She’s described as “the top U.S. diplomat for Europe.” And so, when her indiscreet telephone call goes viral on the Internet, it ought to be big news. Victoria Nuland was promoted from her post as State Department spokesperson following the 2012 elections. Now, she holds the coveted post of Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. The specific quote being circulated has an unmistakable Nuland saying, “Fuck the EU!”
That isn’t the kind of thing you expect a seasoned diplomat to be saying. We know she is seasoned because we watched her seasoning. She might have won the Gold Medal for ice dancing around a simple question: Is Jerusalem the capital of Israel?
Last year, she went to extraordinary lengths to avoid stating the obvious fact that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel. Interestingly, there has never been a time when Jerusalem was the capital of anyone else’s country or empire. The Muslim Ottomans controlled Jerusalem for more than half a millennium, but they did not name it as their capital. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan controlled East Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967, but never made it their capital. This should not have been a hard question.
Nuland might have consulted our own CIA Country Fact Book. It’s readily accessible online. The spooks at the CIA have figured out what the capital of Israel is. But she bobbed and weaved and generally looked ridiculous refusing to answer one of the simplest questions. A follow-up question might have been: Madame Assistant Secretary — is there any other country whose capital you cannot name?
So now, having thoroughly blotted her copybook on the Mideast, she is promoted to handle still-sensitive relations with Europe and Eurasia. That covers a lot of territory. We learn that the Obama administration has been spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone calls.
That certainly is a shock for a president who was the first candidate in history to deliver a campaign speech — before a million adoring Germans — at the Victory Monument in Berlin. President Obama basked in the glow of their adulation as he proclaimed himself a “citizen of the world” in 2008.
Barely a year later, in 2009, Mr. Obama blew off the twentieth anniversary celebrations of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. He sent instead a video in which he notes that the Fall of the Wall made it possible for Germany to elect a woman chancellor and America to elect a black president. How’s that again? Did Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., ever say “Ich bin ein Berliner?”
So now, as Ukraine is convulsed in anti-government demonstrations, as violence threatens the capital of Kiev, we have this vulgar and insulting comment from the Obama official specifically tasked to handle a delicate situation.
Blank the E.U.? Germans are understandably outraged. So are Austrians.
It’s not clear to us that the U.S. position should track with the E.U. position on Ukraine. There are many occasions when European and American perspectives must necessarily depart. We hold a different place in the world and in history.
American exceptionalism is real. We should not be ashamed to stand apart from the European Union when our interests and convictions require it.
Still, whatever became of “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind”? The previous administration embarrassed all of us, to be sure, with loose talk of “Old Europe” and “New Europe.” Another name for their Old Europe might have been NATO.
And ten years ago we saw infantile reactions on Capitol Hill to French opposition to our invasion of Iraq. Some Members of Congress even went so far as to ban French fries in the House cafeteria, dubbing them, “freedom fries.”
To the tens of thousands of Christians fleeing Islamist persecution in Iraq, those congressional freedom fries will seem all the more absurd.