His confirmation as ambassador to Germany took a while, but when Richard Grenell arrived in Berlin in May he wasted no time riling up his new hosts. On his first day on the job, he tweeted that German companies doing business in Iran should “wind down operations immediately” because President Trump had decided to unilaterally withdraw from the painstakingly negotiated nuclear deal with Iran.
Germans were not amused by an ambassador telling them what to do, but that hardly deterred our man in Berlin. What he did next was to give an outrageous and insulting interview over the weekend to Breitbart, summarized thus by the alt-right mouthpiece: “Trumpian U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell has expressed great excitement over the wave of conservatism in Europe, saying he wants to ‘empower’ leaders of the movement.”
Mr. Trump was no doubt highly pleased by his envoy, a former United Nations spokesman, Mitt Romney campaign aide and Fox News contributor, whose confirmation was long held up by congressional critics over his history of provocative tweets, including several derogatory of the appearance of prominent women.
But ambassadors do not represent a president; they represent a state, and they are not supposed to go around “empowering” nationalist movements or far-right ideologies in other countries. The Germans were furious. The new ambassador is behaving “not like a diplomat, but like a far-right colonial officer,” fumed Martin Schulz, the former European Parliament president.
In true Trumpian fashion, Mr. Grenell insisted he had been misinterpreted. “Don’t put words in my mouth,” he tweeted. “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.”
Indeed, Breitbart is not known for accuracy in reporting. But just selecting Breitbart, a professed platform for the alt-right and all of its falsehoods, biases and conspiracy theories, for an interview raised serious questions about Mr. Grenell’s judgment. He knows full well that when Breitbart speaks of “conservatism” it does not mean the Christian Democratic Party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the head of the government to which he is accredited. In case that was not clear, Breitbart said the ambassador expressed a deep respect and admiration for the young Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, saying: “Look, I think Sebastian Kurz is a rock star. I’m a big fan.”
Now Mr. Kurz, at 31 Austria’s youngest chancellor, leads a nationalist government in coalition with the far-right, pro-Russian Freedom Party and has been sharply critical of Ms. Merkel for her willingness to accept Muslim immigrants. The German equivalent would be Ms. Merkel’s nemesis, the far-right Alternative for Germany. Adding insult to injury — and violating protocol — Mr. Grenell invited Mr. Kurz to lunch when the Austrian chancellor visits Berlin next week.
It may be anachronistic to expect politically appointed American diplomats to fully abide by traditional European standards of diplomatic correctness. And it may be unrealistic to expect that the handpicked envoy of a president who has so totally debased political discourse could be respectful or wise in his utterances. But Mr. Grenell does not, and should not, represent the United States.
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