Wednesday, April 27, 2011

WH to US Ambassador to Malta: Don't Expect Leader of the Free World to Stop Everything to Rescue You From Bad Guys

U.S. Department of State Official Photograph o...Image via Wikipedia“You cannot realistically expect the leader of the free world to stop everything to rescue you from bad guys.”

That's what one close White House adviser reportedly said according to the outgoing US Ambassador to Malta, Douglas Kmiec in a farewell letter to his Maltese friends published in the Times of Malta on April 24.

It looks like the "bad guys" are the bureaucrats at the State Department, and not just the scorpions at the Office of the Inspector General who were alleged to have engaged in a "sting-back" in their critical report for a legal opinion from the 1980's. Oh, dear.

I have posted here previously about the resignation of the Ambassador Kmiec following a report from the Inspector General's Office of the State Department released in early April.

While this is certainly not the first high profile resignation we have seen this year, this is the first time that we've seen a departing ambassador engage the press on his defense following his very public resignation.

From media accounts, it looks like Ambassador Kmiec was waiting for a response directly from the White House but did not get one.

“Presumably, if the President, unlike the Inspector General, was happy with my work he could easily affirm with a letter, phone call, or even a brief mention in a speech,” Prof. Kmiec said, adding, however, that he had only heard from the State Department so far.

In a telephonic interview with TPM Muckraker, Ambassador Kmiec complains about not being able to speak directly to President Obama:
 "What is really heartbreaking is not to be able to speak to the President about this, about the distortion -- intentional or unintentional, clumsy or politically motivated somehow -- by the Inspector General," Kmiec told TPM. "I love this work so much, and was so honored to be doing this for the country and for this President in particular."

"The thing that is so saddening to end this way, is that I haven't lost any of my enthusiasm for the President's ability to lead the country. I have seen it applauded and greatly appreciated here and in international settings," Kmiec said.

"I mean if I could get Barack Obama to fly into the Malta airport for 30 seconds, I think I'd be canonized. The man is extremely respected, and I think everything we've done has just magnified that respect, and in an honest way," Kmiec said.     

Ambassador Kmeic also took some issues with unnamed State Dept officials and their runaway red pens:
One particularly offensive overreach, says Kmiec, was when State Department officials edited an article Kmiec wrote memorializing his father in a way that changed his father's views.

"I thought it was highly offensive to have my father's memorial piece edited by the Department of State, and indeed what was edited out was reference to his faith and mine and also there was some substantive disagreement with views my father held, so they changed them," Kmiec said. "So there was a certain aggravation there."     
He also wrote a piece for the L.A. Times for what would have been Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday that the State Department rejected because it wasn't related to his mission.

But in his farewell letter to his Maltese friends, he also writes that the "The soulless, secular censorship of a few is not representative of the many." 

Imagine if he had a blog.

A double standards in ambassadorial resignations?

Ambassador Kmeic wanted to leave post in mid-August and had apparently been told he should leave by the end of May.  The Times of Malta helpfully points out the US Ambasador to China Jon Huntsman who resigned in February was allowed to stay for three months. Ambassador Huntsman's resignation was reported by NYT in late January with April 30 as its effectivity date.  Excerpts from the Times of Malta:
Outgoing US Ambassador Douglas Kmiec has been asked to leave his post in Malta two-and-a-half months earlier than he had planned, and will therefore miss the July opening of the new embassy.

Prof. Kmiec resigned last week after being chastised by the US State Department for focusing too much energy on his religious beliefs. In a letter, he invited President Barack Obama to visit Malta and reaffirm his credentials, hinting that his resignation should not be accepted.

However, the State Department said his resignation had been accepted and asked him to leave on May 31 rather than August 15 – the date he had proposed to coincide with the Feast of the Assumption.

Prof. Kmiec, who writes an article in today’s paper complaining on “soulless secular censorship”, told The Sunday Times that the State Department felt it was “usual” for him to have a shorter notice period.

However, the current US ambassador to China, who resigned in February, reportedly to prepare a Republican presidential bid, was allowed to stay on for three months.

Such double standards could indicate there is more than meets the eye behind Prof. Kmiec’s departure

And the ambassador seems sore and feeling rather under appreciated:
He also pointed out that those who took considerable personal risks in backing Mr Obama seemed not to be given reciprocal support when needed.

“But political friendships, of course, are not generally personal ones. One wag once said: ‘If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog’.”
“Even a dog knows the difference between being tripped over and being kicked.” I do too.

The country's Foreign Minister Tonio Borg has now waded into the resignation, expressing disappointment and surprise that the Ambassador is stepping down.
“He was and still is a good Ambassador who has served his country well, while winning the hearts of many,” Dr Borg said.

“Far from hindering the carrying out of his duties, his faith actually made him stronger and helped him gain respect and admiration.”

But a John Guillaumier of St Julians writes rather aptly:
If the next US Ambassador to Malta is a Muslim, it would be undiplomatic of him to use his post as ambassador to promote Islam, just as it was wrong for Prof. Kmiec to use his post as ambassador to promote his personal religious values.

Well, that is a mighty good point, don't you think?

Then, of course, one must ask -- who remembers that 1989 memo, by the way? Are we to believe that the OIG has been waiting all this time to seek vengeance for an opinion written in the last century? That's like attributing artificial emotional intelligence to a bureaucracy .... I'm sure we have yet to invent a bureaucracy that's as smart as that.   

There are a couple of things that may be lost in this minor controversy. The fact that all Foreign Service folks must agree to publicly support the policies of the US Government even if they personally disagree with them. That basically means, the policy of the administration of the day whether it is a Republican or Democratic administration.  The second and no less important is the fact that FS professional cannot have a personal opinion on official matters. By virtue of their positions as representatives of the U.S. Government (and the higher the ranks, the more it matters), they can only talk about the official positions of the government they represent, not their own personal opinions. 

Remember that Political Counselor cornered by an important local contact? Contact says, "Just between us, what is really your opinion on XYZ? Without batting an eyelash, the Pol Counselor replies, "But I don't have a personal opinion, it is however, my government's opinion that XYZ should XYZ."

If they can't do that, they can disagree in a dissent cable (all internal at State, not for publication). Or they quit.
Political appointees ought to know this like the back of their hands before they agree to their appointments.  When they take the short cut to join the diplomatic service and represent the United States of America, even they, must follow the rules, and there are tons of them.  And this includes, I'm almost sure of this -- the landline and virtual connections that hook them directly to the mother ship with its corresponding multiple hierarchies.  And the mother ship, like it or not, is in Foggy Bottom, not the White House, even in the latter is the appointing authority. 

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