Closing or Moving

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In Wednesday’s WaPo:

“Why would our President close our Embassy to the Vatican? Hopefully, it is not retribution for Catholic organizations opposing Obamacare.

— Jeb Bush (@JebBush)November 27, 2013


“Why would our President close our Embassy to the Vatican? Hopefully, it is not retribution for Catholic organizations opposing Obamacare”

–tweet by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), November 27, 2013

“The media is reporting that president Obama plans to close the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican. This is just the latest anti-religion pursuit of the administration, a slap in the face to Catholic-Americans around the country that weakens America’s position as a global leader. Sign the Petition telling President Obama to leave the American Embassy at the Vatican”

petition campaign by the National Republican Senatorial Committee

Jeb Bush’s tweet and a petition campaign by the NRSC (under the headline “Obama Closes Vatican Embassy”) suggest that the Obama administration is taking a dramatic diplomatic step because of some sort of animus or bias against Catholics. What’s actually going on here?

The Facts

The Holy See, which is located on 110 acres in the center of Rome, has diplomatic relations with more than 175 countries and generally prefers countries to maintain separate embassies so as to signal its independence from the Italian government. But in recent years, some countries have consolidated their operations in single location, but with separate buildings, primarily for security reasons.

Israel, for instance, locates its embassy to the Holy See right next to its embassy to Italy; one building is at Via Michele Mercati 12 and the other building is at Via Michele Mercati 14. After a 2003 terrorist attack on its consulate in Istanbul, Britain also decided to move its embassy to the Holy See to the same address—Via XX Settembre 80A—as its Rome embassy. But the British ambassador to the Vatican works out of a separate building on the property with its own entrance.”

There are other countries which have, over the last few years, consolidated their operations with the Vatican and Italy into one location, but have separate entrances in the same building or separate buildings on the same campus. They also maintain separate, dedicated staffs. These countries include Ireland, UK, and several others.

In March, Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy signed an action memo that would move the embassy to the same diplomatic compound as the embassy to Italy, which is slightly closer to the Vatican. The transfer would follow the British model: The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and the embassy staff would be housed in a separate building, with a different entrance and address, but on the same campus.

This actually makes sense in the scheme of security for the two ambassadors and their teams. After Benghazi, why would we not make every effort to protect our human assets? It isn’t always a political choice which affects our diplomatic relations; sometimes, security of our people is paramount to the decision and the outcome.

In fairness to the Obama administration, the Bush administration proposed this action in 2008, as a cost-saving measure and a security move, which the Obama team put on to the back burner until now.

I have provided the 2008 IG recommendation for your review.

State Dept IG report on US Embassy to Holy See (2008) 


Okay, so this sounds like a pretty routine bureaucratic shuffling, with little apparent involvement of the White House. How did this get spun up into an anti-Catholic crusade?

Well, as with all diplomatic and non-diplomatic reasonings, perception is reality, so such appearances are important. The 2008 IG report noted that a similar effort in 2005 to relocate the embassy was thwarted by the ambassador at the time, who “opposed the move, citing ‘policy grounds’ that included anticipated strong objection by the host government and congressional support for physically separate missions to Italy and the Holy See.”

So this proposal has crossed over two administrations. It’s not an anti-Catholic idea. Instead, it is a common-sense move. Mr Bush and the National Republican Senatorial Committee should have researched this a bit better. And maybe, just maybe, he should have asked his brother if the tweet was right before he sent it.

And WaPo’s “Pinocchio” award? The paper rightly gives four Pinocchios to both Gov Bush and the NRSC for their improper spin of the “closing”. According to the Post, “Meanwhile, both the tweet and the petition immediately jump to the conclusion that this is an anti-religious act by President Obama. In fact this was an internal State Department decision that was first advocated during the George W. Bush administration. The hyperbole is entirely misplaced, and thus these comments fall into the “whopper” category.”

You know what? I agree!


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