George H.W. Bush couldn’t help it when he literally vomited on Japan’s Prime Minister at a state dinner in 1992. So what’s George Tsunis’ excuse?
Tsunis, one of several Obama fundraisers awaiting a plum ambassadorship as a reward for lavishing Team Obama with hundreds of thousands in bundled campaign funds in the 2012 election cycle, figuratively puked all over Norway, his host nation, during a perfunctory Senate confirmation hearing today.
Tsunis may know a lot about raising campaign funds, but he evidently knows less than nothing about Norway. Norwegian English-language news outlet The Local reported on Tsunis’ upchuck of ignorance in a story headlined “Future US envoy displays total ignorance of Norway” and described his Thursday performance as a “jaw-dropping diplomatic blunder”:
Asked by Senator John McCain what he thought it was about the “anti-immigration” Progress Party that appealed to Norwegian voters, Greek American businessman George Tsunis seemed unaware of the party’s role in the ruling coalition.
“You get some fringe elements that have a microphone and spew their hatred,” he said in the pre-appointment hearing. “And I will tell you Norway has been very quick to denounce them.”
McCain interrupted him, pointing out that as part of the coalition, the party was hardly being denounced.
“I stand corrected,” Tsunis said after a pause. “I would like to leave my answer at… it’s a very, very open society and the overwhelming amount of Norwegians and the overwhelming amount of people in parliament don’t feel the same way.”
The blunder came after a faltering, incoherent performance from Tsunis, in which he made a reference to Norway’s “president”, apparently under the impression that the country is a republic rather than a constitutional monarchy.
It would have been better for both Tsunis and Obama if Tsunis had simply admitted he knew nothing about Norway, rather than fabricating an on-the-spot alternative version that never existed.
Tsunis is only one of many Obama donors who will be getting ambassadorial honorifics in exchange for their help on the campaign junket, continuing a perverse form of virtual office-selling in which both Republican and Democratic Presidents have wrongly indulged. The perversion of the practice is compounded by Presidents’ tendencies to send clueless cheerleaders to the nice countries, while reserving the tough and dangerous ambassadorships in destabilized nations for career diplomats.
The irony in the Tsunis screw-up is that Tsunis’ first foray into big political spending came in 2008 – when he gave then-candidate McCain $50,000.
So it was McCain who stood before Tsunis today and corrected him, as Yahoo News’ Oliver Knox observes:
To recap: Tsunis described Norway as having a president (“apparently under the impression that the country is a republic rather than a constitutional monarchy,” as the Local Norway’s News notes dryly). And he characterized the anti-immigration Progress Party as being among “fringe elements” who “spew their hatred” and have been denounced by the government.
That prompted McCain’s disbelieving answer: “The government has denounced them? The coalition government — they’re part of the coalition of the government.”
McCain, already flummoxed by the apparent inability of Obama’s choice to be ambassador to Hungary to list strategic U.S. interests there, closed his questioning with a bit of sarcasm: “I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees.”
Again, all of Thursday’s perfunctory confirmation hearings amounted to nothing more than a dog-and-pony act, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) rules-changing coup in November of last year. None of Obama’s ambassadorial nominees will face a Senate filibuster, regardless of how inept any of them is to serve in a diplomatic role.