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Gration: I was a great ambassador

A scathing internal State Department report released last week took aim at Scott Gration, the former U.S. ambassador to Kenya who resigned suddenly in late June after viewing a draft of the document. But in an interview with The Cable, Gration insisted that his one-year tenure as the U.S. envoy in Nairobi was a success ...

ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images

A scathing internal State Department report released last week took aim at Scott Gration, the former U.S. ambassador to Kenya who resigned suddenly in late June after viewing a draft of the document.

But in an interview with The Cable, Gration insisted that his one-year tenure as the U.S. envoy in Nairobi was a success despite the criticism aired in the report, published Aug. 10 by the State Department's inspector general, and in the press.

A scathing internal State Department report released last week took aim at Scott Gration, the former U.S. ambassador to Kenya who resigned suddenly in late June after viewing a draft of the document.

But in an interview with The Cable, Gration insisted that his one-year tenure as the U.S. envoy in Nairobi was a success despite the criticism aired in the report, published Aug. 10 by the State Department’s inspector general, and in the press.

Gration disputed the litany of complaints documented in the 67-page report, which criticized Gration’s management of the embassy, his leadership style, his fights with Washington, his poor relationships with his own staff, and his reluctance to work through official channels and insistence on working outside of the State Department systems.

"The Ambassador has lost the respect and confidence of the staff to lead the mission," read the report. "Of more than 80 chiefs of mission inspected in recent cycles, the Ambassador ranked last for interpersonal relations, next to last on both managerial skill and attention to morale, and third from last in his overall scores from surveys of mission members. The inspectors found no reason to question these assessments; the Ambassador’s leadership to date has been divisive and ineffective."

But Gration told The Cable that the inspector general was flat-out wrong and that he was never given a fair chance to defend his actions and his record in Nairobi.

"I have a record of leadership and my leadership in the embassy was strong," Gration said. "I have no regrets and I’m extremely proud of the accomplishments of my team."

"This report does contain an egregious number of statements that are categorically false," he said. "A lot of these decisions were made before I had an opportunity to give my responses… [The report] doesn’t characterize my leadership style, it doesn’t characterize my management techniques, and it doesn’t characterize my ability to put strong teams together."

Gration told The Cable that the State Department offered him the opportunity to resign after seeing the draft of the IG report. He appealed to the highest levels of the department but his repeals were rejected, so he resigned before the report was published, he said. He did not speak with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama.

"The senior leadership made a decision based on a report that had not been vetted and that did not include my response," Gration complained. "I did not have a chance to give my side of the story."

Gration said he did use his personal e-mail account in addition to his secure State Department account, but he doesn’t think he did anything that would compromise the security of sensitive government information.

"I did all my official business on the State Department communications system. I supplemented it with my personal e-mail, but it was never a security issue," he said. "I have a background in secure communications. I know what is right and what is wrong. I did everything correctly, and I have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide."

He also admitted that he set up a second office in a bathroom next to his main office.

"I set up an office in a room that was adjoining my office because my office was a secure space. I needed an unclassified area. That room was never used as a bathroom although it had the facilities in there. It was converted into an office where I could have unclassified communications," he said.

Gration said he always followed instructions from Washington although he sometimes did disagree with headquarters. For example, the State Department cut Gration’s security staff by 50 percent amid rising violence in Kenya, something that Gration complained about to Washington, he said. He was also firmly against the State Department’s direction about how families of U.S. personnel would be "safe-havened" in case of evacuations, but he said he followed the State Department’s policy nonetheless.

"Every time that the State Department gave me a definitive policy I followed it to the ‘T’ and there was never daylight between me and the State Department on policy," he said. "There was a difference on priorities."

Gration said the people in the Nairobi embassy and the IG staff who criticized him just didn’t appreciate his blunt, no-nonsense approach.

"It was probably a clash of somebody who was very results-oriented," he said. "If you look at my background, you will see that if you want a job done and you want it done right, then you will choose Gration."

Gration trumpeted the "Let’s Live" program to curb infant mortality, the very program the inspector general heavily criticized as conflicting with the embassy’s health programs under the Global Health Initiative (GHI).

"At the Ambassador’s initiative, the embassy has spent considerable time and effort on Let’s Live without advancing the GHI. At the same time, Let’s Live has damaged mission morale and negatively affected relations with senior Kenyan health officials," the IG report said.

Gration said Let’s Live was a model for GHI and at the Nairobi embassy Let’s Live "is" GHI, meaning that they are one in the same as far as he is concerned. Besides, with only 13 people working on that program out of an embassy with a staff of 1,300, he doubted that could have been the reason his leadership was called into question.

"Let’s Live is a wonderful program," he said. "It did not lower morale throughout the embassy because 95 percent of the embassy staff were not even involved in it. Plus, it made major gains and we were able to refocus our priorities on mission-essential tasks that will cut premature mortalities in Kenya."

Gration’s roots in Kenya and the region run deep, and he feels a personal and emotional connection to the land and its people.  He first went there 60 years ago as the son of missionaries, later fleeing to Kenya from the Congo and settling in the East African country. His wife was born in Kenya. He flew with the Kenyan air force as an instructor. He worked in northern Kenya building roads and orphanages. He speaks Swahili at a native level.

"I probably knew more about the culture and the language … [my wife and I] have such a background and knowledge and a Rolodex in Kenya that is unmatched by anybody in the State Department. That’s why it’s such a deep disappointment," he said. "As Kenya is coming to the most critical time in its history, to have an ambassador who understands the nuances of Kenyan politics and understands how to build a relationship that is built on respect and is built on a common understanding of where Kenya and the U.S. have to go together, it’s a big loss for our country."

"It’s unfortunate for America, it’s unfortunate for Kenya, and it’s certainly unfortunate for me," he said.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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