Ambassadors: The Taskless Thanks
by Wendy McElroy

New Zealand: Mark Twain claimed to be one of the few people on earth who knew where it was. Its diplomatic relationship with the United States has a similarly muddled sense to it. The first representative of the United States Consular, appointed in 1839, was an Englishman who lived conveniently near by. The first American-born Consul, J.B. Williams, arrived in 1844 by way of a shipwreck. The vessel was subsequently plundered by gangs of  Maori and Europeans-gone-bad who lived and whaled about the Mahia peninsula. This is widely considered to be the first diplomatic incident between the United States and New Zealand. But, since World War II when the Commonwealth nation realized it could not depend on the British Royal Navy for protection, relations have generally improved.

Now there is former Democratic Senator Carol Moseley-Braun... In 1998, the American electorate demoted Moseley-Braun to private citizen. But the Clinton Administration decided that the first African American woman to enter the Senate should be "recognized" by receiving what has been called the "taskless thanks" - an ambassadorship. Moseley-Braun's appointment to New Zealand has created a furor that centers around alleged misuse of campaign funds. For example, in 1995 the Justice Department turned down two requests for information regarding $200,000 Moseley-Braun is said to have diverted from election funds toward personal use. Questions have also arisen about the funding of her various trips to Nigeria. On this latter point, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has exonerated Moseley-Braun, saying that she used her own money.

How she funded these trips is not the point. Nor is the probable misuse of campaign funds. Every politician does that.  The point is: Moseley-Braun's trips to Nigeria constitute the best track record of her ability in foreign relations. How did the ex-Senator do?

After her election to Senate in 1992, Moseley-Braun became Washington's main champion for Nigeria's military ruler Gen. San Abacha.  Perhaps it was merely bad taste or inexperience that prompted Moseley-Braun to visit Nigeria with her fiancÚ and ex-campaign manager Kgosie Matthews - who was also a paid lobbyist for Nigeria. But more than bad taste was involved in her behavior toward the regime stained with the blood of blacks. In personally befriending Abacha, Moseley-Braun turned a blind eye to several unpleasant realities. They included Abacha's jailing of the duly elected President Abiola, the dictator's brutal looting of Nigeria, the tragic economic collapse of Nigeria, the crushing of free speech, the mass arrest of political opponents and the execution of many. She was silent in 1995 when the poet and playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his colleagues were hanged  for protesting Abacha's environmental policies.  When Chief Abiola died suspiciously on the eve of his impending release from detention, Moseley-Braun remained silent despite the uproar of public outrage. Yet, when the U.S. Congress was considering economic sanctions against the Abacha regime, the woman found voice enough to be the only Senator to testify against the measures before a committee led by Sen. Kassebaum. When
U.S. politicians raised the issue of Abacha's human rights violations, she accused them of racism.

How does Moseley-Braun - once lauded as a feminist ideal - react to such criticism? Her response may be judged her '98 campaign jab at critic George Will - "because he couldn't say nigger, he said corrupt." Anything that is not a compliment is racism. No wonder Abdul Oroh, of the Civil Liberties Organization (a human-rights group in Lagos), declared, "When someone such as Moseley-Braun gets comfortable with a tyrannical, illegitimate government, we wonder what's going on. We wonder who are our friends."

Oroh's statement is an indication of how Nigerians viewed Moseley-Braun's relationship to their nation. She seems like a mean trick to play on New Zealanders who are rumored to be friendly people. Oh well... they can always hope for another shipwreck.