Van Buren entitled called “We meant well”.

Van Buren is a twenty year veteran of the State Department and was sent off in the early days of Iraq. His job was to assist with the reconstruction programmes to put Iraq back on its feet.   He is presently on gardening leave awaiting the decisions of his erstwhile masters

He also wrote a book of that title. It is safe to say it’s not very complementary of United States involvement in the reconstruction of Iraq.

His main problem as far as the State Department is concerned is he is not playing the game.  That and a telling turn of phrase and lemon sharp sense of humour.

Normally once one has had enough of working for the government, one might well do the TV pieces, write the articles, or blog away and dream of publishing the book.  Once written though the powers that be make life difficult, the suits arrive and make it clear that promotion is no longer an option and encourage one to move into journalism or academia, both careers which would be ideal for the talented Mr Van Buren whose wit and poise are a delight.  Only Pete isn’t playing the game.  He has refused to leave, arguing for his right to make these comments from within the Department.

And, with the allegations he makes there is clearly a public interest defence.  You do need to know this stuff.  You do need to know the extent of the total mess that has been done in your name and paid for out of your pocket.  You do need to know who is to blame if for no other reason than to ensure they are found something less difficult to do and that no one engages in this nonsense again.

Do you really imagine for one moment that without the blogging from insiders in these departments that this quality of complaint would come out?  Do you honestly believe without the likes of Van Buren you would ever know about the sheer scale of the mess that is American reconstruction of Iraq, far less the colossal waste of your money it involved?  Without these blogs do you seriously think that you who have paid for it and are expected to cough up for further follies would have heard of this?  No, me neither.

Perhaps if Obama is as truly keen as his clip implies, that there should be open government, with clear accountability for mistakes, poor judgement, ignorance and ill-thought-through initiatives, and if Obama really believes in energising civic engagement then blogs such as Van Buren’s are not just to be tolerated but to be actively encouraged.

Indeed blogs like Van Buren’s should be used an indication of the true level of Freedom of Speech within a nation’s governments.  A test perhaps might be devised, a monitored register of active blogs from Government officials, those openly written, unscripted and free from interference, all contributing to the information a nation needs to make considered judgements on those they might elect?  A true test of a nation’s democracy.

A Van Buren test?

Copyright David Macadam 2012