By Jill Dougherty
The federal government shutdown, and Washington itself, are under the media microscope around the world.
The political meltdown is being watched with confusion, concern, disgust and even some gloating.
At Thursday’s State Department briefing, spokeswoman Marie Harf gave one example.
Citing local press commentary from Sri Lanka, she said: “The United States, and particularly many in Congress, have urged the government in Sri Lanka to more aggressively pursue reconciliation and a credible government, something we care a lot about.”
But in the Sri Lankan media, one report gave it right back. Harf quoted the article as saying: “Our good governance advice should be packaged and returned to sender.”
“So that’s the message we’re putting out around the world,” Harf added. “We talk a lot about democracy and good governance and institutions, and we have the best of that in the whole world, but right now, we’re not living up to all those standards."
Harf said the shutdown is destructive not only to the State Department but the nation’s foreign policy and the costs are growing daily.
Some examples, she said: the Department of Homeland Security’s federal law enforcement training center in Glynco, Georgia, is closed and that means new diplomatic security agents may be delayed in obtaining initial federal justice training.
Strengthening diplomatic security abroad, in turn, is being affected.
New security enhancements and upgrade projects around the world depend on FY 2014 money but that money is no longer available for some of the enhancements recommended by the Accountability Review Board that investigated the deadly terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi .
Security assistance funding for Israel for fiscal year 2014 is not available and could be delayed, Harf said. And there is no new funding for supporting the peacekeeping mission in the Sinai between Israel and Egypt.
During a time of delicate diplomacy with Iran, the Treasury’s Office for Foreign Asset Control, (OFAC) has furloughed almost all of its staff.
“We think this is an unhelpful and contradictory message to send at this time,” Harf said, “when everyone is looking to see whether a combination of tough sanctions, on the one hand, and equally tough diplomacy can push Iran to address the world’s concerns about its nuclear program.”
Because of the shutdown, President Barack Obama’s trip to Asia this weekend has been curtailed and the White House still isn’t confirming whether the overall trip will take place.
Secretary of State John Kerry will fill in for the president in the Philippines and Malaysia. The South China Morning Post splashed a headline across its web page: “Obama cancels part of Asian Pacific visit while (Chinese President) Xi begins first trip as President.”
At Thursday’s briefing, Marie Harf said the State Department is deferring to the White House on whether Obama should go to Asia but she said: “We hear a lot from Congress and from other folks about American exceptionalism, about going out there and being the leader in the world. Well, it’s hard to do that if we don’t have funding to even send people overseas to talk about our interests, or priorities and our policies.”