Posted: 2:47 am ET
The last year, we’ve seen the State Department officially distanced itself from public comments made by its official representative in Israel. On September 11, 2017, the State Department had to distance itself from a comment made by its top representative in Israel (see @StateDept: Ambassador Friedman’s comment “does not represent a shift in U.S. policy”. And on September 28, State Department spox Heather Nauert, once more from the podium, said that it’s ambassador’s two percent comment “should not be read as a change in U.S. policy (see @StateDept on Amb. Friedman’s comment (again): “should not be read as a change in U.S. policy”).
The latest addition to this disturbing trend is the new U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands Peter Hoekstra. In December, we blogged about the then Ambassador-Designate’s double whoppers during an interview with a Dutch journalist (see New U.S. Ambassador Peter Hoekstra Makes Splash With Whoppers on Dutch TV). On December 23, the newest representative of the United States Government to the Netherlands issued a non apology-apology (see Amb. Designate Hoekstra Issues an “Apology,” Gets Roasted on Twitter). On January 10, his first day in office as the United States Ambassador to The Hague, social media noted his grilling by the Dutch press over his controversial claims (see Amb. Hoesktra Presents His Credentials to the King, Then Gets Properly Grilled By the Dutch Press).
On January 11, during the State Department’s On-the-Record-Briefing with the new Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein, the top official was similarly grilled by the press about the ambassador’s statements.
So for a third time now, two political ambassadors have caused more work for the building because of their public statements. The top State Department public affairs official went on to disavow Ambassador Hoekstra’s statements saying, “The State Department does not agree with those statements. That is not the language that we would use.” U/S Goldstein also told the press corps that there is now a plan for Ambassador Hoekstra to have long-form interview with a Dutch outlet on January 12. Mr. Goldstein said that Ambassador Hoesktra “also plans over the weekend to be available within many of the communities in the capital, including Muslim communities” and that the State Department has “made clear to the ambassador that – that he must move to get this behind him.”
Also FYI, the United States ambassador serve the people of the United States, and not the people of his/her host country. When junior diplomats completing their training at the Foreign Service Institute are asked where is their country, you expect them to point to their country, the United States of America, and not their country of assignment. Both Ambassador Hoekstra and U/S Goldstein appears to seek to endear themselves to the Dutch and make this controversy go away by talking about “loving” the Netherlands, and commitment to “serving the people of the Netherlands.”
Stop that, please. We can see what you’re trying to do.
If Ambassador Hoekstra is interested in putting this behind him, he should own up to his mistake and make a real apology because people watching are not dimwits. A retraction would be a good place to start. And then maybe the local press will allow him to put this behind him.
Via state.gov, Jan 11:
QUESTION: Ambassador Pete Hoekstra in the Netherlands had his debut for the Dutch media. It didn’t go real well. Just to start off, does the State Department agree with his earlier comments that politicians have been burned as a result of Islamist movements and that there are no-go zones in the Netherlands?
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: No. The State Department does not agree with those statements. That is not the language that we would use.
QUESTION: Would you like the ambassador to maybe retract those given all of the controversy it seems to be causing?
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: The ambassador, when he was an ambassador-designate in December when this initially started, issued a statement on Twitter that said, “For the last 17 years I’ve been passionate about confronting the global threat of terrorism.”
The person Josh is referring to is Pete Hoekstra, who was sworn in yesterday as the ambassador to the Netherlands, former member of Congress from Michigan.
“This has been a long struggle. We still have much to learn. I made certain remarks in 2015 and regret the exchange during the Nieuwsuur interview. Please accept my apology. I was born in the Netherlands and love [this] country. It will be the greatest honor of my life to serve as the United States ambassador to the Netherlands. I look forward to the opportunity to learn, to listen, and to move on in the spirit of peace and friendship with the people and the leaders of the Netherlands. Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.”
His position on that hasn’t changed. I agree that yesterday, that the ambassador did not answer some of the questions that were asked of him. He recognizes that. He is going to do a long-form interview tomorrow – that is the plan – with a Dutch outlet. And he also plans over the weekend to be available within many of the communities in the capital, including Muslim communities. And it is a great honor for Ambassador Hoekstra to serve the Netherlands and we are hopeful that we can move beyond this. He’s excited about the opportunity to be able to help the people of the Netherlands.
