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Monday, May 9, 2011

Are Inspectors General Usurping Presidential Power?

Mr. President, Don't let the Bureaucracy say "No We Can't"

Inspector Quietly “Closes” -- Abandons -- its "rebuke" of inter-faith diplomacy

Last week, an obsequious email popped into the inbox at the U.S. Embassy in the Republic of Malta.  The email informed the Embassy that the “rebuke” of Ambassador Kmiec's efforts to advance inter-faith diplomacy or make reference to faith was “closed,” nothing further needed. Now, don’t misunderstand, this did not mean the inspectors got religion, but it did mean that a one paragraph response to their concerns which the Ambassador had submitted well before the OIG allowed the matter to be splashed as a rebuke in the newspapers of Malta “constituted compliance with the[ir] intent . . .” And even if it didn’t, “the subject ambassador” has “departed.” (And "departed" seems the key word, as pushing Ambassador Kmiec out, whether for his fidelity to President Obama's inter-faith objectives, including the Ambassador's evenhanded presentations of Arab-Israeli issues before U.N. sponsored proceedings, or for other reasons of Machiavellian political intrigue seems to have been the whole point.).

Since governments seldom announce that investigations are over in the same newspaper headline font as they proclaim “rebukes,” it was good to see that a White House friend of Ambassador Kmiec's, Mr. Joshua DuBois, the President’s special assistant for faith-based and neighborhood partnership,  has gotten the last word  (at least in presdiential speech-writing) -- and, no surprise, it comes down in favor of the importance of inter-faith diplomacy as articulated by the  President and the Ambassador.

DuBois, a good natured, brilliant strategist, no doubt helped President Obama craft his remarks recently on opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa. Thanks to Josh, more than  Ambassador Kmiec's resignation on principle rebuts the OIG’s (Office of Inspectors General) claim that inter-faith diplomacy is not a core mission responsibility. Why democracy itself is built on faith-based respect. Said the President (clearly wiith DuBois's encouragement:

“. . . .Tolerance is particularly important when it comes to religion. In Tahrir Square, we heard Egyptians from all walks of life chant, “Muslims, Christians, we are one.” America will work to see that this spirit prevails – that all faiths are respected, and that bridges are built among them. In a region that was the birthplace of three world religions, intolerance can lead only to suffering and stagnation. And for this season of change to succeed, Coptic Christians must have the right to worship freely in Cairo, just as Shia must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain.”

Who then prompted the OIG to single out for disfavor our inter-faith efforts and my personal expressions of faith? Instructed to love even our enemy, we are better off not knowing. The American nation remains “a religious people whose institutions presuppose the existence of a Supreme Being.” Given how quickly it dropped the matter, the OIG obviously had little real concern. The OIG insinuation that Ambassador Kmiec's inter-faith assignments were “outside activities” was false. Its trumpeted “rebuke” of these activities was now “closed.” It never deserved to be opened.

Of course, any OIG concern could have been easily disabused and dismissed by reference to Josh DuBois' unambiguously clear remarks at Ambassador Kmiec's oath-taking which can be viewed on You Tube, The OIG's damaging exercise of policy making authority beyond the important, but importantly more circumscribed, authority to inquire into fraud, waste and abuse which is accorded to it by Congress, needs to be checked. When the OIG substitutes its unelected judgment for that of the President, it compounds the misuse of authority not granted, for it reveals the extent to which the “Laws are not (then) faithfully executed,” as Article II of the U.S. Constitution requires.

President Obama should not be second-guessed by the OIG.  Nor should the excellent work of career and military officers in an embassy of genuine distinction be clouded or obscured by the peculiar politics of secularism, the unhelpful, internal suspiscion of presidential appointees, or whatever other dislike someone capable of throwing sand in the gears of progressive policies may have harbored.  During his tenure, Ambassador Kmiec was a well-spoiken delegate of views expressed by the President and Secretary Clinton on an array of subjects: from being an "honest broker" in the Middle East to climate change to the need to address human trafficking to internet freedom of speech to maximizing gender opportunity and equality.

Indeed, a careful reading of the OIG report, itself, indicates that the work of the U.S. embassy over the last several years during Ambassador Kmiec's service has been abundant and ranked highly.  Within Malta, everyone fom the Prime Minister to back benchers to the man or woman on the street or fellow worshipers at morning Mass has had high praise for the efforts of the United States during this period.. Moreover, faith did not displace the other secular needs of the embassy from being dealt with: completing a new embassy compound that had fallen two years behind and was only 30% complete upon my arrival. Today, the new compound is completely finished. And there is a whole lot more to show for my nearly two years – a ratified double taxation treaty; enhanced airport security; the installation of expensive, state of the art radiation detection in the free port; the expansion of resettlement opportunities for African migrants as well as English and cultural classes to prepare them for their new lives; greater military to military training in anti-piracy, counternarcotics; an important initiative to squeeze delay out of the criminal bench; Fulbright’s and other exchange programs; the effective prosecution of human trafficking; and oh yes, the rescue under Ambassador Kmiec's direction of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and several hundred foreign nationals. Combined with the many day to day demarches and cable reporting, no one in the embassy was looking at the ceiling or only engaging with the Government or each other “at social gatherings.”

Should the President or the Secretary have intervened.  The Los Angeles Times thought so.  We now know there was no genuine investigation or audit, only manipulated misuse of public authority to impede the work the President. This much is plain: any fear that involving the President in the decision making might be seen as improper interference was a concern without basis.

But denying the relevance of prayer or pushing aside inter-faith diplomatic study is a big harm. In addition, at this sensitive time vis a vis Libya and north Africa, America’s lack of a confirmed officer troubles Malta’s Foreign Minister. This is no ill reflection upon the Ambassador's superbly able deputy whose distinguished career includes service in Baghdad and London. (Indeed, unlike the bureaucrats in Washington who want to pick fights between presidential appointees like Kmiec and career foreign service officers, no such animosity ever entered the Ambassador's mind, as he publicly and privately urged the Department to name his career deputy as his successor). No, the Foreign Minister is right to see an acting arrangement as less than ideal because a confirmed officer normally reflects a personal presidential choice and when that choice is made “with a special presidential logic,” as Joshua thoughtfully once described the linkage President Obama had in mind between my Catholic faith and that of the Maltese,” the loss of it looms even larger.

It mischaracterizes the President’s inter-faith efforts to call the work of Ambassador Kmiec on this topic an “outside activity.” Doing so likewise diminishes presidential authority. It is now bilaterally perplexing. It  no doubt was personally hurtful to the Ambassador. That said, the Ambassador chose his faith over his politics, nevertheless continuing to believe in the good intentions of his President.  As the Ambassador observed in farewell, "since the President's views coincide with the timeless values and beliefs associated with the transcendent origin of human right which the United States shares with the Republic of Malta, our President’s good intentions shall have my complete allegiance and dedication during my time of service and beyond."