So, do you actually have to do anything?
American Ambassador to Norway Benson Whitney reflects
By Leslee Lane Hoyum Norwegian American Weekly
Just three and a half years ago Benson K. Whitney was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to Norway. Shortly after his confirmation, he bumped into a friend who offered congratulations but was quick to ask, “So, do you ever get to go to Norway? Do you actually have to do anything?” Such questions are common Whitney told a full house at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs in Minneapolis, Minn.
“Yes, an ambassadorship is a job,” Whitney respectfully advised his friend. “Sure, there were the occasional baby kissings and ribbon cuttings, encounters with actors, such as the stars from Pimp My Ride, and opportunities to ski with Olympic champions. Plus, we had the privilege to travel throughout Europe and Africa and live in the most beautiful country in the world—Norway. But there is a job. Ambassadors are responsible for relations between two nations.
“Original ties to Norway came through immigration to the ‘New World’,” commented Ambassador Whitney. “But today’s Norway is not your grandfather’s. It’s risen from the poorest European nation to the wealthiest. Its fortunes are tied to the world, which gives it an important diplomatic and active global presence. It’s been my job to operate within what I call Norway’s place in the New New World. The U.S. Embassy’s work is defined by its host, whether it’s peacekeeping in the Balkans or Sudan or providing world-wide aid to improve health conditions for mothers and children. We cannot rely on historical ties.”
The Transatlantic Alliance
Today the U.S. has the most impressive relationship of all time with Europe, according to Whitney. He concurs with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said that to maintain a 21st Century Transatlantic Alliance, the United States must reach out and Europe must stand up. Ambassador Whitney added that this includes sharing the burden of leadership. He feels that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are, indeed, reaching out. But we can do more, he added. “We need more diplomatic resources. We need more educational exchange. We need to expect our partners to be strong.
“With regard to Norway, we need to ask the questions: How will it deal with the emerging power of Russia, China, India and Iran? How will it help with the need for environmental change in India and China? How will it help with the arms issue in Iran? We require global solutions for global problems.” Whitney feels there is great potential for a continued strong partnership with Norway. “Norway is a good partner because it shares our values and concerns for global resources and energy,” he said.
“Representing the United States in Norway has been the opportunity of a lifetime,” radiated Whitney. “My overall feeling was one of pride in our relationship with Norway, in the Embassy and its team, and in our military. By living in a foreign land I learned about my own country. We are innovative; we are generous. Your country is a force for good in the world, and no country does more for less. Yes, we make mistakes, but we admit them and try to do better the next time.
“I encourage everyone to spend a year in another country. Expose yourself to the world. The skills you learn outside the U.S. are important to life here.”
When asked what he plans to do next, he said, “I don’t know. I do know I want to continue in international relations, so my family and I will be moving to Washington, D.C.” Ambassador Whitney earned his Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Minnesota and has extensive experience in business law and community affairs.
Note: While in Norway, the Ambassador found that he actually has Norwegian blood. A great, great, great, great, great-grandfather was born in Bergen in 1609.
This article was originally printed in the Norwegian American Weekly on May 15, 2009. For subscription information or to learn more about the Norwegian American Weekly, call us toll-free (800) 305-0217 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.