Washington, Oct. 29: When self-criticism, that dreaded Communist tool which felled countless Soviets, East Europeans and Chinese in the Stalinist and Maoist eras, reared its head in Washington two years ago from inside the White House, no one suspected that its originator was a bright Indian-American.
Jofi Joseph’s runaway success with the modern day avatar of that tool — a Twitter account, what else! — ended as dramatically as it began on February 12, 2011 when he was sacked last week from a highly sensitive White House job and his Twitter account was summarily disabled.
But not before it had claimed the most famous of several victims, National Security Adviser Susan Rice. She was Barack Obama’s first choice to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, but that nomination was torpedoed by Republicans on Capitol Hill.
It now turns out that some of the ammunition for those who opposed Rice’s nomination after Obama’s re-election as President last year actually came from Joseph’s inside information in the White House.
He posted accounts of what was wrong with the Obama administration’s response to the terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi which killed the American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, among others, last year.
Rice, who spearheaded that response as Obama’s permanent representative to the UN in New York, became a scapegoat in the process. Several months after she withdrew from consideration as Clinton’s successor, the President nominated her as his National Security Adviser.
Joseph did not spare Rice even during this nomination. “What’s with the dominatrix-like black suit Susan Rice is wearing at this announcement?” he anonymously tweeted when Rice was formally introduced as the new National Security Adviser at the White House on June 5.
Joseph, who just turned 40 and had a very promising career ahead of him, was born in Germany where his parents, both Indians, were stationed in the early 1970s. He arrived with them in the US when he was only six months old.
The family lived in Muskegon, Michigan, where the young boy had a Catholic education at a missionary school. Joseph turned out to be a bright student. At 17, he topped the National Citizen Bee competition, which earned him a $7,000 scholarship.
Indian-American school students routinely win the nationwide Spelling Bee competition year after year. But the National Citizen Bee is its equivalent for testing knowledge of American history, constitution and government.
At the Muskegon Catholic Central School, Joseph piled up several more awards before enrolling in the Ivy League Princeton University as a Truman Scholar in public policy.
At Princeton, he was an outstanding student and was selected to go to Salzburg on a fellowship.
Everything seemed to be going well for this promising young man and he appeared to be clear about making a career in government and international affairs, as he told a local newspaper in his home town, the Muskegon Chronicle 20 years ago after being selected for the fellowship.
“I really have a strong interest in government and international affairs. It is my commitment to public service. I want to make a difference in life, and the best way to do this is a career in this, helping to shape our nation and foreign policy,” he told the newspaper.
From Princeton, Joseph went to Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, which has produced outstanding US diplomats and graduated in 1994.
He then headed for Capitol Hill as a foreign policy aide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. There his former bosses include the current Vice-President, Joe Biden and Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senator Bob Casey, for whom he was the chief external affairs adviser.
Subsequently he joined the state department, from where he was picked by the White House National Security Council because of his expertise in nuclear non-proliferation to join a team dealing with the highly sensitive Iranian atomic weapons programme.
Peeks into Joseph’s writings and other communication have hints that he could have been an asset in the White House for India had his meteoric rise continued. Michael Crowley, senior correspondent for Time magazine, who knew Joseph well, reproduced a correspondence with him last week, which ought to interest Indians.
“Picking up on your last post,” Joseph wrote to Crowley about something he had written about non-proliferation, “Ken Waltz, a noted academic, made the exact same argument in a seminal 1981 paper — the spread of nuclear weapons can deter conventional armed conflict. It has invited considerable controversy — surely, more nukes is a bad thing, not a good thing — but the historical record offers considerable evidence in support of his argument. The situation in South Asia and the Cold War are just the two most notable examples.” Music for Indian ears, since it offers a justification for India’s nuclear weapons programme?
Crowley offers another quote from Joseph, which illuminates the rationale behind Obama’s new outreach to Iran instead of the “axis of evil” approach of George W. Bush. “There is an alternative course, one that worked well in the 1990s, and that is the lost art of coercive diplomacy: combining incentives and punishments to coerce recalcitrant regimes into making the right decisions.”Because Joseph was very bright, he could not hide his contempt for many of those who claim to be oracles on US foreign policy. His very first tweet was on the bumbling way Washington handled Egypt’s Arab Spring uprising against Hosni Mubarak and on an unexplained reversal of course on the long-time President in Cairo.
“Now that Egypt has been solved and I am done advising the administration, it is time for me to... join Twitter! This will be fun,” he explained as the rationale for starting the tweets which became a barrage of self-criticism on US foreign policy.
When his identity as the anonymous tweeter behind the @natsecwonk account was unmasked last week, Joseph was about to leave his present job and move to the Pentagon’s Office of Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics.
It is another office of major interest to India in New Delhi’s quest for state of the art American defence technology.
It is revealing of the man that several of Joseph’s former colleagues were privately forgiving after he was shown the door. His problem was that in the White House only authorized personnel, like the official spokespersons, are allowed to access social-networking sites.
Joseph was not one of them.
A former school teacher of his in Muskegon, Russell Gallas, told the local newspaper that Joseph was like a late night TV comedian, poking fun. Perhaps that is why the White House is not criminally charging him, just letting him go.