President Obama’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Norway, George J. Tsunis, has succeeded in doing what few have ever accomplished. Tsunis — from New York, worth $85 million, and a key donor to Democrats and Republicans alike — managed to turn himself into a mockery and irreparably damaged goods all at the same time. So much so that Anderson Cooper of CNN dedicated one of his “RidicuList” segments to Tsunis’ foibles.
So what did Tsunis do?
Well, he acknowledged he has never even been to Norway, the country to which he desires to become ambassador. He repeatedly referred to its prime minister as a “president,” apparently unaware Norway is a parliamentary democracy. He attacked Norway’s governing center-right coalition by disparaging the nation’s third-largest political party — a key player that holds no less than seven minister posts — mistakenly characterizing it as a group of “fringe elements” that “spew their hatred.” Asked to identify and discuss economic opportunities the United States might benefit from in Norway, Tsunis had no idea — and stumbled all the more when asked how he might increase trade. He then sheepishly thanked Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., for a “save” when tossed a lifeline.
The fallout has been colossal. The American embassy in Oslo immediately went into damage-control mode. Norwegians of all political stripes were deeply insulted, causing one member of Parliament to demand an apology from President Obama. Another party, days after Tsunis’ testimony, proceeded to nominate NSA leaker Edward Snowden for the Nobel Peace Prize. The headline of a Norwegian daily smoldered: “Future US envoy displays total ignorance of Norway,” characterizing Tsunis as “faltering” and “incoherent” and committing “a jaw-dropping diplomatic blunder before he even begins.”
That beginning may be sooner than many might like. Tsunis’ nomination was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a vote on the Senate floor is expected at any time. Yet his lack of background and judgment — and the severe fallout — is so egregious that Minnesota’s and the nation’s Nordic communities, led by Norwegian-Americans here, are doing what they rarely do: asking for help. To protect the nonpartisan interests of the United States and Norway, Nordics — as constituents — are asking Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and their colleagues for bipartisan solidarity over and above political loyalties.
Why? Tsunis is irreparably “damaged goods.” He will not be respected within the Norwegian government, let alone among ordinary Norwegians. If confirmed, he would become little more than expensive window-dressing for however long he would remain in Oslo, leaving him hindered in the roles of diplomacy that truly matter. With Norway an important member of NATO, a top oil producer and reliable trading partner, the appointment, especially for Norwegian-Americans, would have grave, destructive and long-lasting consequences. It would also severely damage the perception and legacy of President Obama within a country that awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.
In a time of hyperpartisanship in Congress — and extreme voter fatigue with respect to party-line loyalties, a bipartisan Nordic community has always had greater hopes and expectations. We, thus, ask our senators to encourage President Obama to withdraw the Tsunis nomination or, barring such, we ask them to work hard in coming days to convince key Senate colleagues to act in the nonpartisan interests of the United States and its taxpayers, and in the interest of our valued ties with Norway, and unanimously reject the nomination of George J. Tsunis.
T. Michael Davis is a longtime member of the Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce-Minnesota, a former chairman of the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce-Minnesota and former secretary of SACC-USA. This article also was signed by Ivar Sorensen, former president of the Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce-Minnesota; John M. Lund, former president and CEO of Sons of Norway International; and Bruce Gjovig, chairman of the Nordic Initiative at the University of North Dakota.