Over the weekend we learned that America’s ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, had angered a number of German socialists by giving an interview where he very nonspecifically mentioned that he would like to “empower European conservatives.” Some of their officials were already calling for Grenell to be recalled, while others wanted to wait and speak to him to clear up a possible misunderstanding. It didn’t take long for another round of complaints to arise, however. Now the Germans have found another comment made by Grenell which has piqued their ire. (LA Times)
For the second time in barely a week, a U.S. ambassador has managed to anger lawmakers in his assigned country as well as in Washington with political statements critics called inappropriate.
Richard Grenell, who was confirmed last month as U.S. ambassador to Germany, sparked the latest spat when he told an interviewer that he hoped to “empower” conservative political forces throughout Europe.
He also praised visiting Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who rules with Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, as a “rock star” and met with him. It is unusual for a U.S. ambassador to entertain the leader of a country where he is not posted.
On the surface, this “incident” also probably sounds like not very much of a big deal. Paying a compliment to a visiting foreign leader and agreeing to meet with him might be seen as just another day at the office for a diplomat. But just to play Devil’s Advocate here for a moment, you can also see how the Germans have a point. Relations between the Eurocentric and Euroskeptic members of the EU have been tense in recent days. Merkel and the Germans still fall squarely in the camp of the western, socialist members of the union. Austria has gone very much in the opposite direction of late, demonstrated by their election of Kurz.
You may recall last winter when Kurz was preparing to take office, the leader of the Green Party in Austria was warning him to, “form a government committed to the European Union and human rights.” That warning went unheeded, as Kurz immediately instituted a new migration policy where migrants attempting to enter the country would face an enhanced vetting protocol, demands to surrender their phones and forfeiture of cash to help pay for the cost of supporting migrant populations.
With that sort of tension in the air between Germany and Austria, having an American ambassador making headlines via a meeting with the “rock star” could be seen as less than diplomatic. And, as we discussed previously, none of our ambassadors have a guaranteed position. Germany can reject his diplomatic documents at any time and even eject him from the country. It would be a dramatic or even drastic move for them to take against the ambassador of an ally, but we’re living in interesting times. Merkel is making less and less of an effort to hide her distaste for President Trump these days and she might just feel ticked off enough to suggest Grenell head back home.
Sometimes discretion is indeed the better part of valor. Given Grenell’s official duties, it might be better to scale back on poking his hosts in the ribs for a while.