Translation For Norwegians: “Oh, Please. We’re The United States Of America. Why Should We Care About Sweden…er, Norway? Whatever.”

I hear he really likes fish, though, and roots for the Vikings.

I hear he really likes fish, though, and roots for the Vikings.

Stipulated: Ambassador to Norway is not the most vital foreign relations post the Obama Administration has to fill. Also stipulated: if one assumes that the quality of U.S. appointee naturally diminishes down the line from the most important diplomatic position to the least, and the top position is filled with the likes of John Kerry, one might assume that Norwegians would be relieved that the post of U.S. Ambassador to Norway wasn’t being filled by a used lawn chair. The final stipulation is that there is nothing unique or unusual about a U.S. President filling a high diplomatic post with someone manifestly unqualified for the job by anything other than the size of their contributions to his re-election. This is not only a case of “everybody does it,” but also “everybody has been doing it shamelessly for about 200 years.”

With all of that stated and understood, it is still impossible to avoid the ethical conclusions that…

  • The performance of President Obama’s selection as Ambassador to Norway in his Senate confirmation hearing was a disgrace and an embarrassment, even by the prior low standards of past appointees.
  • Appointing such an obviously unqualified, and indeed lazy and uninterested, U.S. ambassador to any locale with more human occupants than Sesame Street is irresponsible.
  • Doing so is an insult to Norway, and, by extension, its population, friends, and neighbors, which..
  • Makes the government of the United States look arrogant and  foolish, which…
  • To a disturbing extent, especially in international affairs, it is.

I don’t care if you know you have been appointed to a diplomatic post as payback for being a loyal political supporter, and that this indeed may have been an implicit quid pro quo (though an explicit quid pro quo would have been illegal). If you have been appointed as ambassador to any nation, know that you are going to be grilled about your qualifications in a public forum that can be viewed around the world, and know that your knowledge of the country that you will be sent to is less than impressive, then you have an absolute obligation to become as much of an authority on everything about that country as the hours until your hearing will permit. Anything less is blatantly irresponsible, disrespectful to the foreign nation and the post, a betrayal of the trust of the President who appointed you, and a demonstration of insufficient diligence, intelligence and common sense to hold any appointment, including that of Ambassador to Coney Island. Nonetheless, George Tsunis, the CEO of Chartwell Hotels who donated $267,244 to the Democratic party in the 2012 election cycle and $278,531 in 2010, and was duly rewarded with the post of Ambassador to Norway as a result, went before the U.S. Senate unaware that Norway was a constitutional monarchy, which would be a typical answer on “Jeopardy!” When quizzed by Sen. McCain about the third most influential political party in a nation that does not suffer from a two-party system, Tsunis referred to it as a “fringe group.” To the contrary, its leader is Norway’s  finance minister.

Informed of his error, Tsunis said, “I stand corrected,”  which presumably would have been his reply if he mixed up Norway and Sweden, like I do. (I know Denmark is smaller).

This was a slap in the face to Norway, and the country’s news media and its readers noticed. Wrote one commenter to the English language account of Tsunis’s performance,

“Really, that fat bigoted ignorant pig is the best the US can send to my country? This clown is condemning the Norwegian parliamentary system and should be refused entrance to Norway.”

His invective can be forgiven; Tsunis should not. He should, if he has any dignity, self-respect or concern for his nation’s reputation abroad, withdraw and apologize. President Obama, if he gave a damn about such details of his job as “doing it,” would immediately pull Tsunis’s nomination. But the President doesn’t “do” accountability; he refused to withdraw his appointment for Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, after a frighteningly incoherent performance in his hearing, and no heads have rolled at the HHS despite the multiple Obamacare fiascos. How likely is it that he will be spurred to action by a minor matter like his chosen Ambassador to Norway publicly raising doubts regarding whether he could find the country on a map?

