The Pope Picks Our Ambassadors Now?
I glossed over yesterday’s news that the Vatican blocked Caroline Kennedy’s appointment as U.S. ambassador for a variety of reasons. Regular commenter Tlaloc emailed me, though, making a good point:
[T]he Vatican refuses to accept any ambassador who is not explicitly pro-life including anti-ESC research (such as Doug Kmiec). Various voices on the right have praised them for this principled stand. But if we accept this criteria doesn’t it set a bad precedent? What happens when China demands our next ambassador be an avowed Maoist? Or Saudi Arabia demand someone who openly accepts sharia law (up to an including the whole acid in the face for uppity girls)?
Us Ambassadors are supposed to represent us, not their host country. Obviously we should make sure that our ambassadors do not inflame their hosts by their mere presence but that’s a world away from them being required to openly affirm allegiance to the host’s ideals. Or to put it another way, if the Vatican has the right to demand a vocal pro-lifer be our ambassador to them can’t we demand their ambassador to us be a vocal pro-choicer? And where does such petty brinksmanship get us except a total break down of diplomacy?
The right-leaning blogs memeorandum links on this one are universally praiseworthy.
RedState’s Moe Lane is “curious about how many times this administration plans to insult the Roman Catholic Church.” His colleague mbecker908 dubs this “an Easter gift from the Vatican” and adds, ” Good for the Vatican. This pentecostal Baptist boy (OK, old boy) is standing with the Pope on this one.” He agrees with Lane that “being so tone deaf as to openly and forthrightly make an effort to offend the Vatican is off the charts.”
Dan Riehl observes, “Obama just got done going out of his way to inform Islam he had no intention of insulting or threatening it as a religion. So why the continued insults to Catholicism? It’s as if he doesn’t care about it as a religion at all.” Even Michael van der Galien, a staunch moderate, agrees that, “Instead of giving the Church the impression its opinions do not matter, the Obama administration is wise to treat it as it treats enemies of the United States: with respect and understanding.”
Dan and Michael have the right take on this. If we’re going to have an ambassador to the Vatican (and I’m sympathetic to Michael Stickings‘ view that we probably shouldn’t) then it behooves us to respect their sensibilities when selecting our representatives to them. It’s just good diplomacy.
Now, Tlaloc is right that our ambassador is supposed to represent us, not the country to which he’s sent. Ron Chusid makes that point as well.
The Vatican might not like it, but support for both abortion and embryonic stem cell research is the position of the Obama administration and both are legal in this country. What if the Vatican were to also demand an ambassador who believes in creationism instead of evolution?
What of other areas where countries disagree with the views of appointed ambassadors? Do Muslim nations object to non-Muslim ambassadors from the west? Should we go along if one were to insist that we only appoint an ambassador who opposes the existence of Israel?
During the cold war it would have been ludicrous for Communist nations to reject western ambassadors who did not support Communism. Imagine if the Chinese had refused overtures from Richard Nixon to begin diplomatic relations because Nixon and his potential ambassadors were not Maoists.
The difference, of course, is that, despite the legal fiction to the contrary, the Vatican isn’t really a country; it’s a church with a big yard. States, even those that are theocracies (Iran) or close to it (Saudi Arabia), have traditionally operated on the principle of sovereign equality. They either have diplomatic relations with a given state or not, on a take it or leave it basis. Not so much with churches.
Now, again, that may be a reason to not send an ambassador. For most of our history, we didn’t. Ronald Reagan was the first to have a formal ambassador. But if we’re going to have diplomatic relations with a church, it only makes sense not to go out of our way to offend it.
The problem with Kmiec and Kennedy, as I understand it, is not so much that they’re pro-abortion but rather that they’re pro-abortion Roman Catholics. Sending them as our ambassador to the Holy See is the equivalent of sending a Soviet defector as ambassador to Moscow during the Cold War or sending an Orthodox Jew as ambassador to Saudi Arabia.