Sunday July 1, 2018
Ambassadors have existed since the time of the ancient Greeks. They were from the beginning granted a special immunity which enabled them to talk to enemy spokesmen to attempt to resolve issues without resort to arms. In the modern context, Ambassadors are sent to reside in foreign capitals to provide some measure of protection for traveling citizens and also to defend other perceived national interests. Ambassadors are not soldiers, nor are they necessarily the parties of government that ultimately make decisions on what to do when dealing with a foreign nation. They are there to provide a mechanism for exchanging views to create a dialogue while at the same time working with foreign governments to avoid conflict, whether over trade or politics.
There has been a great deal of discussion in the European press about the new American Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell. Grenell, a protégé of National Security Adviser John Bolton who doesn’t speak German, would seem to have enough on his plate defending the unpopular Trump Administration decisions on climate change, the Iran nuclear deal and on tariffs directed against European Union exports, but he has apparently gone out of his way to make the bilateral relationship with a key ally even worse. After the White House withdrew from the Iran agreement, Grenell tweeted that German businesses should “wind down operations immediately” in Iran. The ineptly worded advice was inevitably taken by the Germans as a threat. He has also celebrated anti-immigration sentiment in Europe, a slap at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and breached protocol by meeting with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, who was on a state visit.
Nils Schmid, a German Social Democratic Party foreign policy spokesman, goes so far as to say that “He does not understand what the role of an ambassador should be. An ambassador is a bridge-builder who explains how American politics works, how the American government works, and at the same time explains to America how Germany sees things.” Grenell has, however, “defined his role for himself, and it is not the traditional role of an ambassador. … He will work as a propagandist [for Donald Trump]”