The fact is, and this sentence could have been and probably was written in the 19th century, U.S. ambassadors should possess substantive qualifications for their posts. They should be required to learn the language, and to pass a substantive examination on the nation they will be representing before their confirmation hearings. The posts should not be sold like items at a silent auction, and the nations involved should be accorded the respect of consultations regarding the appointees.

Such a system would embody the ethical values of competence, respect and responsibility, and have the not insignificant supplementary benefits of having the U.S. representatives in foreign capitals actually capable of doing their jobs, and showing the smaller and less troublesome nations of the world that we give a damn about them. President Obama, among his many insincere pledges, promised to work to improve America’s image abroad. Not appointing arrogant, lazy buffoons as ambassadors would seem to be one of the easiest and least controversial ways to pursue that goal, but that would require a genuine interest in treating such nations as Norway as more than vacation destinations where the people talk funny.

Obviously, this U.S. leadership, like all the others, doesn’t have it.


Sources: Slate, the Local No

41 thoughts on “Translation For Norwegians: “Oh, Please. We’re The United States Of America. Why Should We Care About Sweden…er, Norway? Whatever.”

  1. For around a half a million dollars per ambassadorship a president could amass an impressive amount of money to pay for his travel and secret parties. Why is he using taxpayer money for those things? The American people should get something in return for all that selling us down the river.
    Is that a raaaaaacist thing to say?

  2. Hmmm, Norway’s is rich, economically stable, and currently has a conservative prime minister. Do you think this nomination might be a way that the Obama administration is figuratively giving the finger to a strong conservative country?

    • No, I haven’t checked, but I’m sure equally incompetent ambassadors have been sent to liberal countries. What are Caroline Kennedy’s qualifications for being Ambassador to Japan, not that Japan is especially liberal? She has no international expertise professionally. She’s been in publishing, and has served on boards of non-profits. Like most members of her extended family, she does not appear to be especially bright.

      • Well, lets hope that Caroline turns out more like Jack than Teddy Kennedy. I don’t think she learned anything about Japanese culture at Radcliffe. But then again, she appears to be a supporter of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. Also she has a Juris Doctorate from Columbia. Probably more qualified than this bozo that had been nominated for Ambassador to Norway.

  3. I am shocked and horrified, but not surprised.
    What’s worse is that not “everybody does it” unless by that you mean “well every American president does it”. As far as I am aware, every other developed nation (I am going to ignore places such as the Congo), appoints ambassadors who are career foreign service, or occasionally, with posts such as Ambassador to the UN, career politicians (and not lightweights either).
    No other nation (hyperbole here, I haven’t checked everyone) appoints ambassadors who don’t have at least some qualifications for the job.

      • As an addendum, I have always wondered … since US ambassadors are not diplomats … who actually does the diplomacy in embassies? And what do the ambassadors actually do?

        • I can’t answer your second question above about ambassadors very well. But as to your first question, embassies typically employ career Foreign Service officers, regional specialists, military attachés, “economic and humanitarian affairs” specialists, who do the real work. You know: Spies.

        • I would submit that with a President who takes his role seriously and a Senate that exists to deliberate, not the juvenile executive coupled with the rubber stamping lapdog Senate we have now, the appointee ambassador system is actually preferable to some come up through the ranks bureaucrat.

          Ambassadors to other nations must carry with them the political attitudes of the country they represent, therefore they must be derived somehow from elected bodies. The indirectly elected president, could with the formerly state-elected Senate (now directly elected) provides the process necessary to ensure ambassadors reflect the prevailing, but tempered attitudes of the people in regards to particular nations.

          The system does appear to break down when we have an incompetent president backed by an ideologically blinded Senate (who’s loyalty is dangerously more to party than to branch of government). Yet the system is working: a non serious president has appointed non serious individuals to various posts, reflecting the prevailing attitude of the American people right now, that is to not look at our leadership like it is important.

    • Love the Onion article, as usual. Is the internet really THAT old??

