A weekly State Department bulletin that gets emailed to Capitol Hill staffers is striking some as tone deaf.
During a week in which Iraq is quickly descending into another war, most of Secretary of State John Kerry’s work highlighted in the newsletter has nothing to do with that country — or any of the other diplomatic hot spots around the world.
The one-page “State Department On The Hill” features a photo of Kerry at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence next to a stock image of colorful fish swimming in bright blue water, meant to highlight Kerry’s two-day “Our Oceans” summit.
It also contains a notice about a Web chat on the importance of study-abroad programs and a link to a blog post about how the U.S. mission to Brazil is using the World Cup to further its sports diplomacy efforts.
The only reference to Iraq is a quote from Kerry’s interview with Yahoo’s Katie Couric earlier in the week. Another hotbed of conflict, Russia, is mentioned solely in a link to a recent alert for U.S. citizens traveling there.
The newsletter is a weekly update sent to congressional committee staff as well as caseworkers and employees of members’ personal offices, and it focuses on providing information for constituent services, updates on congressional hearings and contacts within the State Department.
But one Senate GOP aide noted that it was odd for things like sports and study-abroad programs to be highlighted while Iraq and Russia get short shrift — and other key issues like the controversial trade of five Guantanamo Bay detainees for the captured Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is not mentioned at all.
“Which is more troubling — that this is a ham-fisted attempt to distract Hill staffers from the world burning – or that oceans, World Cup and Americans studying abroad are truly State Department’s top priorities this week?” the staffer asked via email.
State Department spokesperson Alec Gerlach said in an emailed statement that while recipients of the newsletter largely find it helpful, it is not intended to be a primary resource for foreign policy and national security news updates.
“The notion that our congressional newsletter is representative of the State Department’s congressional engagement is far off the mark. Over the last week, the Department has participated in seven briefings or meetings to keep members informed of the situation on the ground in Iraq,” Gerlach said.
He noted that the Bureau of Legislative Affairs holds roughly 800 briefings a year for members and congressional staff, and that there have already been at least 30 briefings and meetings this week alone.