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Grenell the Toxic Ambassador

Trump's ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell. Credit: photocosmos1/Shutterstock

The American ambassador to Germany continues to irritate and anger his hosts:

German politicians from across the political spectrum rounded on US ambassador Richard Grenell on Tuesday after the diplomat’s frank criticism of Berlin’s defence budget.

The strongest condemnation of Mr Grenell’s intervention came from Wolfgang Kubicki. The vice-president of the German parliament and a senior member of the centrist Free Democratic party called for the ambassador to be expelled from Berlin “immediately”.

Mr Kubicki added: “If a US ambassador behaves like the high commissioner of an occupying power, he must learn that our tolerance also has its limits.”

Berlin is backtracking on previous commitments to raise military spending, but that is not a good enough reason for the ambassador to get into another public argument with the host government. Grenell’s combativeness and arrogance are presumably appealing to the president, but they make him an unusually ineffective and radioactive representative of U.S. interests in Germany. This is not the first time that he has been likened to the official of an occupying or colonial government. The Trump administration has nothing but disdain for diplomacy, and so it is unsurprising that the “diplomats” that it sends abroad are so bad at advancing U.S. interests with allied governments. Does anyone think that Grenell’s public criticism of German military spending is going to cause them to change their position? Of course not. It is practically guaranteed to make the government dig in to make clear that their budget decisions aren’t going to be made for them.

I recommended that Trump recall Grenell last year after the fracas that he caused, and that makes even more sense now. A competent president would replace Grenell with someone who has some idea how to talk to German officials and the German public without insulting them. We all know Trump won’t do that, not least because he seems to place no value on maintaining a good relationship with one of our biggest trading partners and closest allies. The U.S.-German relationship was never likely to improve as long as Trump is in office, but with Grenell as ambassador it is sure to deteriorate further. That will have harmful effects on U.S.-German cooperation that will outlast the current administration.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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