The Cable

Who’s in charge of the State Department today?

The man in charge?

Are you a State Department employee looking for a good day to take a long lunch, or perhaps cut out of work a few minutes early? Well, today could be your chance.

Almost every member of the senior leadership of the department is away on travel today. We were told that Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg was "here running the department" while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was away on her Asia tour. She's on the way home now, but Steinberg left for Copenhagen, Denmark, last night to attend the Arctic Council Deputy Ministerial Meeting today and tomorrow.

Now, we're not saying Arctic policy isn't important -- quite the contrary. And we're not saying that Steinberg's staying in D.C. Monday and Tuesday wasn't useful. We understand he attended a super-important NSC meeting Tuesday on the North Korea crisis in Clinton's stead.  But with him gone, who's at the controls in Foggy Bottom?

Deputy Secretary for Management Jack Lew is in Kano, Nigeria, on his way to France later today. Undersecretary for Political Affairs Bill Burns is in India through Thursday. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Robert Hormats is on his way to Calgary, Canada, for a preparatory meeting for the upcoming G-8 Summit. Undersecretary for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher is in New York for the NPT Review Conference. Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Judith McHale is on the Beijing trip. Undersecretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero in Abuja, Nigeria.

This State Department org chart also places USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, U.N. Representative Susan Rice, and Counselor Cheryl Mills at the top of the food chain. But Shah is in Dhaka, Bangladesh; Rice is in New York; and Mills is in Haiti.

At the White House, the order of succession is clear: president, vice president, speaker of the House, president pro tempore of the Senate, and on down the line. The Obama administration has even recently updated the orders of succession for the Defense Department and the Department of Agriculture.

But the most recent guidance for how this works at the State Department was from early in the Bush years. According to this 2001 executive order, Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy is the guy in charge today. So if you need something done, go to him. And Undersecretary Kennedy -- today is your day to shine.

"Undersecretary Kennedy is the senior officer physically here today," said State Deparmtnet spokesman P.J. Crowley, but he cautioned, "Given the virtues of modern technology, the secretary is always in touch and always in charge."

The Cable

Zimbabwe ambassador calls U.S. diplomat a 'house slave'

When Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson took to the podium at Tuesday night's gala event, he probably didn't expect any hecklers.

Carson, shown at right, was speaking at the Africa Day celebration at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, a meeting of embassy officials representing countries all over the African continent. A soft-spoken diplomat with a professorial air, Carson spoke on the progress of Africa from a colonial dominion to a group of independent, if struggling states. His remarks were going along as expected -- until he started to talk critically about the downslide of human rights and good governance in Zimbabwe.

"You are talking like a good house slave!" came a shout from an audience member to Carson's right. Your humble Cable guy nearly choked on his filet mignon as it became clear that the heckler, Zimbabwean Ambassador H.E. Machivenyika Mapuranga, was determined to keep interrupting the speech by shouting at Carson.

As the crowd hissed "Boo!" and other disapproving condemnations, Mapuranga wouldn't let it go, going on with shouts such as, "We will never be an American colony, you know that!"

But Carson silenced both the ambassador and the crowd when he started speaking again. Changing his tone, he scolded Zimbabwe by pointing out that such outbursts would have evoked vicious punishment in the southern African country, which has been ruled by revolutionary leader Robert Mugabe with an iron fist since the 1980s.

"You can sit in the audience in darkness, but the light will find you and the truth will find you," Carson told Mapuranga, as event staff tried to quietly encourage the ambassador to get up from his table and leave the event.

Turning to the crowd, Carson said, "It seems that Robert Mugabe has some friends in the room tonight. Unlike in Zimbabwe, they are allowed to speak without oppression because this is a democracy."

The event staff was able to convince Mapuranga to leave, who shouted all the way. His staff filed out behind him.

"In Zimbabwe that kind of talk would have been met by a policeman's stick. We don't do that here," Carson surmised, before returning to his prepared speech.

The diplomats at the event couldn't stop talking about the incident. One said he was encouraged that the all-African crowd booed Mapuranga and cheered Carson, signaling that African diplomats don't like what's going on in Zimbabwe and generally support the Obama administration's policies in Africa.

"It wasn't the right platform for him to do that," another diplomat said of Mapuranga, adding that Carson had won the respect of the crowd by coming to the dinner with "facts, not just kind words."

That diplomat remarked that in Africa, ambassadors are such bigwigs that they would never be booted out of a public event for shouting something. But in the United States, even ambassadors can be escorted out of the room by regular event staff.

"In Africa, an ambassador is treated like a king. Here he can be humiliated just like anyone else."

Bonus video: FP interviewed Mapuranga a few years ago after publishing the 2007 Failed States Index, where Zimbabwe appeared fourth. Watch him tout Zimbabwe's "sustainable development" policies and blame Britain for the country's troubles: