EDITORIAL: Diplomatic welfare

Russian freeloaders get a pass and our allies get harassed

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Ambassadors get many perks. Diplomatic immunity is a convenient way to avoid traffic tickets. They often live in grand houses and pay neither rent nor American taxes. Some embassies throw great parties, and motorcades can cut through rush-hour traffic. Certain diplomats get another gift from American taxpayers: They’re on welfare right here.

Earlier this month, the U.S. attorney in New York charged 49 Russian diplomats with applying for — and receiving — $1.5 million in Medicaid benefits. Since 2004, 63 babies have been born to employees of the Russian Consulate in Manhattan. State and federal welfare programs picked up the medical bills for 58 of those births. That’s in addition to the American citizenship they got just by being born here.

It’s not that Moscow has been so stingy that its employees need food stamps. Some have been living large at Fifth Avenue’s most fashionable shops. Credit-card statements reveal they bought crystal at Swarovski, jewelry at Tiffany’s and expensive shoes at Jimmy Choo’s. The Russians fibbed about their income on welfare applications, and the bureaucrats handing out the assistance checks didn’t seem to care that the money went to ineligible foreigners.

Rep. Edward R. Royce of California, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wants Secretary of State John F. Kerry to explain why 11 of these freeloaders are still in the United States. In a letter Monday, he asked whether the administration would demand that Russian President Vladimir Putin waive diplomatic immunity and send back the 38 welfare cheats who have returned to Russia.

It’s a rhetorical question with an obvious answer. Everybody knows that Mr. Putin can get away with insulting the United States, because President Obama, who suffers a strange paralysis when American interests are snubbed, won’t do anything about it.

Instead, the State Department goes out of its way to harass our allies. Three years ago, the Transportation Security Administration subjected Meera Shankar, then India’s ambassador to the United States, to a humiliating airport grope as she was returning from a speech in Mississippi. The Transportation Security Administration insists that its security measures are “threat-based,” but the ambassador from a country that has suffered great loss at the hands of Islamic terrorists isn’t likely to join Islamic threats to the United States.

Earlier this month, another Indian diplomat was subjected to a strip search and arrest in a dispute over her baby-sitter’s pay. State Department agents ignored Devyani Khobragade’s diplomatic credentials and turned the deputy consul general over to U.S. marshals at a Manhattan federal courthouse, where she was stripped and searched like a common street thug. “This is in the interests of everyone’s safety,” explained U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Officials in India are understandably furious, insisting that U.S. prosecutors misread the nanny’s paperwork and the charges that she was “underpaid” are false. Legitimate or not, when Bill Clinton’s female nominees for attorney general ran into “nannygate” scandals of their own in the 1990s, they were neither stripped nor searched. The bizarre overreaction on the part of the Obama administration has strained relations between New Delhi and Washington.

On Christmas Eve, India canceled the identity cards issued to U.S. diplomatic personnel. Americans would receive the treatment in India that Indians received in America. This is a national embarrassment.

Mr. Obama once claimed that the “cowboy diplomacy” of George W. Bush hurt America’s standing around the world. It’s clear that community-organizer diplomacy is far worse. Mr. Obama must reverse the State Department’s priorities, starting with an apology to India for the mistreatment of diplomats. Then he should demand that Russia return the welfare payments his diplomats took here.

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