If you listen closely, you might hear the chatter. It bubbles up most noticeably in that long year after a new president takes power and hundreds of plum jobs are up for grabs and headed for Senate confirmation. Try to tune out the shouting and showboating on Capitol Hill and cable news over top Cabinet picks or judicial appointments.
Some of the nastiest fights in Washington take place out of public view, over positions most Americans know little about. Sometimes, they’re fueled by personal rivalries and animus, sometimes by ideology and ambition. Adjust your ear to this infrasound and you’ll hear the bilious whispers.
It’s rare this kind of talk lands beyond the ears of the few hundred people who think they run or want to run this place. But often, the careers of people who, in theory at least, are pursuing work in public service are on the line.
This is one such story you’ve not read before. It features a decorated diplomat with an unblemished record, about to claim a career-defining prize: an ambassadorial posting to a key Middle East ally. It involves serious accusations and counter-accusations of racism, none of which were made publicly. Hidden not far beneath the surface are personal histories and policy disagreements — in this case between appointees of former President Donald Trump and the “Deep State” bureaucracy that haven’t been put to bed with the advent of a new administration.
To tell the tale properly, we need to go back three years and start in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
In late 2018, Steven Bondy — a longtime veteran of the State Department who had served in tough countries, including Afghanistan, Egypt and Turkey — ran the U.S. Embassy in the UAE. As chargé d’affaires and acting head of the mission, his role was to manage America’s geopolitical relationship with the UAE, a wealthy Gulf petrostate, purchaser of billions of dollars of U.S. military hardware and key regional ally as Trump turned up the temperature on Iran.
Bondy was also dealing with some tricky office politics. The embassy’s defense attaché, then-Brig. Gen. Miguel Correa, was an amiable if somewhat freewheeling personality who had taken on an outsized — and for Bondy, discomfiting — celebrity status in the diplomatic relationship. A Green Beret who was seconded to Abu Dhabi, Correa spearheaded a daring 2017 rescue by U.S. Special Forces of an Emirati military helicopter that had gone down in Yemen. The operation saved the lives of several soldiers — among them, a young royal who was badly wounded in the crash.
That act had vaulted Correa into the good graces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, the country’s de facto ruler, and uncle and father-in-law of the wounded soldier.
According to nine former colleagues, that rankled Bondy, a lifelong by-the-book diplomat who managed the embassy staff. Bondy ran a tight ship. Correa — who was allegedly prone to taking his own meetings with high-ranking UAE officials — didn’t fit.
Bondy wanted him to heel or get out. He got the latter, eventually removing Correa from his post in Abu Dhabi with the consent of senior officials at the Defense and State Departments. Months after, Bondy raised a number of concerns about Correa, telling a Defense Intelligence Agency inspector general that his former colleague was a racist and an anti-Semite, and that he had made homophobic comments, according to two former senior Trump White House officials.
The IG report found no substantiation for those claims.
Correa soon found a home in Trump’s National Security Council. In the White House, his close relationship with high-ranking Emiratis helped seal the deal on the landmark Abraham Accords, normalizing relations between the UAE and Israel.
Correa left the Trump administration in January and retired from active duty as a two-star general in October.
Bondy moved on from the UAE to a senior adviser post at State and in April was nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as ambassador in Bahrain, a close ally that’s home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf.
Then, more than two years after being removed from his post in Abu Dhabi and gone from government, Correa decided to share his own concerns about his former boss.
“I came forward after retirement upon hearing of his nomination,” he told WEBICNEWS in early December, almost two months after Bondy appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing. “I wanted the facts to come out in the public for our leaders to see the entire picture.”