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Michael Metrinko

The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training
Foreign Affairs Oral History Project
MICHAEL METRINKO
Interviewed by: Charles Stuart Kennedy
Initial interview date: August 26, 1999

Georgetown University School of Foreign Service 1968

I Peace Corps; Ankara, Turkey – Teacher 1968-1970
Kurds
Anti-Americanism

II Peace Corps; Iran – Teacher 1970-1973
Environment
Shah
Iraq relations
Students

III Entered the Foreign Service 1974

IV Ankara, Turkey; Political officer/Staff aide 1974-1976
Ambassador Macomber
Relations
Government

V Damascus, Syria; TDY, Visa officer/GSO 1976-1977
Environment

VI Teheran, Iran; Visa officer 1977-1978
Visa fraud
Political situation
Shah

VII Tabriz, Iran; Consular officer 1978-1981
Environment
Staffing
Kurds
“White Revolution”
“Bazaaries”
Anti-Shah
Riots
Khomeini
Security
Tabriz US Air Force Base
Evacuation

VIII Teheran, Iran
Embassy down-sizing
Teheran chaos
Jewish community
Environment
Revolution
Embassy reporting
Pro-Shah ex-officials
Embassy staff
Soviets
Embassy attacked
Captivity for 444 days
Captors
Khatami
Captives dispersed
Release-1981
Algerian diplomacy
Welcome home

IX Harvard University; Public Administration studies 1982-1983

X Krakow, Poland 1983-1986 Head of Consulate
Environment
Solidarity
Soviets
Polish Americans
Security
Relations

XI State Department; Deputy Director, Northern Gulf Affairs 1986-1988
Iran-Iraq war
Operation Staunch
Oliver North
Iran Revolution

XII National War College 1988-1989

XIII Tel Aviv, Israel; Consul General 1989-1993
Intifada
Lebanon
Gaza
Palestinian Americans
Israeli lobby
Environment
Black Hebrews
Jewish Americans
Gulf War
Partial evacuation
Relations
American prisoners

XIV State Department; Refugee Bureau; Office Director 1993-1996
Palestinians
Non-Government Organizations (NGO’S)
US Aid

XV Retirement 1996

Post-Retirement Special Assignments:

XVI State Department; Desk officer, E. Caribbean Affairs 2000

XVII Aden, Yemen; (TDY), USS Cole Investigation 2001
Culture clashes
Environment
U.S. Investigations
Bin Laden
Security
Withdrawal to Sana’a

XVIII Kabul, Afghanistan; Chief Political Officer 2002
Reopening Embassy
Environment
Consular matters
United Nations
US Missions
Politics
Government
Military operations
CIA
Marines
Infrastructure
Karzai
Embassy
Jailed Americans
Inter-agency relations
Personnel assignment
Local conditions
Taliban
Political assessment
American “brass”
Elections
Poppies
Dehrawood operation

XIX Sana’a, Yemen; Consular officer 2003
American-Yemenis
Visa restrictions
Environment
Terrorist attack

XX Iraq
Al Qaeda
Relations

XXI Herat, Afghanistan; Political Advisor to Embassy 2003
Prisoners of War
Liaison to Afghan Parliament
Compensation for damage to US property
NGO’s
AID projects
US Army
US Contractors
Environment
Drugs
Schools
Culture

XXII Private sector; Afghanistan

This is in reply to Anne Applebaum’s story in the Washington Post on the downing of the Malaysian passenger jet. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/anne-applebaum-the-end-of-the-russian-fairy-tale/2014/07/18/3e42715a-0eab-11e4-b8e5-d0de80767fc2_story.html This is a perfect example of the Washington Post showing it is firmly in the camp of the neocons. The US regularly uses mercenaries in its wars. Remember Blackwater (now Constellis) and the slaughter of 17 Iraqis? They were in Afghanistan too.

The right wing element in Ukraine’s government is well documented. This sounds like it was written by our State Department.

Oh, I see, when mostly Europeans are killed it’s an issue. The US killed thousands of civilians in carpet bomb strikes in Afghanistan and the US press hardly noticed it. In May 2009 one of our B-1’s killed up to 140 civilians in Grenai Afghanistan, many of them children. The Europeans turned around and gave Obama the Peace Prize. And no one in the US press flinched when Bill Clinton’s Iraq embargo killed, at a minimum, 250,00 children by refusing to allow Iraq to have, among other things, chlorine for its water supply. There are videos online of Bill Richardson and Madeleine Albright justifying the deaths by saying US policy was more important. The US has lovely statesmen.

