Page 14 - Foreign Service Journal - October, 2012b

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14
OCTOBER 2012
|
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
TALKING POINTS
Just the Facts, Ma’am?
I
n May the Department of State posted
the following notice on its
Web site:
“As of May 2012, Background Notes are
no longer being updated or produced.
Tey are in the process of being replaced
by Fact Sheets that focus on U.S. relations
with each country. Te link to each
document from anywhere on www.state.
gov or on any other site, as a bookmark,
etc., will remain the same, whether it
appears as a Background Note or when it
is replaced by a Fact Sheet.
“Background Notes listed below are
the most recently published versions.
Previous editions are available in our
archive section.
So far, only about a third of the old
notes have been converted to the new
format, but the move has already drawn
sharp criticism in some quarters. In
an Aug. 23
Wall Street Journal
opinion
column, retired Foreign Service ofcer
James M. Roberts asserts that the
shift in emphasis not only amounts to
“transforming these documents from
straightforward reference items into PR
puf sheets for the president,” but refects
a pervasive favoritism toward left-wing
governments.
For instance, Roberts compares the
new Brazil Fact Sheet with the previous
Background Note, written during the
George W. Bush administration. He
says the Bush-era document, totaling
4,100 words, was full of information and
statistics about Brazil, and the section on
U.S.-Brazil relations was just 300 words
long, or 7 percent of the total.
By contrast, the Fact Sheet is less
than 1,200 words long, 830 of which (70
percent) cover current U.S.-Brazilian
relations. Furthermore, Roberts says the
coverage prominently features President
Barack Obama, much of it in the context
of the educational, scientifc and
cultural programs he launched during
a March 2011 visit to the country.
He also asserts that coverage of the
president’s Latin American trip in
the documents illustrates a disparity
in treatment of left-wing and right-
wing governments, since the Chile
Fact Sheet makes no mention of the
president’s stop in Santiago.
Foggy Bottom has not responded
ofcially to such criticism. However,
an Aug. 17 blog posting by Madeleine
Morgenstern on
Te Blaze
quotes an
unidentifed department spokeswoman
as saying that emphasizing Obama’s
achievements over those of his
predecessor is “not a valid way to look at”
the new profles.
Instead, the spokeswoman said, the
decision to change the Background
Notes was made because much of the
information previously featured—
geographic or economic data on each
country, for example—is now widely
available elsewhere on the Internet, which
wasn’t the case when they were frst
created for print 30 years ago.
After pointing out that the Fact Sheets
all feature links at the bottom of the page
to the State Department’s ofcial country
page, U.S. embassy page and other
information sources, the spokeswoman
added that “the new series is meant to
provide information unique to the State
Department.”
Such controversies are nothing new, to
be sure. Many State employees still recall
that the George W. Bush administration
took down the series of historic photos
and cartoons illustrating the history of
U.S. diplomacy that had lined the frst-
foor corridor running from the cafeteria
to the C Street lobby. It replaced themwith
photos of President Bush and Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice with various
foreign leaders.
Now, dozens of photos of President
Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary
RodhamClinton and other Obama
administration fgures line that and
several other hallways at Main State.
Meanwhile, the original display of historic
materials remains tucked away in a less
frequented corridor.
—Steven Alan Honley, Editor
Small Arms, Big Problem
O
n Aug. 27 the Federation of
American Scientists issued
Small
Arms Survey 2012
, the largest study
of legal weapon transactions ever
conducted. Te survey puts the value of
the trade in small arms, light weapons,
and their parts and ammunition at $8.5
billion annually, more than double the
2006 estimate.
Te group’s analysis of 80,000 small
and light arms from Afghanistan,
Iraq and Somalia reveals that mortars
are the most common type in Iraq
and Afghanistan, closely followed by
grenades and frearms. Firearms are
the most numerous type in Somalia.
In all three countries, the vast majority
of frearms are Kalashnikov-type
automatic weapons.
Tese weapons are generally based
on older designs from Eastern Europe