Is there a better way to ensure no troublesome violations of John Kerry’s signature ceasefire in Syria get reported than by staffing the hotline where violations are to be reported by Syrians with non-Arabic speakers?
Gotta love those clever gals and guys over at the State Department. The Department is all a twitter, high-fiving each other and sending congratulatory emails to Secretary of State John Kerry over his negotiating a ceasefire in Syria. And, in order to monitor compliance with the terms of the ceasefire, State set up a hotline. Ordinary Syrians, out there on the ground, could call in to report violations.
Now remember, violations by anyone other than the naughty Russkies might make the State Department look bad, as if the ceasefire was only smoke, mirrors and a PR stunt, violated in part by forces to include the U.S.-supported militias.
So, by some wacky Washington coincidence, the State Department admitted Wednesday it used only volunteers with limited Arabic language abilities to staff that hotline it set up to take calls about ongoing violence in Syria.
That move led to confusion, as people who speak Arabic, which perhaps unknown to State is Syria’s official language, tried to call with information about violations of the cease-fire, only to get hung up by volunteers who didn’t understand the language.
See, that volunteer part is another funny. Something as important as a hotline into Syria is staffed only by volunteers at State. No one could be bothered to assign personnel full-time to such a task.
In order to help monitor the cessation of hostilities in Syria, we did set up an information hotline that was staffed 24/7, where violations could be reported, I think via a number of different apps,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “There were some language issues among some of the volunteers. Granted, these again are State Department employees who are doing this in addition to their usual jobs.”
“We are aware that there were language issues, as you note, and we’re working to correct those, obviously, because it’s important that we have Arabic speakers who are able to field incoming calls,” Toner said.
Toner was asked whether proficiency in Arabic was a requirement for volunteering to work the hotline.
“It was, just but, you know, given the time limits on setting this up, probably some of the language skills weren’t properly vetted,” he said. “So, we’re working to address that.”
When asked for the phone number of the Syrian hotline, Toner said he didn’t have it on him. “I don’t have it in front of me, sorry,” he said.
Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent. Reprinted from the his blog with permission.