Thank Heavens For Change We Can Believe In

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on March 25, 2009

I am so glad that we have an Administration that no longer hires political hacks out of a misplaced sense of loyalty and promotes them over genuine policy experts.

Oh, wait:

Hillary Clinton’s departure for the State Department was meant to end the era of Clinton drama, and to leave the turmoil of her campaign behind. But one former Clinton aide, now a senior adviser to Secretary Clinton, has brought at least some of that drama along with him.

State Department reporters and observers have been buzzing about the brewing conflict since her second foreign trip, earlier this month, to Europe and the Middle East. On that trip, her longtime Senate press secretary Philippe Reines – one of the combatants in Hillaryland’s long civil wars – took over as the political staffer charged with handling the press.

The trip was marked by tussles over information and access, but it became known for a high-profile blunder in Geneva on March 6. There, Clinton met Sergei Lavrov, the dour Russian Foreign Minister, and cheerily presented him with a large red button in a yellow case, with the words “Reset” and “Peregruzka” written on it.

“We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?” Clinton asked.

“You got it wrong,” said Lavrov.

The error appalled some in the State Department, because the button – which was inscribed in Latin script, not Cyrillic – hadn’t been assembled with the help of State’s cadre of Russian speakers and professional translators, but rather by Clinton’s small political team. The day of the event, people involved said, Reines showed the finished product to officials who spoke Russian, but who weren’t native, or up-to-date enough to catch the error in a word out of computer terminology.

One of those was the senior director for Russia at the National Security Council, Michael McFaul, a well-known Russia scholar. Three people familiar with the incident said that, in its aftermath, Reines sought to place public blame on McFaul, a former Stanford professor.

Maybe we can get the President involved to smooth things over. A gift of DVDs to the Russians ought to do the trick.

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