Out of terrorism concerns, apparently. The timing of this move, coming after the deal John Kerry just cut with the Iranians, couldn’t be more suspicious…
The Obama administration has decided that the free-standing American embassy to the Holy See will soon be closed, and the offices for the Ambassador to the Vatican will be moved inside of our Italian Embassy.
As a part of the security reviews that followed the attacks on our embassy in Benghazi last year, State Department officials are now claiming that the current U.S. Embassy to the Holy See is no longer safe.
The Vatican isn’t protesting the change. Our embassy to the Holy See will now be located on the grounds of the embassy to Italy, but in a separate area with a separate entrance.
And former diplomats who have knowledge of the Vatican mission are not pleased…
Justified primarily on the grounds of enhanced security, the move is described by former U.S. Ambassador James Nicholson, who’s also a former Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the Bush administration and a former chair of the Republican National Committee, as a “massive downgrade” in U.S./Vatican ties.
“It’s turning this embassy into a stepchild of the embassy to Italy,” Nicholson said.
“The Holy See is a pivot point for international affairs and a major listening post for the United States,” he said, “and to shoehorn [the U.S. delegation] into an office annex inside another embassy is an insult to American Catholics and to the Vatican.”
Nicholson, who spoke in an interview Wednesday with NCR, joins former Bush envoys Francis Rooney and Mary Ann Glendon as well as Raymond Flynn, the first Clinton ambassador, and Thomas Melady, who served the first President Bush, in objecting.
On background, a senior Vatican official told NCR on Monday that safety is a “real concern,” especially in the wake of a lethal June 2012 assault on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that claimed the lives of an American ambassador and three other officials. A U.S. State Department report after that assault recommended consolidating facilities wherever possible.
As long as the embassy remains “completely separate” from other U.S. missions, the Vatican official said, the new site represents a tolerable exception to normal practice.
It’s not that we’re provoking a diplomatic row with the Vatican. It’s the signal to the world this move sends.
We will treat with the Iranians; we downgrade our diplomacy to the Vatican while we allow the Israelis to twist in the wind.
All alliances atrophy in this administration. All enemies get conciliation. The result? Enemies see us as weak and confused, allies see us as untrustworthy.
The effect of this trend? An example…
China announced an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea effective Nov. 23 and said its military will take “defensive emergency measures” if aircraft enter the area without reporting flight plans or identifying themselves. Japan lodged a complaint as the U.S. and South Korea expressed concern about China’s actions.
The move further expands to the skies a dispute that has often played out at sea, including confrontations that have seen Chinese vessels accused of targeting Japan’s forces with weapons-guiding radar systems. Those frictions contrast with a nascent recovery in business, with exports to China rising 21.3 percent in October from a year ago, and add to pressure on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose government is set to unveil its first postwar national security strategy next month.
China’s zone is symbolic payback for Japan’s move last September to buy some of the islands, said Kerry Brown, executive director of the University of Sydney’s China Studies Center and a former British diplomat in Beijing. “Things would be much less pleasant if there was actual physical contact and conflict, but both countries are now so economically tied to each other I think this would be a sort of mutually assured destruction.”
There are people who don’t understand foreign policy who would have you believe that America is the problem in the world and that it’s our meddling in the affairs of other countries which has caused all the trouble in the world. But while not everything we’ve done has been as enlightened or benevolent as we would hope, just pull American influence and resources back from important areas of the globe and watch what happens.
If security for our embassy at the Vatican is a concern, then beef it up – and make a massive show of doing it to indicate the priority of our relationship with the Holy See. This move, as Nicholson correctly states, is a downgrade.
And it’s a signal that we don’t really value our relationship with the Vatican all that much. Even if the relationship itself remains very close, it’s not a high priority.
Those signals tell China and Iran and Russia that America is in decline. That we are in retreat. That “security concerns” can chase America away from our redoubts even in friendly countries.
And that makes us less secure, not more. It makes war or terrorism more likely, not less.