Jerusalem Post, July 6, 2020
Read the Jpost version here.
Read the German version in achgut.com, here.
#BerlinNeedsGrenell. This was the hashtag I started when rumors flew that President Trump was considering Ric Grenell for US Ambassador to the United Nations, a position for which he was overqualified. I didn’t want him to go. It wasn’t time. Needless to say, the hashtag didn’t trend. Throughout his German career, some has-been politicians called on him to leave for his assertive diplomacy, whether for tweeting that German companies should stop doing business with Iran, the leading state-sponsor of terror, or giving an interview to Breitbart in which he said he wanted to empower non-traditional conservatives.
The sourpusses never stopped in their undiplomatic characterizations of the Ambassador as “a diplomatic bad boy,” “Trump’s ventriloquist,” and “far-right colonial officer,” among other names. But Grenell never apologized. He knew he did nothing wrong. In fact, he was doing everything right: making the German-American relationship more open and honest than ever before and holding Germany accountable to their ethical, historical and political obligations.
I sensed he was one to watch even before he stepped foot into the Dahlem mansion in May 2018. Christian evangelical Vice President Mike Pence swore him in on a huge, old family Bible, while Grenell’s incredibly kind partner, Matt Lashey, proudly looked on. The gay media and establishment hated that a gay conservative reached this level of power, but the conservative media showed they have a sense of humor. The conservative blog RedState had this headline: “Mike Pence Personally Deports Openly Gay Couple.” This was a man who thought out of the box. And he was extremely charismatic.
I knew I had to be at his inaugural Fourth of July party at Tempelhof to celebrate American Independence with him. I pulled whatever journalistic strings I had – to no avail. Despite being an American journalist, I had never been invited to American Embassy events since coming here in 2016. The website listed no press contact. So I followed him on Twitter that day, tweeted something about him, and – a miracle happened! He followed me back! As mutual followers, I was able to direct message him, introducing myself and asking for a party invite. I thought: fat chance “His Excellency” would respond on Twitter. But he did, and we’ve been in touch ever since.
The first interview he gave to Jewish German media was for Jüdische Rundschau, the independent Jewish conservative paper founded as a response to the compliant, state-funded Jüdische Allgemeine. Usually, ambassadors would not deign to speak to non-establishment media. I was afraid he’d be talked out of it, but he gave a punctual, gracious, candid interview with an authenticity I rarely encountered in my more than 20 years of journalism interviewing VIPs. This authenticity carried over into his generous interview with Achgut. Highly accessible, Grenell talks to everyone – the Left, the Right, the established media, and the alternative underdogs. He’s not into labels. He’s not into titles. He’s into people.
He made it a policy to make sure at least 75% of Embassy RSVP lists included new guests. As the political link between America and Germany, he understood that the people had to be involved in the decision-making process, which meant, being heard – on social media and in person. The elites resented that. As he once told me, they like to control the debate and messaging in the back room.
IT WASN’T only our personal connection or his parties playing the best of American pop that influenced my #BerlinNeedsGrenell. He became the country’s moral conscience, which Germany, traditionally, has often fought – otherwise it wouldn’t have murdered so many Jews. He actually could have been a lot more “undiplomatic” in pushing American policy priorities, including getting Germany to abide by sanctions against Iran; stopping the Russian NordStream 2 gas pipeline; and increasing defense spending as members of NATO. He challenged #KippahGate by wearing a kippah in public and #SpiegelGate by publicly calling out the far left news magazine, Der Spiegel, on its proven anti-American lies. But he never made his criticism personal, as did his critics.
He could’ve gotten moralistic, saying: “How can a country that murdered six million Jews now cowtow to a government intent on killing 6 million more?” “How dare you tell Jews to hide?” “We lost countless American lives and treasure because of your historic bloody power lust. Pay up!” He kept it classy, focusing on the mutual interest inherent in the policies he promoted, whether banning Hezbollah or the Iranian airline, Mahan Air. The Germans were spared guilt.
Nothing could explain Grenell’s fearlessness except to say he is a God-fearing man. He was more like a prophet preaching to the Germans before they bring upon themselves great disaster yet again by courting dictatorships like Iran, Russia and China.
The Hebrew prophets spoke in their own style unique to their upbringing and temperament. Amos, for example, spoke in simple metaphors taken from his life as a farmer. Isaiah, a prince, used more aristocratic metaphors. Grenell spoke as an American born in a small town in Michigan using not parables, but sharp tweets. Of course, he didn’t only conduct diplomacy over Twitter. A masterful professional and Harvard graduate, he activated and united the embassy to lobby for American interests utilizing all formal and informal channels at their disposal, but publicly, he communicated in the language and method of the people – social media – because he is one of the people.
Over time, his name came up again for other positions, and I kept tweeting #BerlinNeedsGrenell, until he got promoted as Acting Director of Intelligence. Americans now needed him. In just a few months, through long overdue declassifications and administrative reforms, he transformed the American Intelligence Community into one that is more effective, transparent and accountable to the people. What he started in Germany continued in Washington: bringing information that taxpayers had a right to know directly to them.
In the tradition of fools harassing a prophet, Der Spiegel contrasted him to previous ambassadors in one of their many hit pieces:
“In Berlin, the representatives of Germany’s most important ally usually have the easiest jobs. Many previous US ambassadors were major political and social figures in the capital, enjoying excellent connections to the Chancellery and federal ministries, and playing host to the most powerful and influential personalities in Germany.
“Barack Obama’s ambassador, Philip Murphy, invited longtime adversaries Helmut Kohl and Merkel to his dining room in 2012 for discreet talks aimed at reducing the tensions between them. By the time his tenure was over after four years, he had made so many friends he had to rent out the Olympic Stadium for his goodbye party.”
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we couldn’t throw a goodbye party for “Ric,” as he tells people to call him. Maybe it wouldn’t have been filled with power-players congratulating each other on how they’re all Masters of the Universe, but the Olympic Stadium wouldn’t have been able to fill the genuine love, appreciation, and deep respect that every day, decent, pro-American Germans felt for one of the most effective, honest, ethical and real ambassadors that Germany – and beyond – has ever known.
Grenell will greatly be missed. I don’t know what I’ll do now for upcoming Fourth of July. But I know that Berlin doesn’t need Grenell anymore. #TheWorldNeedsGrenell