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Exclusive: White House, NSC neither Knew nor Approved of Ambassador Baily’s Controversial Decision in Macedonia

April 29, 2017

By Chris Deliso

Neither the White House nor the National Security Council had previously been informed that Ambassador to Macedonia Jess Baily was planning to recognize a new ‘speaker of parliament’ during a chaotic session marred by protests on Thursday night, Balkanalysis.com can report.

With Obama-era Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hoyt Yee arriving Sunday to back Baily by giving official blessings to the US-proclaimed ‘speaker,’ this revelation raises very serious concerns about who – if anyone – is running US foreign policy, at a time when the Balkans is ready to explode amidst rising nationalism driven by unending foreign political interference. It also raises very serious questions about the damage Baily has being to American diplomacy in the country since the crisis began in early 2015.

An Embassy Gone Rogue?

The Trump White House was “taken by surprise” by the US Embassy’s decision, and the powerful NSC was not happy with the result either, high-level American officials have confirmed. Other senior sources from Europe and the US have provided valuable input that cumulatively suggests a high likelihood that Baily – the most unpopular American to ever set foot in Macedonia – has gone rogue, working in lockstep with a very small number of Obama-era State and USAID holdovers.

To date, the US Embassy has not satisfactorily replied to our queries regarding who authorized Baily’s decision – or who is responsible for DAS Yee’s imminent visit. These official written questions have gone unanswered by Embassy communications personnel. In the absence of such a response, we hope to be able to bring up the issue directly with DAS Yee during his Skopje visit on Monday.

Baily’s Controversial Coronation Announcement

The carefully-coordinated events of Thursday night saw American and European diplomats immediately congratulate the ‘election’ of Talat Xhaferi, an ethnic Albanian former UCK member nominated on 27 March by the leftist SDSM party for the speaker of parliament role- the first step required to form a government that would be weak at best. The farcical proceedings occurred by voice vote, with no written record, while a few sung Albania’s national anthem at one moment. According to local law, the speaker of parliament becomes national president in the case that the president is deposed or killed. It is not impossible that SDSM will try to impeach President Ivanov to make such a result occur. The president controls the armed forces and foreign intelligence agency.

Many local sources present during the event suspect that both the timing and provocative actions of the SDSM and Albanian parliamentarians was calculated to provoke a violent response that would then make them appear as righteous victims. The ploy, modeled on a much smaller similar event in December 2012, worked.

For Baily, sustained Macedonian pacifism had been a major irritant. The 60-day For a United Macedonia evening rallies had been completely peaceful, in contrast to last year’s USAID-directed and funded ‘Colorful Revolution’ of pro-SDSM activists. But this year’s ralliers had long threatened it would enter parliament if the opposition tried to elect a speaker without renouncing the Tirana Platform (a post-election set of maximalist ethnic demands drafted in the office of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama). This warning provided a perfect opportunity for Baily and comrades to create a scenario that would guarantee a violent outcome- and thus discredit the authentic and peaceful public protest movement.

However, it remains unclear as to who committed what violence, with partisan rivals and media presenting different scenarios and evidence. However, the international media – which largely ignored the two months of peaceful protests – have overwhelmingly endorsed SDSM’s depiction of events. And every single Western power condemned the violence, insinuating that it was a blow against democratic procedures and implying VMRO-DPMNE was guilty.

In addition to this perception management tactic, the commotion has helped misdirect scrutiny from the actions of the US Embassy under Ambassador Baily before, during and after the drama.

 Who Authorized Baily’s Decision?

With no official reply from the Embassy, it is impossible to know who – if anyone – instructed Baily to act as he did and when he did with the Xhaferi recognition process. There was no great emergency to elect a speaker, as the country has remained peaceful and negotiations are ongoing as a procedural filibuster continued. But for whatever reason, Baily was determined to obtain a result.

Balkanalysis.com informed the Embassy communications staff in writing that if there was no response from their side it would have to be assumed that Baily made the recognition choice of his own will. To date they have not stated otherwise,

The Mysterious DAS Yee Announcement

One possible reason for Baily’s bravado was the looming visit of DAS Yee, which the US Embassy announced in a 10:51am tweet on April 26. That was the day right before the parliamentary decision and, in the opinion of Macedonian protocol experts, extremely unusual as such visits are usually decided well in advance.

In this tweet, the Embassy announced that “DAS Hoyt Yee will travel to Macedonia on May 1 to engage political leaders on government formation, bilateral relations & reforms.” This means that as of that date, a specific scenario was already in place. Yet the Macedonian authorities were too incompetent or too timid to consider this seriously.

In addition to the protocol aberration, the wording makes the planning for Yee’s visit especially mysterious. At the time in Skopje, there was no great expectation that a government would be formed soon, due to VMRO-DPMNEs ongoing procedural filibuster, though SDSM leader Zoran Zaev had threatened he would nominate a speaker soon. There was thus no reason to expect that suddenly on May 1 Macedonian parties would be discussing forming a government with a visiting American bureaucrat.

This Embassy tweet thus helps confirm the suspicion that Ambassador Baily pre-planned the stunt at parliament to occur just in time for his immediate superior to swoop in and justify his decision.

However, with the US Embassy refusing to answer who and when at State authorized Yee’s current trip to Macedonia, it remains unclear as to whether a higher-up at State sent him- or whether Baily himself invited the caretaker bureaucrat to come and provide political cover for the controversial decision.

If no one higher than Yee himself authorized his visit, then the acting DAS is essentially coming as a tourist, and his political opinions are just that- opinions.

