The newly appointed US ambassador to Malta, Douglas W. Kmiec, a fervent Catholic and a Republican, stirred up a whole lot of controversy among bloggers when he endorsed Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama, a pro-choice supporter, last year. Francesca Vella met Prof. Kmiec to learn about his relationship with the US president and about his agenda for his term as ambassador to Malta.
When I met the ambassador at his beautiful Attard residence, he expressed his wish to sit outside in the garden. Evidently enjoying the warm Mediterranean weather, he repeatedly referred to Malta’s natural beauty and its great antiquities, saying it provides an ideal setting for inter-faith dialogue, also because of its strategic location.
But it is not just that. The US president is very perceptive, said Prof. Kmiec, and he understands that faith is a necessary part of international diplomacy.
So many conflicts are ultimately traceable to faith-based controversies, and the US president understands the importance of mutual understanding and mutual respect as essential tools to resolve conflicts, explained Prof. Kmiec.
He said Malta is a pivot point of the world’s main religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
“With its natural beauty and conference facilities, Malta is an ideal place to promote inter-faith dialogue and improve diplomacy. President Obama is a practical man, and he likes results, and this is one of the things he wants me to do in Malta.”
The ambassador spoke about having back channel negotiations in Malta, introducing people of different faiths in a bid to bring them to understand each other outside hotspots such as the Middle East, Iran and North Korea.
“We want to bring people from faith-based NGOs together, for instance. We need to make up for lost time.
“It would also be useful to explore comparative understanding of religious beliefs in the school curriculum that would serve as a global model.”
He said the US does not do enough to teach children what people the world over believe in.
“Failing to understand each other, people blunder into disrespect that could then lead to aggravation, frustration and violence. Agents of terror do not care about the sanctity of human life,” he said.
Prof. Kmiec referred to the fact that President Obama started out as a community organiser, being of service to people who lost their jobs when steel companies closed down. He had tried finding them government services and encouraged them to sustain one another.
The president is now adopting the same bottom-up attitude, by working first on the fundamentals, explained Prof. Kmiec.
The ambassador said he wants to ensure that he carries on building on his predecessor’s work.
“Ambassador (Molly) Bordonaro was well liked and she did a lot of work during the term she served in Malta. For starters, we have to work to complete the work on the new embassy in Ta’ Qali, and then there is the avoidance of double taxation agreement, which the US Congress needs to ratify as soon as possible.”
Prof. Kmiec also spoke about the importance of strengthening economic relations between Malta and the US, particularly during such tough times.
One area that the ambassador is looking into is environmental investment, and he is working on the possibility of the country exploiting the advanced forms of wind turbine technology available in the American market, particularly Helix Wind’s highly innovative vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT) technology.
He has already spoken to the chief executive officer of Helix Wind about the possibility of competing for business in Malta.
“The turbine design used by Helix Wind is similar to a DNA molecule, which is almost ideally suited to Mediterranean winds,” he commented, saying the turbines are also much quieter and much less obtrusive than traditional wind turbines.”
Speaking about the relationship between the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) and the United States Coast Guard, Prof. Kmiec described it as an impressive collaboration.
And now people from a number of countries are coming to the AFM’s search and rescue (SAR) training centre to learn how to protect the high seas and ensure that they are open to responsible trade and movement of people.
We go on to speak about immigration, and Prof. Kmiec tells me immediately that nobody can understate Malta’s population and migration problem.
People leave their country of origin in search of a better life for them and their family. His own grandparents had migrated to the US from Poland, as his Irish in-laws had done.
The US refugee resettlement programme is set to continue, he said, because it is a form of recognition that everyone is inter-dependent. It is also an expression of solidarity with Malta’s humanitarian efforts.
“As President Obama has said, no one can go it alone, and Malta should not go it alone.”
The ambassador referred to the fact that six EU member states offered to resettle some of the migrants currently in Malta. “There are 27 EU nations and they need to be heard from,” said Prof. Kmiec.
And then I touch on a sensitive topic that has made Prof. Kmiec’s name so popular on the internet.
As he has done in his writings on the web, the ambassador tells me from the start that he has been pro-life and will continue to be so.
“Abortion is an intrinsic evil. There is no way around it. Millions of children die from this practice every year. As a constitutional lawyer, I worked for life to be more fully protected under the law, but there has been far too little progress. And I asked myself why.
“I realised that I was practising advocacy in court – rather than advocacy to the heart – to judges that are removed from actual experiences. I realised that women who seek abortion are often poor, without a husband, without a house, without life insurance, and they often cannot even afford another meal.
“President Obama is not pro-life,” said Prof. Kmiec, “and we disagreed from the first time we met.”
The president understands that abortion is a moral tragedy, but his aim was to reduce its incidence, added the ambassador.
What Prof. Kmiec agreed with was the fact that President Obama wanted to convey to young people the maturity required of sexual intimacy, provide health insurance for the uninsured, and provide pre-natal care, as well as methods of adoption that are not difficult to pursue.
“The word ‘abortion’ hides the fact that it is actually a dissection of the human person.”
And yet bloggers tore Prof. Kmiec to bits, just because he supported President Obama.
“I don’t quite know what blog writers are on about,” he tells me, “but I deal with them with a charitable mind.”
In an opinion article in the Los Angeles Times, Prof. Kmiec wrote: “So can Catholics vote for a pro-choice candidate? The answer is yes, but as I found when I publicly endorsed Obama, you’ve then got “some ‘splain’n’ to do.” It is a matter of conscience, but had Obama proclaimed himself to be pro-choice and said nothing more, it would have been problematic. But there are those additional words about appropriate education as well as adoption and assistance for mothers who choose to keep their baby,” he concluded.
Profile of Douglas W. Kmiec
Douglas W. Kmiec was born on 24 September 1951 in Chicago, Illinois. He is an American legal scholar and author, and has written extensively on the importance of inter-faith understanding to successful diplomacy.
He studied at the Northern Illinois University between 1969 and 1970, at the Northwestern University between 1970 and 1973, from where he obtained the Bachelor of Arts, and also at the University of Southern California between 1973 and 1976 from where he obtained the Juris Doctor.
In 1976, he started worked as Attorney in Chicago Illinois. Between 1978 and 1979 he was a professor of law at the Valparaiso University Law School in Valparaiso, Indiana.
He also served as Professor of Law and Director of the Centre on Law and Government at the University of Notre Dame, Law School, Notre Dame, Indiana between 1980 and 1999. During this period, namely between 1985 and 1987, he was Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel.
Between 1995 and 2001 he served as Straus Distinguished Visiting Professor, Pepperdine, University School of Law, Malibu, California.
He was then appointed Dean and St Thomas More Professor at The Law School of the Catholic University School of America, Washington, DC. Before he was nominated US ambassador to Malta, he served as Caruso Family Chair and Professor of Constitutional Law, Pepperdine University, Malibu, California.
Ambassador Kmiec is married to Carolyn Keenan Kmiec and together they have five children: Keenan, Katherine, Kiley, Kolleen and Kloe.