We hadn’t heard too much from United States Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell since the President nominated him last year and he was confirmed in April. Early last month he presented his credentials to the President of Germany on May 8th and went to work. That wasn’t even a month ago, but now there are members of the German government and the press who are up in arms over some comments Grenell made during an interview with Breitbart. In fact, it’s more than just “distress” in some cases. There are German officials calling for his ouster. (CNN)
Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have criticized US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell for giving an interview to far-right news platform Breitbart in which he said he wants to “empower” European conservatives.
Grenell, who took up his post last month and is a close ally of US President Donald Trump, also described Germany’s NATO spending as “woeful” and criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policy.
The ambassador has been rebuked for politicizing diplomacy at a time when US-German relations are already strained over Trump’s withdrawals from the Iran deal and the Paris climate accord, along with his imposition of steel and aluminum tariffs on the European Union.
Grenell came to his own defense on Twitter yesterday when lefty blogger John Aravosis was making some rather vile suggestions about him.
Absurd. I condemn those comments completely. Don’t put words in my mouth. The idea that I’d endorse candidates/parties is ridiculous. I stand by my comments that we are experiencing an awakening from the silent majority – those who reject the elites & their bubble. Led by Trump. https://t.co/DjSX4SL3bf
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) June 4, 2018
The comments in question seem fairly mild to me, not to mention being extremely general in nature. Rather than handing out endorsements of specific candidates or even parties in Europe (which would be wholly inappropriate for the U.S. Ambassador), Grenell was expressing his excitement about what he sees as a reinvigoration of conservative values. Saying that he would like to “empower” European conservatives isn’t exactly a policy position because our Ambassador to Germany isn’t really in a position to affect policy among EU members even if he had an interest in doing so.
Still, some of the Germans are in more of a snit than even the CNN article suggests. Martin Schulz, a prominent member of Germany’s Social Democratic Party is quoted as saying, “What this man is doing is unheard of in international diplomacy. If a German ambassador were to say in Washington that he is there to boost the Democrats, he would have been kicked out immediately.” The leader of the Linke party, Sahra Wagenknecht, went one step further, calling on Berlin to “get rid of” Grenell immediately. She went on to accuse Grenell of being someone who thinks he can lord over Europe and determine who is governing here.
It’s easy enough to write this off as an overreaction from German politicians who are very unhappy with President Trump at the moment and looking to take it out on our ambassador over some arguably harmless remarks during an interview. But the world of international diplomacy is tricky on the best of days and our diplomats generally need to walk on eggshells and keep a low profile. They aren’t there to make policy but to communicate the policy of the White House so it’s not beneficial to attract a lot of attention to yourself.
In the end, the Germans don’t actually need a reason to get rid of Grenell if they choose to do so. We would have no recourse but to bring him home if he were expelled. But that would be a huge affront on the part of the Germans no matter what excuse they gave. I’m not sure if Angela Merkel is ready to go quite that far yet and she’d be wise to think carefully before proceeding. A public clarification by Grenell of his comments and a diplomatic apology for any misunderstandings which arose should generally be good enough considering our long alliance with the Germans.