A State Department Understaffing Crisis and Baily’s Self-Entrapment Problem

One major criticism of the Trump Administration’s foreign policy is the unusually slow pace at which State positions have been filled, with numerous vacancies remaining. This is reportedly due in part to new Secretary of State Tillerson’s desire to restructure the department, and possibly merge USAID into it.

As the old saying goes, when the cat is away, the mice will play: the current controversial activities of the US ambassador in Macedonia may simply reflect a lack of oversight. With so many vacancies (not to mention much bigger issues like Russia, Syria and North Korea), it is understandable that senior US leaders do not have time to regulate diplomatic activities in small but volatile countries like Macedonia. But they should at least be informed of them in advance.

Interestingly enough, ranking above Mr. Yee is a very short list of current State functionaries in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (see official hierarchical list here). Ambassador Baily is subordinate to these officials and therefore must follow their policy instructions. Under the Obama administration, this was no problem, as the Democrat-led administration had an openly pro-leftist orientation. The situation is currently more confused due to a new Republican-led administration still finding its feet.

Baily’s problem, should he try to justify his authorization to act Thursday night by recourse to this list, is that if he cites one particular name, he will cause himself a much greater, and probably career-ending scandal. Unfortunately for him, Baily has chosen to trap himself in a lie regarding his own interaction with superiors that would automatically delegitimize his entire ambassadorship. He will thus probably avoid the question as much as possible out of fear for his own career.

Tactical Measures while Under Fire

With the Embassy and local USAID mission already under Senate and Congressional investigation for misuse of public funds, not to mention a Judicial Watch lawsuit against State and USAID, Baily’s only solutions are two: more violence to create further misdirection from himself (which is bad for US interests), and political cover from Yee. With allies like former State spokesman Mark Toner now gone, it will become more difficult for Baily and the Embassy to get pro-leftist endorsements from Washington regarding actions that have infuriated and alienated the majority of Macedonians since the beginning of the crisis in January 2015.

Since the election of Donald Trump, Baily has come under withering assault from local Macedonians – many, but not all, supporters of the conservative VMRO-DPMNE – and has become much less vocal than before. The Trump election reportedly terrified Baily, firstly for his own career and secondly for potential policy changes in Macedonia. However, the slow staffing at State has given him breathing room and he apparently still feels he can act with impunity.

Nevertheless, Baily has become much quieter since November 2016 and relied on ever-faithful European allies, NATO and OSCE officials, and pro-leftist media to speak for him. With the USAID investigation in Washington, Baily and the local mission have tried to utilize a feel-good campaign drawing attention to nice things the Embassy has done. This online PR exercise (dubbed “this is civil engagement” has been mocked by Macedonian critics.

Itinerary of Hoyt Yee’s Visit as a further Indicator of Political Transition Planning

The official Embassy press release regarding Mr Yee’s visit on April 30 and May 1 indicates that at least himself, Baily and their crew expect that they will be creating the conditions for a new government led by the unpopular SDSM and a collection of ethnic Albanian parties- all of which are fractured themselves. Such a government would be lucky to last six months, and would probably deepen the crisis up to the point of civil war.

There are sides which look forward to such an outcome with delight, but that is a story for another time. For now, concentrating on Yee’s itinerary reveals which power players and influencers the DAS hopes to get in line to fulfill Baily’s vision for a new and improved Macedonia. Here is the official statement from the Embassy, released on April 29 at 1:11pm:

“Hoyt Brian Yee, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, will visit the Republic of Macedonia April 30 and May 1, 2017.  Deputy Assistant Secretary Yee will meet with President Gjorge Ivanov, Speaker of Parliament Talat Xhaferi, political party leaders Nikola Gruevski, Zoran Zaev, Ali Ahmeti, Bilal Kasami, Vesel Memedi, and Menduh Thaci, as well as with representatives from the civil society and diplomatic communities.  Together they will discuss the status of government formation, bilateral relations, and the reforms needed for Euro-Atlantic integration.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Yee will give a statement to the media in the afternoon of Monday, May 1.  Please contact the U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Section by telephone at 070 343 304 or 070 233 145, or by email to ahmetil@state.gov or vrenezizj@state.gov for additional details.”

Dangerous Outcomes for US Interests and Regional Stability

From this wording, it is very clear that the embassy in Skopje is proceeding as if nothing unusual has happened, by considers Thursday’s debacle a fait accompli. By referring to Xhaferi as the official ‘speaker of parliament,’ the Embassy is putting the State Department – and, by extension, a White House and NSC that were never informed – behind a political transition conducted outside of all parliamentary procedure and in violation of Article 82.1 of the Macedonian constitution (regarding the president’s obligation to uphold the unitary character of the state and its territorial integrity).

Thus, the outcome will either be that Baily pulls off his palace coup and leaves for a bigger and better posting, or is told to reverse course by higher-ups. It is inconceivable that, having invested his entire diplomatic efforts for three years straight to putting SDSM in power by any means possible that Baily will easily back down now. To do so would require a very strong message from the Trump Administration and be received as a total humiliation by an already humiliated and vengeful career diplomat.

The stage is thus set for either a refresh and new negotiations, or a dysfunctional, Frankenstein government that will not only fail to operate, but which will damage US relations with Macedonia and regional stability. Neighboring countries like Greece, Serbia and Montenegro are growing increasingly concerned by Albanian leaders’ demands for a ‘Greater Albania’ at their expense.

The great tragedy of such an outcome would be that it is still entirely avoidable. But unless cooler heads prevail, and popular demands for new elections and a (long-deferred) population census are met, the crisis is likely to intensify. And the US will have no one to thank but its own rogue diplomats.

 

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