Let’s send a real Ambassador to Norway
After much drama and embarrassment to the Obama White House lasting almost a year, the president’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Norway, George Tsunis, dropped out last week. The White House gave up on his nomination after it became clear there were not enough votes in the Senate to confirm him. Mr. Tsunis, a hotel magnate who had donated and bundled well over a million dollars to President Obama’s and congressional members’ campaign funds, so botched his confirmation hearing, displaying broad and deep ignorance of Norway and its form of government, that four Democratic senators defied White House arm twisting and refused to support Mr. Tsunis for the job. Vigorous lobbying by the Norwegian-American community played no small part in sinking his candidacy. Influential Norwegians, including the mayor of Oslo, also expressed their opposition.
Okay, there’s again an ambassadorial vacancy in Oslo. What will the administration do? Nominate another moneybags campaign contributor with zero qualifications, hoping that nobody will notice and make a fuss? After all, the Democratic Senate leadership managed to ram through the lame duck Congress two equally ignorant and unqualified campaign contributors to Hungary and Argentina, countries sliding into despotism and bankruptcy, respectively. That’s like sending two junior high Pop Warner players to the NFL and the Super Bowl. A real winning formula.
Now, here’s a novel idea: Let’s send a real diplomat to Norway! Oh, pshaw, you say. Why, everyone knows that civil servants are as poor as church mice and lack the pizazz that someone like a TV soap opera producer or a political party rainmaker brings to the foreign policy stage. These, after all, are folks who can pick up the phone at the drop of a campaign donation and call the Prez about Argentine LIBOR rates or visa fraud in the Budapest consular section. But I’m serious here. I really mean it. You’d be amazed what a Norwegian-speaking expert in diplomacy and with relevant college degrees can accomplish. Based on personal experience, I can attest that real diplomats can do the following:
• communicate with the people in their own languages
• know who to talk to in the host government and actually know what to say
• not insult the locals with brash, stupid statements
• pull the strings of USG agencies to get results
• not embarrass the United States through public drunkenness, drug abuse, adulterous affairs, or soliciting prostitutes
• not require their DCM and other staff to do the real work while they show off la bella figura at cocktail parties
• actually write policy recommendations and know to whom to send them
By the way, all the drunkenness, soliciting, drugs, womanizing, etc. have actually occurred with a slew of politically appointed ambassadors. A relevant example is Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to Norway Mark Evans Austad. An outspoken former Mormon missionary who hurled tirades against a variety of Norwegian liberal institutions as well as the press, he was arrested by Norwegian police at a house where he drunkenly bellowed and banged on a woman’s door at 3:00 a.m. The police ended up returning the good ambassador to his residence. For other examples of misbehaving pay-to-play ambassadors, see, The American Diplomatic Spoils System: Embassies for Sale.
We actually have serious business with our Nordic NATO ally. A few priority issues:
• Russian fighter jets have increased near-incursions of Norway’s coastal areas. Norway, of course, shares a border with Russia.
• Norway is a major player in the Arctic and Antarctic. Moscow recently has made military moves in the Arctic.
• Norway rivals its Russian neighbor in gas exports to the European Union, supplying 20 percent (compared with 25 percent from Russia). Should Russia cut back gas exports to Europe by 20 percent, Norway could easily make up the difference.
• Since Norway is not an EU member, all trade issues that come up—including fish exports—go through the Norwegian government, not, as in EU countries, through Brussels. Therefore, our embassy in Oslo plays a key role.
• Norway is home to the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, a trillion dollars. Its guidelines mandate that 2 percent be invested in North America.
• Oslo is the go-to place whenever Israelis and Palestinians get serious about negotiating with each other.
Norway therefore is not a throw-away oversized golf resort in the Caribbean where a rich plutocrat can flaunt his abysmal standing on the Peter Principle scale. It’s a real country with real issues demanding a real diplomat as U.S. ambassador. Our last career ambassador to Oslo was Margaret Joy Tibbets, appointed by President Johnson—in 1964.
And here’s another reason why the altruistic folks in the White House personnel office should change tack on the Norway ambassador position:
Your ambassadorial selections thus far have brought increasing embarrassment upon the president, who is being criticized in the media for Boss Tweed-like selling of public office. This president has the worst record in this regard compared to his predecessors. Moreover, morale in the U.S. Foreign Service is the lowest it’s been since the witch-hunting years of Senator Joe McCarthy. Foreign Service officers have been shut out of the top jobs at State, while the administration uses the State Department as a patronage waste dump, appointing a swelling number of political hacks and cronies to a metastasizing array of “Special Envoys” to one useless or p.c. portfolio after another. The State Department resembles a bureaucratic Humpty Dumpty—fat, largely marginalized, and at risk of falling off the policy wall altogether as a bloated NSC runs foreign policy from the Eisenhower Executive Office building.
So, decisionmakers, before you blithely name yet another credential-challenged, monied dolt to go galumphing off to the land of Edvard Grieg and Trygve Lie, ponder the benefits of making just one exception. The Norwegian people certainly deserve better. America’s diplomats would appreciate such a gesture. And the president sure could use some image repair in this area.
James Bruno is a bestselling author. He has been featured on many national and international media outlets. Bruno is a contributor to Politico Magazine and an instructor at ThrillerFest. Bruno served as a diplomat with the U.S. Department of State for twenty-three years and currently is a member of the Diplomatic Readiness Reserve, subject to worldwide duty on short notice. He holds M.A. degrees from the U.S. Naval War College and Columbia University, and a B.A. from George Washington University.
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 9, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.