It is still unsettled who brought down the Lockerbie jet. You have to do a lot of deep reading on this. The Scottish government was going to reopen the one convicted prisoner’s case when he died. The UN observer at the trial said it was a disgrace. The FBI offered one witness $4 million to change his story.

Let’s remember that this crisis started with the US cheering on the overthrow of a legitimately elected government in Ukraine, with neocon Victoria Nuland over there leading the cheers. It is very clear the US had a lot to do with that overthrow. When you elect a government, and it turns out you do not like it, you wait for the next election. The US talks about promoting democracy overseas, but has encouraged and funded coups for many years. And the US fixes elections, too. Does anyone in the know believe that Karzai was elected legitimately?

I see the Post offers the views of Brzezinski and Kissinger, two war criminals. (The International Court of Justice is a sham, which mostly deals in African corruption. Otherwise, Clinton, Bush, Cheney and Obama would be in the dock.) Maybe someone should remind Brzezinski that he was the one that armed the rebels in Afghanistan to suck Russia into that war. He started the Islamic Spring. And we are now to trust his judgment?

Do I like what the Russians are doing? No. But Ukraine has political leaders who freely say things like “we should kill all the ethnic Russians in Ukraine”). (That was Tymoshenko.).

Some complain that Hobby Lobby critics are unhappy that the company is “happy to profit from the business it does with China” despite the sometimes-terrible work conditions there.

The argument on their side might be that our trade has markedly improved the lives of million in China. Yes, despite all the pollution and overwork conditions you hear about, a few hundred million Chinese have been lifted from the lowest rung of poverty. China’s working class is going through what all nations go through on the path to full industrialization. We all know what conditions were like in, say, NYC in 1900. Dickens is a good historian for the English. (That does not mean efforts should not be made to improve workers’ lives — Triangle Shirt Waist taught us that.) From the Economist:

“Between 1981 and 2010 [China] lifted a stunning 680m people out poverty—more than the entire current population of Latin America. This cut its poverty rate from 84% in 1980 to about 10% now. China alone accounts for around three quarters of the world’s total decline in extreme poverty over the past 30 years.”

As an example, there are indications that some improvements are being made in the lives of garment workers in southeast Asia now that the horrible working conditions there have been exposed by good-minded people. Big corporations seem to be making some effort to better working conditions (sometimes with the opposition of the host country, which wants to have a reputation for the lowest-cost workers).

The morality of trade with China is a mixed bag, but in the end free trade makes everyone’s lives better. There is a role for reformers here, including the leftists who often have the wrong solutions but who are good at pointing out human rights issues. But I think the moral position is, the more trade the better.

The sad city of Detroit has among its baggage a water utility that is allegedly gouging customers. There are rumors that the city is considering privatizing the utility, but some people fear that could worsen the situation. This article contains a few thoughts about the appropriate governance for local utilities.

There are all sorts of models for regulatory control of a utility. I’m not sure any work better than any other. It all depends on the private company’s competence, the local government’s competence, the design of the rate structure, and how well the infrastructure has been kept up over time.

One typical model is full private ownership controlled by a regulatory board. But the board has to be independent (there are many instances where the industry captures the regulator), competent (with very good costing specialists to rebut claims being made by the utility) and answerable to an elected body. A problem for Detroit has been local incompetent government (among many factors) In both this and the next model, governmental competence is crucial.

A second model is political control and maintenance of day-to-day operations. One problem there is the tendency to raise rates on the utilities’ customers to avoid tax increases that are more apparent to homeowners. Local governments are always scratching around looking to raise fees (and adding costs to governmental operations by increasing the fee collecting bureaucracy). Given Detroit’s chronic management problems, it is no surprise that the city run system is falling into debt. I would guess that the water infrastructure is shot, too.

One of our local counties has a split model. Part of the country has private garbage service, and part of it has public control. They both seems to work fine. Our county has a split electrical system. An electric co-op serves a small part of the county.

