Thursday, April 7, 2011

State Department Blasts Ambassador Kmiec – Why?

The State Department’s Office of Inspector General released an inspection report on the U.S. Embassy in Malta today faulting Ambassador Doug Kmiec for spending too much time on “non-official” writings and speeches, but an AP story on the report indulges in some curious spin. First to what the report actually said (pdf) about Kmiec (emphases added):

He is respected by Maltese officials and most mission staff, but his unconventional approach to his role as ambassador has created friction with principal officials in Washington, especially over his reluctance to accept their guidance and instructions. Based on a belief that he was given a special mandate to promote President Obama’s interfaith initiatives, he has devoted considerable time to writing articles for publication in the United States as well as in Malta, and to presenting his views on subjects outside the bilateral portfolio. He has been inconsistent in observance of clearance procedures required for publication. He also looks well beyond the bilateral relationship when considering possible events for the mission to host in Malta. His approach has required Department principals, as well as some embassy staff, to spend an inordinate amount of time reviewing his writings, speeches, and other initiatives. His official schedule has been uncharacteristically light for an ambassador at a post of this size, and on average he spends several hours of each work day in the residence, much of which appears to be devoted to his nonofficial writings.

At the same time, he has not focused sufficiently on key management issues within the embassy. . .

. . .The Ambassador advised the inspection team that he intended to discontinue his outside writings and focus on matters that directly pertain to the embassy and priorities outlined in the Mission Strategic and Resource Plan (MSRP). Within weeks of the team’s departure, however, he resumed drafting public essays that addressed subjects outside his purview as Ambassador to Malta and detracted from his core responsibilities. These activities also detracted from the core responsibilities of embassy staff members who devoted time and effort to reviewing and editing the ambassador’s drafts and seeking approvals occasionally after the writings had been submitted for publication from Department officials.

The inspection team also found that a staffer had accrued 385 hours of overtime “handling tasks for the Ambassador.”

Now, the AP makes two observations about this report, both incorrect. First, the lede:

An internal investigator has rebuked the U.S. ambassador to Malta for spending too much time writing on subjects such as abortion and his Catholic beliefs to the detriment of American diplomacy.

Nowhere does the report mention Kmiec’s views on abortion or his Catholic beliefs. The AP story also ends on a false note:

In the Times of Malta, he challenged the president on the question of abortion: "How can you allow someone to terminate another person's life?"

Kmiec did not challenge the president on abortion in the Times of Malta. To the contrary, the quote is from an article titled ‘Catholic, pro-life, pro-Obama,’ wherein Kmiec rehearses his highly, umm, stylized account of his interactions with the president on the subject of abortion. It was not presented as a challenge to the president, but rather as an argument for pro-life Catholics to support a pro-choice president.

The AP gives the impression that Kmiec is being rebuked for a forthright presentation of his ‘pro-life’ views, when he was doing nothing of the sort. I don’t think the president is at all upset with the way Ambassador Kmiec has presented his views on abortion; it’s why Kmiec got the appointment in the first place.

Which leads me to question the who and why behind this State Department report. It could be an honest professional in the department honestly reporting on Kmiec’s clear unprofessionalism. But look at the two quotes from the report that I emphasized above. Who are those “principal officials,” and why the snark about promoting “President Obama’s interfaith initiatives”? Could it be that President Obama’s primary challenger doesn’t much like that Kmiec is still on the campaign trail while he’s in her employ?