Monday, June 6, 2011

The State Department Cast Into the “Foggy Bottom" .... Um, Why?

Joe Feuerherd, the editor-in-chief of National Catholic Reporter, died in late May after an 18-month bout with cancer.  On June 4, the recently resigned US Ambassador to Malta, Douglas Kmiec pens "With faith, insight, Joe Feuerherd held all to account" for NCR. The piece is about Mr. Feuerherd, of course, but also contains a rehashing of that OIG report on his tenure at the US Embassy in Malta. Excerpts below:

The untimely death of Joe Feuerherd is much regretted. Just a few weeks ago I had the benefit of Joe's writing in an April 8 column entitled "Kmiec takes friendly fire." The column presented Joe's analysis of an event that should otherwise not have been newsworthy: namely, a routine Office of Inspector General report that found my then-Embassy in Valletta, Malta to be accomplishing, even exceeding, its mission goals.
In the middle of the night, I was awakened by a State Department assistant secretary instructing me to boycott the assembly and the keynote the next day. I manifested hesitation, and then objection. Boycotting would get international notice and put into jeopardy a substantial amount of EU goodwill available to our still new President Obama. Had the State Department been instructed by the President to have me stand down, I asked? Presidentially nominated Ambassadors confirmed by the Senate have no business questioning assistant secretaries, I was told. I persisted and requested some assurance before morning that the President was in agreement with the instruction to boycott. That assurance was not forthcoming.

Ambassadors are described as Chiefs of Mission, and told in writing by the President that we answer to him alone unless he specifically delegates a matter to the Secretary and he has made that plain. That’s the right letter for President Obama to write, but there are many in Washington working for its disregard. Democratic voices during the second Bush presidency raised objection to extravagant presidential power claims, rightly so, but they need be careful not to then so immunize the bureaucracy that it feels immune to presidential direction altogether.
Benedict XVI has set out the perils of coerced secularism. Others have speculated that it is the exclusion of the light of the Divine that has cast the State Department into the “foggy bottom.” Malta, of course, is a small country with a rock solid Catholic tradition that shows welcoming hospitality to those of other Christian denomination as well as those of Islamic and Judaic belief. Malta basks in gentle wind and warm sunshine most of the year. What happens in this ancient country in the Sea will go on largely unaffected by the hostility of a few in the State Department who insist that religion and politics are to be avoided or hidden from view in the mists of a nominal fog shrouding a less than candid disclosure of its motivating values or strategic interests. Respect by avoidance (and thus unfamiliarity) is a possible position; it just isn’t Obama’s. Obama finds mutual respect more likely advanced by greater understanding.

These "others" who  "have speculated that it is the exclusion of the light of the Divine that has cast the State Department into the “foggy bottom,” -- well, don't you want to meet these speculators briefly to ask them one simple question?

According to our most reliable source, Wikipedia, Foggy Bottom is one of the oldest late 18th and 19th-century neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. The area is thought to have received the name because its riverside location made it susceptible to concentrations of fog and industrial smoke, an atmospheric trait that did not prevent the neighborhood from becoming the original location of the United States Naval Observatory.
The southern edge of Foggy Bottom is home to many federal government offices. The Main Interior Building (headquarters of the Department of the Interior), the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters, and the Federal Reserve Board buildings all lie on or around Virginia Avenue. To the east lies the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, home to the Executive Office of the President of the United States and the Office of the Vice President of the United States.
Foggy Bottom is also home to numerous international and American organizations. The World Bank buildings, the International Finance Corporation, the International Monetary Fund, the Office of Personnel Management, DAR Constitution Hall of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the American Pharmacists Association, the American Red Cross National Headquarters, the Pan American Health Organization, and the Organization of American States are all located in the neighborhood. In addition, the Mexican and Spanish Embassies are located in Foggy Bottom, both on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Concordia German Evangelical Church, located at 1920 G Street NW was founded in 1833. Today the congregation is The United Church, and is the oldest religious community remaining in Foggy Bottom.

What does it mean -- that all of the above are also in the "foggy bottom"?


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