The US Postal Service is very uneven in quality. One problem is that being a quasi-governmental institution it can assert sovereign immunity when it is being sued. It is not answerable to local traffic laws. Its biggest problem right now is the political control, which is directly under Congress. Congress in theory departed from control in a 1970 law, but it keeps sticking its nose in. Once having been an insider, I can tell you that the quasi-governmental postal officials have little interest in the consumer. One big executive let that slip out in recent comments — they only care about big mailers. The corporate mentality is the worst of both worlds — bureaucratic sloth and few efficiency incentives (government salary control and job protection) combined with disinterest in meeting consumer needs. The USPS’ uneven service shows in how the rest of the government treats it. When something absolutely had to get there overnight (like court documents) we used the private companies.

I think it is helpful to think about public versus private control across industries and see which work better. For example, in the US there is no direct control of grocery and drug store operations. They are critical services. And they can require big infrastructure networks, though they are not as capital intensive as water, gad and electric networks. They are some of America’s best industries — with only incidental oversight.

One general answer I have for how to improve cities generally is to have a competitive political process. I think cities suffer when one party controls the processes for decades. I saw that in Pennsylvania when I was growing up. Elections were crooked, teachers had to pay annual bribes for their jobs, etc. Things only improved when the “out” party managed a few victories, and when federal prosecutors started sniffing around. Many school board and town council officials went to jail. A good model for governance is what happened in New York City. 40-50 years ago it looked like another big city in decline. It was losing tourism. The city stunk of garbage, literally. The party in the mayor’s office has been changing hands often, though, and the political process seems to work well there (with the usual bumps and bruises).

These foreign policy experts, who have never been to the country which they are speaking about except to attend a dog-and-pony show, immediately behave aggressively towards everyone around them, consume resources at a prodigious pace, crap everywhere, and then leave suddenly, leaving others to clean up their excrement.

*Adapted from Donald Meyers, http://www.australianuniversities.id.au

Ruminations on the following quote:

“When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he/she is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.”
― Jiddu Krishnamurti

The real problem may be whether a person understands that classifications (political party, frat identity, race, religion) are arbitrary and possibly useful as shortcuts for signaling but also possibly misleading. It takes some insight (and not necessarily what we commonly call intelligence) to understand how the human mind works, and why humans use classifications. It was useful during man’s development to classify (bear=dangeous, but also bear=good eating). And it is useful to retain: some classification for safety, e.g., children learn classifications from their parents, many of which are useful (streets with traffic are dangerous).

Society is much more complex now and we have reams of classifications, but human complexity makes it difficult to apply those classifications. And it takes a great deal of, empathy perhaps, to understand that many classifications have outlived their usefulness (if they ever were useful). For example, religious identity is pretty useless as a signalling factor. (Look at American society’s huge dislike of atheists.) So too is national origin.

I do not think that using a label is inherently violent, but people who use violent means may exploit those labels cynically for their own ends. Politicians are expert at this. A lot of people, including those with advanced degrees, just do not understand that “all [ ] are not [ ]. And I hear such dangerous generalizing over and over.

I think the real effort needs to be to educate people about why labels are often false. Look at the advance in gay rights. The power of people coming out is that it sends a strong message that gay people are people. When a relative or a friend comes out, or a respected or famous person comes out, that is tremendously educational.

Last night I attended my daughter’s graduation from high school. This is northern Virginia, where a lot of people have military, intel and other government jobs. The valedictorian’s first name was Mohammed and he is going to attend the Air Force Academy. What kind of message does that send? A positive one, I hope. I remain optimistic that civilization is slowly learning the dangers of labeling. (I was discussing Afghanistan with my expert brother last night and he was ruminating on the effects of satellite television on Afghan society.)

Finally, I think the most perceptive in society have the moral task of pointing out the dangers inherent in labeling. Regrettably, our political class seems determined to reinforce the improper usage of labeling.

Nigeria

The more one reads about Nigeria the more depressing the information is. In 2012, continuing a long trend, the US gave $336 million in military aid to support the Nigeria government. While the US State Department roundly condemned Boco Harum, here are a few highlights about what it had to say about the Nigerian government:

*The national police, army, and other security forces committed extrajudicial killings and used lethal and excessive force to apprehend criminals and suspects as well as to disperse protesters. Authorities generally did not hold police accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody.

*Police use of excessive force, including use of live ammunition, to disperse demonstrators resulted in numerous killings during the year.

*According to credible reports, during the year security forces committed rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls with impunity.

*Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening. Prisoners, a majority of whom had not been tried, were subject to extrajudicial execution, torture, gross overcrowding, food and water shortages, inadequate medical treatment, deliberate and incidental exposure to heat and sun, and infrastructure deficiencies that led to wholly inadequate sanitary conditions and could result in death.

*Security force personnel arbitrarily arrested numerous persons during the year. The number of such cases remained unknown, but AI and HRW catalogued examples of such cases. Human rights groups accused the government and security forces of arbitrarily arresting male inhabitants of Maiduguri or family members of suspected militants following Boko Haram attacks. (This is the reason the Boko Haram leader gave for the kidnappings; in fact he promised to do it if Nigeria did not change its arbitrary policies.)

—As you go deeper into the report, it gets worse. Arbitrary arrests, long detentions without charges, arbitrary killing of citizens.

http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm#wrapper

According to a Harvard press release:

In the first four years after Massachusetts instituted comprehensive health reform in 2006, mortality in the state decreased by 2.9% compared with similar populations in states that didn’t expand health coverage, according to a new study led by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/massachusetts-health-reform-contributes-to-decline-in-deaths/?utm_source=SilverpopMailing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=05.07.daily+1 Does the outcome (which I take as true for the purposes here) justify the ACA?

The ACA model costs too much for a variety of reasons that has nothing to do with serving more people. (My wife is a health economist and knows this stuff.) Massachusetts spends more on medical care per capita than any other state, including Alaska. http://kff.org/other/state-indicator/health-spending-per-capita/ Compare, e.g., California, at $6,238 per person with Massachusetts at $9,278.

I support expanded medical care for the poor, but the ACA was not the way to do it. I hope we eventually get a Congress that will work together to put in a system that expands health care while controlling costs. Remember, the ACA met the approval of all the major medical groups once they understood they would make even more money, e.g., they’d get to keep their practice restrictions, and their control over the number of physicians.

White Male Privilege

My grandfather was from what is now Ukraine. After he came off the boat he headed to Alaska, when he learned enough pool to become a pool hustler. He made enough to buy a house in Pennsylvania, next to the coal mines, and opened up a tavern and grocery store. He also brought his 16 year old bride over from Ukraine — she walked from Baltimore to northern PA. It was in the fall, and was probably a pretty nice 200 mile walk.

He sent most of his 9 kids to college, but my dad had the misfortune of starting college in September 1929. Two months later my grandfather had no money, all lost when the local banks failed. My father had his first new car in 1964, at the age of 53. I looked up his income from my high school graduation year and found we lived right at the federal poverty level. Luckily, though, we had granddad’s house.

I worked hard in school, got a college scholarship, and here I am today in a really nice house. My biggest gift was probably my mother’s brains — she was high school valedictorian. Few women in a coal mining town ever went to college then. (Her father was backwards — my grandfather sent all his kids to school.)

People from Appalachia, those who worked in the Pennsylvania coal mines, the Pittsburgh steel mills, etc., never had any privileges. I’m proud to say my daughter will be studying engineering at U. of Virginia next year. But you know what, she earned it. She worked past midnight most school days.

In politics. it’s only wrong if the other party does it. Let us just remember that it was the Democrats, under Clinton, who started massive use of “soft” money. “Starting in late 1995, the Democratic National Committee used soft money to pay for a months-long blitz of television commercials, basically indistinguishable from campaign ads, that bolstered Clinton in the polls.” Thanks to Politico’s Josh Gerstein for leading me to that.

And from the Baltimore Sun, there was this recounting of Clinton’s role in promoting soft money:

“In one tape, Clinton tells a group of donors in December 1995 about the importance of the Democratic Party ads — paid for by the unregulated soft money — in boosting his own poll numbers.

On the tape, Clinton says: “We realized we could run these ads through the Democratic Party, which meant we could raise money in $20,000 and $50,000 and $100,000 blocks.

“So we didn’t have to do it all in $1,000 [donations] and run down what I can spend, which is limited by law. So that is what we have done.” ***

Of course, the GOP soon followed, but we have to thank Bill Clinton for leading us in this direction.

BTW, and I am not making this up, the State Department just spent $100,000 on a sculpture of a camel to be put in front of the US Embassy in Pakistan. The artist who was paid the money just happened to be an Obama fund raiser. It’s a duplicate of this one, shown in Napa, CA. I raise this as a micro example of how the entire US system is corrupt, from generals who retire and they lobby for defense contractors, to, well you name it.

“Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.”

― H.L. Mencken

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