George J. Tsunis, CEO of Chartwell Hotels and the Obama administration's nominee for ambassador to Norway, hasn't been confirmed, but he's already caused a minor diplomatic scandal. As Norway's The Local pointed out in "Future US envoy displays total ignorance of Norway," Tsunis displayed a total ignorance of Norway. During a hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Sen. John McCain asked Tsunis what he thought the appeal of the anti-immigration Progress Party was to Norwegians. He replied:
You get some fringe elements that have a microphone and spew their hatred. And I will tell you Norway has been very quick to denounce them.
At that point McCain called bullshit. Although Anders Behring Breivik, the Christian extremist who killed eight after bombing a government building and shot up a summer camp, was a member of the Progress Party, it is not a fringe group. It does, however, have an anti-Islamic slant, and the party has been trying to clamp down on loud extremists. So while the hate spewing part isn't far off, in the face of that attack, the party still won enough votes to form a conservative coalition with the Conservative party, The New York Times explains. The worst part is, McCain pointed out in his question that Progress is part of the leading coalition. They're sort of like Norway's Tea Party.
Progress spokesman Jan Arild Ellingsen said it was "unacceptable and a provocation," that the future U.S. ambassador called his party a hate-spewing fringe group, according to Avisa Norland, a daily paper. He demanded an apology from President Obama for his personal selection for ambassador. But Christian Tybring-Gjedde, another member of Progress who sits on Norway's foreign affairs committee, said he might just have been nervous.
For the most part, however, Norway was just surprised that someone so unknowledgeable about their country could become their potential envoy, noting that Tsunis was nervous and awkward as well as uninformed. "A clearly delighted McCain," noted Aftenposten, a daily, had to remind Tsunis that Progress is a ruling party. "When he would talk about trade relations between Norway and the United States, he suddenly stopped in mid-sentence," noted the Bergens Tidende, a daily paper. Tsunis also referenced Norway's "president," who, like the United Kingdom's president, doesn't exist. Norway's prime minister is Erna Solberg, and their King is Harald V. Several news sites noted that the other potential ambassadors, for Iceland and Hungary, were also pretty bad, prompting McCain to end with, "Thank you, I have no more questions to these highly qualified candidates."
As NRK, Norway's public broadcast station, pointed out, McCain's sass might have something to do with the fact that Tsunis backed McCain with $50,000 in 2008 before switching to the left and donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the president's re-election. Norway's press had to explain how the U.S. picks its ambassadors — the "good places" go to donors, not career diplomats. "A large number of these appointments are to give back a reward to those who spent money on the president or presidential candidate in an election. So that's how this should be understood," Svein Melby, a U.S. Expert, told Nettavisen, an online paper. "Despite his lack of knowledge about Norwegian politics, Tsunis will be most likely approved by the Senate as the new U.S. envoy to Norway," wrote NRK, adding that, at least, he has a little bit of time to read up on Norway before he arrives.
Note: Sources in Norwegian read via Google Translate.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.