      Anyway, Tex, your comment goes with the other thought I had about this “embarrassadoer.”*

      I would love to see the top envoys to Norway from Russia, China, Sierra Leone, Uruguay, and the U.S. (Tsunis) all get locked in a room for an hour together, and have each of them complete the same easy (for you or me or Jack), 20-question, multiple-choice pop quiz on U.S. history and U.S. government – closed book, no collaboration.

      I bet Tsunis would get the lowest score of the five – despite the other envoys’ fluency in English being lower than the average U.S. sixth grader.

      From here on, until 45th President Hillary is sworn in, I shall refer to the executive regime in Washington as “BO&JA” (maybe pronouncing it “bone-ya”), for “Barack Obama and the Jarrett Administration.” It’s only fitting for the U.S. that the second female president should follow the second black president.

      *Am hoping it’s only because it’s a weekend when I have been cooped-up, but have been slapping myself all day for failing to disengage my brain from farting portmanteaus.

  4. I think that your suggestions for qualified diplomats should be the law. I was overseas a few years ago, and I met the diplomat for the country I was in, who was George Bush’s cousin. You can’t get much worse than that. I thought then, and I think now, that surely there has to be a better way of doing these things, even if the diplomatic staff are the ones doing most of the heavy lifting in these situations.

  5. I could be wrong, but I think I am noticing that as the demand for unaccountable political campaign financing swells (as one might expect in an election year), so does the supply of show trials of people for campaign finance violations – just to keep that illusion of accountability, and just to kick that can of implementing effective finance reform further down the road.

  6. Was it because of his thousands of dollars of donations to the Democratic party, or was it because of some small details on which he misspoke? At this point, what difference does it make?”

    • All the difference in the world, if you happen to be Norwegian. Or Scandanavian. Or European. Or non-american. Therefore it also matters if you are american.

  7. Anyone who’s even read Dale Carnegie knows that you’re more likely to get your way (i.e. you have more power) if the people you’re talking to feel respected.

    Arrogance directly hurts American interests.

    I’m starting to fear it’s an incurable problem. Two Presidents in a row have said they meant to fix it. Now we’re acting like this to a NATO member with oil. They should have been treated with respect anyway but in addition are strategically important.

  8. Stipulated: Ambassador to Norway is not the most vital foreign relations post the Obama Administration has to fill.

    Don’t stipulate it. These things can turn on a coin. Who in 1939 would have guessed that the next U.S. diplomat killed in combat would have been attached to the Norwegian Embassy?

    And it is a good thing for an ambassador, or indeed any public servant, to be disinterested (look it up).

    “the the CEO”?

      • Replying to my:-

        And it is a good thing for an ambassador, or indeed any public servant, to be disinterested (look it up).

        you wrote of me:-

        I don’t need to look it up. You, however, are confusing DISinterested (GOOD) with UNinterested (BAD).

        How am I confusing them, when I was asserting that being disinterested was good, with precisely the meaning you just now used when distinguishing it from being uninterested, and in contrast to your original claim that it was a bad thing for an ambassador to be disinterested, e.g. when you wrote:-

        Appointing such an obviously unqualified, and indeed lazy and disinterested [emphasis added], U.S. ambassador to any locale with more human occupants than Sesame Street is irresponsible.

        So, if you don’t need to look it up, why did you use it wrongly then and inconsistently with that just now? Is your memory failing you, so that you sincerely believe that you actually wrote “uninterested” and that I mistakenly took that to be “disinterested”?

        • Because this is your jerkishness at play. The correct word was uninterested, and indeed the word I obviously intended to use, and indeed thought I did use. You could have, not playing your favorite role of smart ass, pointed out the error, which would have been helpful and productive—instead you played word games, and snottily to boot. (look it up.) I don’t appreciate it. The entire post made it clear which meaning I intended, and as my response showed, which I wrote without “looking it up,” that I knew which word was correct. Yes, I write a lot here, I have no staff, and I make typos. I fix commenters’ misspellings and typos daily, without comment, and I expect the same courtesy in return. Ulrich, for one, Patrice, and others, regularly flag typos off site, via e-mail. I don’t know why your ego needs the fertilizer of making a big deal out of typos, but the only one it makes look bad is you.

