“The comments made by Richard Grenell give the impression that the new U.S. ambassador still hasn’t adjusted to his new role. At least the Russians make an effort not to be seen to be meddling in other countries’ affairs.”
BERLIN – The United States new ambassador to Berlin, Richard “Ric” Grenell, wasted little time before enraging his hosts in the German government with his domineering tweets.
However, with Grenell’s hosts barely recovering from the shock of his initial command to “immediately” begin winding down business with Iran – an ultimatum delivered via tweet hours after landing in Germany – the one-time Fox News pundit immediately began hitting Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government where it hurts, prompting demands from Berlin for clarification.
Speaking to Breitbart magazine, a website largely seen as the flagship platform of the nativist U.S. far-right, Ambassador Grenell began repeating the talking points of the site’s former editor, ousted White House National Security Advisor Steve Bannon, who has been rallying in support of the right-wing nationalist revival flaring up throughout Europe.
There are a lot of conservatives throughout Europe who have contacted me to say they are feeling there is a resurgence going on … I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders. I think there is a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left.”
The interview prompted the annoyance of Germany’s Foreign Ministry, whose spokesman said:
We have asked the U.S. side for clarification, and whether [the remarks] were made as reported.”
The spokesman added that the comments would also be raised Wednesday, during Grenell’s first official call at the ministry.
“At least the Russians make an effort not to be seen as meddling…”
Continuing, Grenell heaped praise on Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, a fierce opponent of refugee settlement who has banned full-face religious coverings for Muslim women while granting Austrian police the right to use force to make them reveal their faces.
Kurz heads the right-wing People’s Party in Vienna, which leads the government alongside the hard-right Freedom Party, a group formed by former SS Officer Anton Reinthaller in the 1950s.
Absurd. I condemn those comments completely. Don’t put words in my mouth. 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. https://t.co/DjSX4SL3bf
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) June 4, 2018
Further enraging Berlin, Kurz – a caustic critic of refugee policies such as Merkel’s, which are seen as overly lax – was invited to dine with Grenell at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin on June 12, during his planned visit to Germany.
“Like many others, I have taken note of this,” German Chancellor Merkel curtly noted when asked about Kurz planned visit to the U.S. embassy during a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Despite his call to “empower” right-wing populists in Europe, Grenell did stop short of voicing support for the hard-right Alternative für Deutschland Party, which shockingly rose to form the greatest threat to Merkel’s ruling coalition that she has faced since becoming chancellor. AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland riled German critics this week with his comments that “Hitler and the Nazis are just a speck of bird shit in over 1,000 years of successful German history” – a statement seen by some as a dog-whistle comment downplaying Nazi aggression and genocide.
Other German officials were far less restrained than Merkel in their reaction to the ambassador’s comments. Omid Nouripour, an MP from the Green Party and deputy chair of the German-U.S. parliamentary friendship group, said:
The comments made by Richard Grenell give the impression that the new U.S. ambassador still hasn’t adjusted to his new role. At least the Russians make an effort not to be seen to be meddling in other countries’ affairs.
The U.S. ambassador represents the American people, not just the readership of Breitbart. That’s why it is important that he conducts himself as neutrally as possible.”
Social Democratic Party Deputy Leader Rolf Mutzenich also noted that the comments violate the 1961 Vienna Convention, which restricts diplomats’ abilities to interfere in the domestic affairs of their host countries. “Clearly the U.S. ambassador sees himself as an extension of a right-wing conservative world movement,” Mutzenich noted.
Grenell’s history of scandal
The ambassador’s incendiary style is nothing new, nor is the controversy that he seems to court.
Grenell’s unapologetically gay sexual identity has earned him the ire of Trump’s anti-LGBTQ base in groups like the evangelical-fundamentalist American Family Association and Family Research Council, forcing him to resign from the Bush administration, where he had been known as a loyal attack dog of ultra-hawkish then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, now National Security Adviser. His long-time partner, Matt Lashey, is a conservative Evangelical Christian and alum of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.
Grenell has long relished ruffling feathers with his flamboyant Trump-style tweets bashing the looks of such figures as Hillary Clinton, Callista Gingrich, Michelle Obama and even liberal lesbian pundit Rachel Maddow – whom he has often goaded for appearing too masculine.
In recent times, Grenell has dubbed himself a “big fan” of the Austrian chancellor. He was also described as a “big fan of Israel” by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier this week.
Top Photo | German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a news conference with President of Mongolia Elbegdorj Tsakhia after a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Tuesday, March 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.