Moving U.S. Embassies: Vatican City? Jerusalem?

Ken Blackwell is Senior Fellow, Family Empowerment, and Robert Morrison is Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at Family Research Council. This article appeared on American Thinker, December 19, 2013.

The Obama administration is at pains to tamp down the latest controversy on the diplomatic front. They are planning to move the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican. They want it to be close to the United States Embassy to Italy, which is located in Italy's capital, Rome.

And the Washington Post is pooh-poohing claims by conservatives that this is a downgrading of the U.S. diplomatic presence at the Vatican. The Post is even threatening to give former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush a "Pinocchio" if he doesn't knock off his criticisms of the Obama administration for the supposed closing of the U.S. Embassy.

Not at all, explains the Post, helpfully:

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: Via Sallustiana 49. (The embassy to Italy, around the corner, is at Vittorio Veneto 121.) The U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Rome is already on the same property, with its own building, entrance and address (Via Boncompagni 2), having moved there last year.

But in the world of diplomacy, such signals are sent and received. The idea of a U.S. Embassy to the Vatican has been fraught with controversy for decades. President Harry Truman earnestly sought to establish diplomatic relations with the Vatican as a valued source of information for the United States. The Vatican could have supplied us with intelligence about what was going on behind the Iron Curtain.

Truman's plans failed because of stout opposition from the then-powerful American Protestant establishment. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church loudly denounced the very idea. Harry wanted to work with all the Christian believers of the world, to cooperate against the rising menace of atheistic communism. "If a Baptist [like me] can see what's toward," an exasperated Truman wrote at the time, "why not a high hat Church of England Bishop?"

Forty years later, President Ronald Reagan, a trusted free world leader, and a popular figure in the American Evangelical community, reached out to Pope John Paul II. Reagan opened a U.S. Embassy in the Vatican to only murmurs of disapproval from America's Protestants. With the collapse of Communism, we saw how important a role the pope and his Polish and Catholic brethren throughout the Eastern bloc played in that world historical event.

So now, President Barack Obama wants to reassure us. He's not downgrading our U.S. Embassy in Vatican City. He's just going to re-locate it. And this move has absolutely nothing to do with the lawsuits and vocal opposition of many Catholics to ObamaCare.

Many Americans of all faiths object to the HHS Mandate that would force Catholic hospitals and institutions, and businesses owned by Catholics, to offer health care plans that include drugs that kill nascent human lives. This is in no way a retaliatory move. Or so all the president's men -- and women -- keep telling us.

All the ex-U.S. ambassadors to the Vatican -- Republican and Democrat alike -- see this move for what it is. They have vocally protested the Obama administration's slap at the Catholic Church.

Still, President Obama is determined to go ahead with this relocation. Very well, Mr. President -- if you want to save funds and improve security, you can almost always make a plausible case.

How about moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? Administrations of both parties have promised this, and promised it repeatedly. And it has yet to happen. Maybe if the U.S. stood by its commitments, America's diplomatic standing would be higher with friend and foe alike.