Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. Embassy in Berlin “instructed Foreign Service personnel stationed there not to attend Sen. Barack Obama’s [D-IL] public rally” in Tiergarten Park because the event is “‘partisan political activity‘ prohibited under its regulations for those serving overseas.”
The diplomats’ union objected to the ruling, calling it an “unnecessarily narrow interpretation” of the Foreign Affairs Manual. “The fact that you are working for the U.S. government overseas should not preclude political activity that you could engage in in the United States,” one retired senior Foreign Service officer said. But a State official explained the ruling:
But “we always maintain that no U.S. government Foreign Service person overseas should be seen to be advocating one side or the other,” State Department Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy said, adding that “it has nothing to do with who” the candidate is.
“When a German sees you there, they’re not going to think, ‘Oh, he or she is on their off time.’ It’s ‘Oh, they are a Democrat, a Republican, an independent,’ God knows what,” Kennedy said in an interview.
But the ruling — which Kennedy admitted is unprecedented — appears to indicate a double standard from the State Department. Last June, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) delivered a speech to the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa. The event was reportedly organized in part by U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, whom President Bush appointed in 2005. But more than that, the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa confirmed to ThinkProgress that Wilkins also attended the event.
Although both the McCain and Obama campaigns denied their respective speeches in Ottawa and Berlin were political, the State Department only prohibited diplomats from attending Obama’s event. The fact that Wilkins attended McCain’s speech without worries that he would “be seen to be advocating one side or the other,” undermines Kennedy’s justification for barring Foreign Service personnel from attending Obama’s speech.