The Obameter

Open new consulates "in the tough and hopeless corners of the world"


"Will stop shuttering consulates and start opening them in the tough and hopeless corners of the world. He will expand our foreign service, and develop the capacity of our civilian aid workers to work alongside the military."


Updates

None shuttered and two opened where life is hard

During his presidential campaign, President Barack Obama promised to "stop shuttering consulates and start opening them in the tough and hopeless corners of the world.” In our last update, we defined a consulate as a foreign office, somewhat similar to an embassy, "responsible for fostering economic, commercial, scientific and cultural relations" between the country it represents and the area in which it is located.

To get an idea what consulates have been opened since Obama was inaugurated, we spoke with the Department of State, which was able to provide us with a list of consular offices opened from the beginning of 2009 to the end of February, 2012. The department told us that since 2009, the administration has opened consulates in Wuhan, China; Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan; Herat, Afghanistan; Almaty, Kazakhstan and in the cities of Erbil, Basrah and Kirkuk in Iraq.
   
It is difficult to objectively define what makes areas "tough and hopeless,” but we looked at statistics on life expectancy, literacy rates and mortality rates to get a rough approximation of the quality of life in these countries. We charted those statistics in a table and included the world ranking for each nation out of 221 countries:
 

Country

Life expectancy at birth (World Rank)

Literacy rate (World Rank)

Mortality rate for children under 5 (World Rank)

China

75 years (95th)

92.2 percent (101st)

16 per 1,000 births (111th)

Kazakhstan

69 years (148th)

99.5 percent (15th)

24 per 1,000 births (82nd)

Iraq

71 years (144th)

74.1 percent (151st)

41.7 per 1,000 births (61st)

Afghanistan

45 years (217th)

28.1 percent (202nd)

149.2 per 1,000 births (2nd)



While the statistics for China, Kazakhstan and Iraq aren"t near the top of the world rankings, each country still ranks above over 60 other nations in terms of literacy rate, mortality rate and life expectancy at birth. So while the citizens of these countries certainly may be struggling, it might be an overstatement to describe their situations as "tough and hopeless.”

The statistics for Afghanistan, though, tell a significantly different story. The average Afghan citizen lives over 30 years less than than the average American; Afghanistan"s literacy rate is lower than that of 200 other countries; and over 15 percent of Afghan infants die before the age of five. Those numbers suggest that Afghanistan qualifies as a "tough and hopeless” part of the world.

Of the seven consulates that the administration has opened or since beginning of 2009, two have opened in Afghanistan, a nation with enough challenges to be described as "tough and hopeless.” And, according to the State Department, none have been closed. We rate this as a Promise Kept.

Sources:

C.I.A. World Factbook, "Afghanistan”. Updated Feb. 15, 2012. Accessed Feb. 24, 2012.

C.I.A. World Factbook, "China”. Updated Feb. 21, 2012. Accessed Feb. 24, 2012.

C.I.A. World Factbook, "Kazakhstan”. Updated Feb. 8, 2012. Accessed Feb. 22, 2012.

C.I.A. World Factbook, "Iraq”. Updated Feb. 21, 2012. Accessed Feb. 24, 2012.

Email interview, Department of State, Feb. 17, 2012

Index Mundi, "Literacy - Country Comparison”, Update Jan. 1, 2012. Accessed Feb. 24, 2012.

"Literacy rates around the world,” The Guardian, March 9, 2009.

World Bank Data, "Kazakhstan.” Updated 2012. Accessed Feb. 29, 2012.  

United Nations, "2010 U.N. Human Development Report.

Two planned for Afghanistan

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to open new consulates in the "tough and hopeless corners of the world." Consulates, which are similar to embassies, are usually located in populous centers in foreign countries, and provide various services to national citizens. They are also responsible for fostering economic, commercial, scientific and cultural relations between the country they represent and the area in which they are located.

To rate this promise, we went straight to the source: the U.S. Department of State, which oversees all U.S. consulates abroad. A spokesman told us that since President Obama took office on January 20, 2009, the agency has notified Congress of its plan to open two new consulates in Afghanistan, one in the city of Mazari Sharif and the other in Herat. There are ongoing discussions to open additional consulates in other countries, but these are only in preliminary stages.

"Tough and hopeless" are subjective descriptions, but there is little doubt that Afghan citizens face a very, very wide array of challenges. The country has a 28 percent adult literacy rate, the average life expectancy at birth is only 43.6 years, and 39 percent of children under five are underweight.

With two new consulates expected to open and with ongoing deliberations inside the U.S. State Department, we rate this one In the Works.

Sources:

Interview, U.S. Department of State, Jan. 5, 2010.

United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 2009: Afghanistan, Accessed Jan. 7, 2010.

Consular Corps College, What Consulates Do, Accessed Jan. 7, 2010.