U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Resigns over “Leadership Style” and Priorities: Who is Scott Gration?

Saturday, June 30, 2012
Scott Gration, a close adviser and friend to President Barack Obama, has resigned as U.S. ambassador to Kenya, citing leadership differences with Washington.
In an email to The Washington Post, Gration wrote: “Differences with Washington regarding my leadership style and certain priorities lead me to believe that it’s now time to leave.”
Gration was criticized by the State Department’s inspector general for repeatedly violating diplomatic security protocols at the U.S. embassy by using unsecured Internet connections.
Embassy morale was said to be low because of Gration, whose lack of interpersonal skills and confrontational style rubbed staffers the wrong way. His resignation is effective July 28.
Appointed ambassador to Kenya in February 2011, Gration spent most of his professional career in the U.S. Air Force, before serving as President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Sudan—a job he bungled, according to critics.
The son of missionaries, Gration was born in St. Charles, Illinois, but grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he learned Swahili as a young child. During the Congo Crisis of the early 1960s, his family was evacuated three times and became refugees.
After returning to the United States, Gration studied at Rutgers University and enlisted in the ROTC program. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.
After graduating from Rutgers, he joined the Air Force in September 1974. He trained to become a pilot and instructor and eventually instructed trainees on both the T-38 and F-5, reaching the rank of captain.
In 1980, he worked for two years as an F-5 instructor in Kenya. After that Gration was selected as a White House Fellow and spent a year assisting Dr. Hans Mark, the deputy administrator of NASA.
Returning to the Air Force, he trained on the F-16 and then spent two years as an instructor and flight commander, being promoted to major. In December 1985, he was posted to USAF Headquarters in Washington, D.C., to give advice on international political and military affairs in the Office of Regional Plans and Policy. During this time, he received a Master of Arts in national security studies from Georgetown University in 1988.
He attended the Armed Forces Staff College for six months, and then was promoted to lieutenant colonel and appointed to a staff position in 6th Allied Tactical Air Force in Izmir, Turkey.
In September 1990, he returned to flying service as an instructor pilot and operations officer for the 512th Fighter Squadron, and the following August was appointed chief of safety for the 86th Fighter Wing, both based at Ramstein AFB, Germany. During this period, he flew combat missions supporting Operation Provide Comfort, which brought aid to the Kurds in northern Iraq after the end of Desert Storm.
Beginning in June 1992, Gration spent a year studying at the National War College, followed by two years of staff duties in Washington, including a six-month period as an executive officer to the chief of staff of the Air Force and as a planner for the National Security Council.
By mid-1995, he held the rank of colonel. Gration returned to flight service and commanded the 4404th Operations Group (Provisional) in Saudi Arabia. He held that command until July 1996, when the bombing of the Khobar Towers took place. The next month he was transferred to command the 39th Wing in Turkey and held the post for two and a half years, overseeing the start of Operation Northern Watch, enforcing the no-fly zone over northern Iraq.
In mid-1998, he was transferred to command the 3rd Wing in Alaska, and remained in charge until January 2000. In October 1999, he was promoted to brigadier general.
Through 2000 and 2001 he was deputy director for operations (J-39, responsible for information operations) on the Joint Staff in Washington.
Gration then spent a year and a half as director of regional affairs for the deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs. During the last six months of this period, he was promoted to major general and commanded Joint Task Force-West during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In August 2003, he was appointed assistant deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs and in June 2004 became the director of strategy, plans and policy directorate of U.S. European Command.
Gration retired from the Air Force in 2006. That same year he traveled to Africa on a five-nation, fact-finding tour conducted by then-Senator Barack Obama.
Back in the states, Gration served as CEO of Millennium Villages, an organization dedicated to reducing extreme poverty. He then joined the Safe Water Network where he helped to provide safe water to vulnerable populations in India, Bangladesh and Ghana.
Although he voted for George W. Bush in 2000, Gration endorsed Obama for president. Obama took advantage of Gration’s military background and sent him around the U.S. during the 2008 presidential contest to speak on behalf of the Democratic candidate, who lacked a strong national security portfolio. In time, Gration became one of Obama’s top three military advisers during the presidential race.
After Obama took office, Gration was rumored to become the head of NASA. Instead, he was named U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan in March 2009.
His first diplomatic posting did not go well. Gration was criticized for being conciliatory towards the ruthless Sudanese government. “We’ve got to think about giving out cookies” to the government, Gration told The Washington Post. “Kids, countries—they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement.”
Despite his questionable performance, Gration remained in good enough standing with Obama to earn another diplomatic assignment, as ambassador to Kenya. He was appointed by Obama on February 10, 2011, confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 14 and sworn in on April 19.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
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