          • Now hang on! I did absolutely nothing “jerkish” until after your own snide come back to my – very deliberate – avoidance of telling you bluntly “you got it wrong there”. Instead of rubbing your nose in it, I went to the trouble of what you call “word play”, showing you an example of correct usage and suggesting that you look up my usage to confirm that it was correct. That was me deliberately choosing to show you a correct example, to give you the chance to cross check your own (and no, there is nothing “obvious” to tell me you really meant to write “uninterested”, not from someone who elsewhere writes “coup de gras”). Rather than do that, you guessed that I had it wrong – and proceeded to try the very same nose rubbing in that I had been to some care to avoid doing to you! And now you make out that my correcting your treatment of me is me being jerkish!

            As for emailing you privately, well, I don’t have that to hand, and it seemed that it was a minor matter that I was handling diplomatically in the first instance (though that ship had sailed once you treated my remarks as ignorant for all to see).

            I am willing to let this matter pass after this, but I am not willing to let that accusation stand without this rebuttal. You may accuse me of misjudgment, in not realising that you would be offended by being elliptical rather than blunt, but to accuse me of jerkishness, which is to say an attitude that doesn’t mind trampling on your sensitivity when at worst I guessed wrong how to avoid that – well, that comes right after precisely that on your part.

            • I’ll accept your explanation as a misunderstanding. Yes, I prefer a direct alert that the wrong word has been used, ideally without gratuitous speculation regarding whether I have a basic literate vocabulary. Usually, such errors are the result of careless typing and a result that doesn’t trigger the three spell-check programs I use. I am well aware that such mistakes are annoying, which is why I like to be made aware of them as efficiently and with as little nastiness as possible.

              • If you don’t want nastiness, you should not lash out nastily as a first response to what you imagine to be nastiness, in case it is you misreading it and producing it in the first instance. That is precisely why I do not and did not come out and accuse you of screwing up, even when it seems the most obvious thing going on, but instead I drew your attention to the matter and queried it without freighting it with anything further.

                And no, your basic literacy is not at issue. Please, please, do not read anything into that but a statement from me that I don’t wish to test its truth; I only raised things like that, which you feel might touch on it, in case you had some fully conscious, perhaps ironic, meaning that I had somehow missed (I still don’t know if your “coup de gras” was stupid or ironic – or something else again, that I’m still missing).

                Oh, and I get long winded as a defence mechanism, to avoid dispensing blunt truths. If you want blunt, you will get it, but you won’t like it.

                Since just there you have not, or at any rate have not expressed, any regret for the very real and conscious unpleasantness on your part, until further notice I shall take it that you do not consider such behaviour improper. But you may wish to consider the alternative I suggested in the first paragraph above, of extending the benefit of the doubt and abstaining from throwing oil on troubled flames.

                • Coup de gras was a careless, actually lazy mistake. I knew it was wrong, meant to check it and got distracted, and anyway, if I use foreign language terms, I have to check them twice—I make mistakes with the language I speak.

                  I was cranky, essentially. By sheer coincidence, your comment dovetailed with two other comments from regular readers that I regarded as similarly aggravating, especially after fencing with the web-shaming fans all day. I was already in slap-down mode, and over-reacted.

                  • I don’t know Jack, there’s not alot of ways to interpret “to be disinterested (look it up)”.

                    I think your initial reaction to it being a snide comment, especially in the context of the comment maker and his history of smug smart-assery here.

                    When our kids constantly ask us to define things for them, we get to the point of telling them “look it up”. You, an adult, already know how to look things up and don’t need a child-oriented admonishment. I just think ole PM Lawrence is actif incredulous because he doesn’t like being called out for his nearly consistent know -it-all snark.

                    • Since you like it blunt, but I can’t resist putting it as a question rather than an accusation before I have all my facts together, isn’t that smart arse and snide? (And, yes, I am willing to listen to anything that says otherwise, rather than interpreting any attempt as further evidence against.)

                      Despite my inclinations, I will try to be blunt. You just accused me of a “history of smug smart-assery here” – but what you actually have is a history of me doing same thing before as I did just now, and it is a circular argument to take what I did before as a “history of smug smart-assery here” and use it to buttress a claim of that now, instead of accepting that it has been the same thing all along, but not that thing. It has been my putting my foot in your sensitivities, by doing the very things I meant to avoid that with.

                      So you can fairly and justly accuse me of clumsiness, but you are a smug smart-arse to precisely the extent that you can only believe – or claim to believe – that, rather than clumsiness, of me.

                      And of course I was being consistent. I thought that it would be better, safer and more diplomatic to hedge my bets rather than accusing you of snideness, or JM of stupidity. Instead, I raised the issue and listened to your response.

                      But now I see that you are a smart-arse who refuses to entertain an explanation, which is worse than disagreeing with it, and he is (by his own admission) capable of putting up something wrong even when he knows it is wrong, so that I was quite correct to guess that he might have screwed up about “uninteresting” rather than guess that he must have meant the right thing since a wrong thing is wrong.

                      So, what the bloody hell are you complaining about, other than the fact that I held off rather than slam people right off the bat? Don’t accuse me of snideness, when it is – as I have bloody told you – just me holding off, and don’t try to back your spurious accusations of snideness with a claim of a history that rests on the very same things that you are seeking to prove.

                      Oh, and if you wish to check that I might genuinely want to get at the truth safely, consider that I posted over two days ago, to try to get constructive feedback from people who hadn’t already closed their minds like you, well before your own snide (yes, snide) remarks about me just there. I am acting in good faith; can you say the same without condemning yourself in the attempt? The only way I can see you doing that is, if you are too clumsy to know what you are doing, just how offensive you are being – but I don’t see you being self-aware enough to realise it, even if it were true.

                    • You, JM, should know better than to present yourself as accepting an explanation and then to turn around and make out that your original accusations were accurate all along. Unless you are as variable as water, that is at best inconsistent and at worst consciously hypocritical. For more and better particulars of what I really am and what I really am trying for, read what I have written. If you want to discuss it, perhaps even to make constructive suggestions, feel free – but don’t think you are helping by running around poisoning the waters like that (yes, you might not have realised that’s what that is, but you like blunt, right?).

                    • I don’t know how you can read it that way at all. You have a strong tendency to the pedantic and are intellectually a showboater. Some of my best friends are this way—arguably my best friend, who only deigns to weigh in here when he can display his stunning knowledge of quotations, is. I’m not accusing you of anything, and by writing “I know” I should not be required to be taken as endorsing every aspect of Tex’s characterization or its tone. Yes, you are often snide, (as am I, more than I should be), I accept that as a mostly insignificant flaw in a positive package, and I should not be as annoyed as I was with the “Look it up” comment–which is in fact the aspect of Tex’s comment I was agreeing with.

                      “Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly,” and I assume you know the reference, is not poisoning the waters. To the contrary, it’s a pass. It says, “Go ahead, be yourself: I’m through worrying about this in your case.”

                      A following line in the song is “Can’t help lovin’ that man of mine.”

                    • JM, I took your phrasing as a substantial endorsement of texagg04’s own (snide) remarks.

                      I am going to throw the following out in the hopes of getting constructive criticism from readers. Any other kind will be ignored unless it is so egregious that to escape remark might be misconstrued as its acceptance (see – I’m using long words to steer clear of friction again!):-

                      All right, critics. Here is something I just saw posted at another site: “In LA there are a lot less normal people taking public transit”.

                      My first instinct was to post a comment asking the poster to clarify whether he really meant there were fewer of them (using “less” as a stupid illiteracy I don’t want to hint at), or if it was an ironic insinuation that they are less normal there, or what – because I really can’t tell, as my perceptions in this area just aren’t that reliable, a limit of mine I have learned (and which you lot just don’t believe is a limit for me, preferring to acuse me of fake humility).

                      To put you on the spot, how would youprefer me to ask diplomatically? (And no, telling me the answer you are sure is correct is not an answer to how I can ask diplomatically, it is the answer you are sure I would get if I did; without giving me a process to get there, I can’t do it in other cases.)

                    • Ignore the less/ fewer gaffe as quick comment error (the benefit of the doubt) and ask what is meant by “normal”, with nothing more, though given the loaded nature of loaded, I personally, being a bit snide, would add, if I did not know the poster, “(I am assuming and hoping that be normal you did not mean “white.”)”

            • I’d say that putting “The the CEO?” in scare quotes made you look like a jerk. You know, I once saw some typos and shot Jack an e-mail asking “Do you want typo’s pointed out in comments or via e-mail” and, when I felt the need to correct something, have been putting it via e-mail as per his preference, to avoid making him look careless on small mistakes. You know, golden rule and all that.

              • Although I regret any inadvertent impression, to my mind that was the simplest possible error message that actually indicated the part involved, and did no more than query it without condemning it, precisely in case it was something he had deliberately meant to put, to achieve some sort of effect. It is deliberately not accusing him of error, in case it’s me that’s missing something!

                So, no, there was no more content there than the kind of message anyone could have meant. In fact, that is just precisely the format of most error messages in FORTH, designed to achieve precisely that – highlight oddities and query them, with no implication beyond that. Anything else is reading patterns into what isn’t there.

  9. I don’t think I need to tell you folks how pleased I would be if Norway actually refused Tsunis’s credentials, thus rejecting him and requiring a replacement be named.

    Let’s be honest, this isn’t the first monumental fuck-up Obama has named as an ambassador…

    Anyone remember Samantha Powers?

  10. Thank God that, at least, the Senate was doing its job for once. One can only hope that, as this story takes hold, either Obama or Tsunis will become embarrassed enough to stop this idiot process. I wouldn’t be surprised if I could have beat out Tsunis going into that committee room cold. Of course, that apparently isn’t saying much! One thing I do know: Scandinavians resent being lumped together as one nationality in four countries. Their languages are of the same family, but are still different- along with customs and traditions.

    • Four countries? If you’re including Finland, they don’t always count themselves as Scandinavian – at least in part because of your second point (more below) but also because historically they were ruled by Sweden (and geographically only a portion of Finland is on the Scandinavian peninsula). While Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are mostly mutually comprehensible, Finnish is in a totally different language group more related to the Baltic languages like Estonian – it’s not even an Indo-European language. Just to confuse you, they are generally counted as “Nordic” though …

      Obviously your point is spot on though!

      • Indeed, if you’ll allow me to be a pedant, Finnish technically isn’t related to most Baltic languages either (most of which are classed as part of the Balto-Slavic group of Indo-European); it’s Finno-Ugric, which also includes Hungarian and Sami (also known as Lapp).

      • Uh-oh. Missed your comment, Robert! No, I was referring to Iceland, not Finland, as the 4th Nordic country. The Finns (with the Estonians, Livonians and several other nationalities with modern day Russia) are a distinct language/cultural group.

  11. Follow-up – article from New York Times with headline: “Muslim influx tests Norway”

    a-HA! So THAT’s what BO&JA is up to, with suggesting that this incompetent hack represent the people of the U.S. and the interests thereof in Norway: Another contrivance of self-handicapping, like the new, weaker standards for physical fitness of female Marines.

    It isn’t enough for oil supplies in the Middle East to be under hostile Islamic control (not forgetting who controls a great deal of oil in Southeast Asia, too). Oh, NOooo: Gotta help the emerging caliphate control the oil in the North Sea, Caucasus and Africa as well.

    Next: Follow immigration of Islamic populations to the North American arctic, to gain control over the oil supplies there. That’ll shut up Sarah Palin.

    Thanks, BO&JA, for further abdication of American influence and for facilitation-by-bumbling of Islamic conquest of the world by immigration. (But of course, all Islamic immigration is ethical, and for the most ethical aims.)

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