QUESTION: Well, the quickest way to move beyond it, it seems to me, would be for him to actually say that he was mistaken in – or incorrect in 2015 when he made the comments that have got the Dutch upset, no?
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: He did say in December that he made certain remarks in 2015 and regrets the exchange —
QUESTION: Yeah, but the remarks —
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: — and I’ve indicated —
QUESTION: But the remarks that he made in 2015 weren’t just something that you apologize – they were wrong. They were – it was factually incorrect.
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Right. But I’ve indicated that —
QUESTION: Apologizing for them is one thing.
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Yes.
QUESTION: But he was asked yesterday to retract them.
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Yes.
QUESTION: Which he did not do.
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: But I have indicated clearly that that is not the view of the department.
QUESTION: Does that mean that the department has told him that he should retract his comments?
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: The department has had conversations with the ambassador. The ambassador wants to get this behind him. He is very committed to serving the people of the Netherlands as a United States representative. This is the greatest honor of his life, and he – and again, he will be giving —
QUESTION: I hope he’s committed to serving the people of the United States.
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: He will be giving —
QUESTION: Which is why he’s there.
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I appreciate that. He will be giving an interview tomorrow and he will be available throughout the Netherlands, and I have advised, as I’ve advised most people, that when reporters are in front of you, just as you are in front of me, that it’s always good to answer questions. (Laugher.)
QUESTION: So does that mean – does that mean that he will?
QUESTION: Can I (inaudible)?
QUESTION: When he is asked in this interview tomorrow, which he certainly will be – I’m sure he will be —
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I think you should —
QUESTION: — if he still thinks or still believes that there are no-go zones in the Netherlands and that politicians have been set on fire —
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Right.
QUESTION: — will he answer the question?
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: You should turn into that interview tomorrow. I’ve been very clear on what our position is.
QUESTION: Why can’t you say right now that those statements were inaccurate?
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Well, I did say that. I said that’s not the position of the Department of State.
QUESTION: No, that’s different. It’s different. Not the position of the Department of State is different from those statements are inaccurate.
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I’ve been very clear that that’s not our position. That is not language that we would use, and that’s not language you will ever hear me use or Heather use from this podium.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but —
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Let’s —
QUESTION: Can you just say that it’s wrong —
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Let’s do one at a time. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Can you just say that what he said in 2015 on this television show is just factually incorrect; it doesn’t have any basis in truth?
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I’ve been very clear on what our position is.
QUESTION: I —
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I’m not sure how I can be more clear other than to make the point that is —
QUESTION: You can say before he —
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: — that is not the view —
QUESTION: — before the election, before he —
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Well —
QUESTION: In 2015, three years ago almost, that he made some comments on a television show that were incorrect.
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: The ambassador said —
QUESTION: That’s how you get it behind – that’s how you get it behind.
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Right. I appreciate that PR advice and that’s – I share your view, by the way. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well —
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: The ambassador made remarks in 2015 and he said very clearly that he regrets the exchange.
QUESTION: Yeah, but that doesn’t mean that he thinks he —
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I think you all, if you tune in to the interview tomorrow, you will under – you will – he will address this issue. This is – those comments were not the position of the State Department, and you will never hear those words from this podium or in any form. Let’s —
QUESTION: Well, do you expect him to say —
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Let’s – I’m —
QUESTION: Do you expect him to say that he was wrong?
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Let’s let some other – Matt, let’s let some other people ask some questions, with all due respect. Let’s let some other —
QUESTION: Why do you have ambassadors representing —
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Let’s let some other people —
QUESTION: — the United States to countries where they have previously made factually incorrect statements about the country where they are sent to represent the United States? Why, as a matter of policy, does the State Department have an ambassador who’s made inaccurate statements about the country he’s now working in on behalf of the U.S. people?
UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: The ambassador made mistakes in 2015, made comments that should not have been made. He recognizes that. He apologized in December. He is doing an interview tomorrow. We are – he is honored to be the ambassador. The – he’s been received well by the Dutch Government and we hope that he can be received well by the people of the Netherlands. And we have made clear to the ambassador that – that he must move to get this behind him, and he definitely understands that. He feels great remorse.
The State Department disavows remarks by U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands about "Islamic movement" https://t.co/xhjxgtLs4z pic.twitter.com/psibzW2oww
— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) January 12, 2018
Many people sent this to me. Can't think of a clearer demo for the weakness of our press corps. https://t.co/tHTWeafkvE by @RobertMackey
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) January 11, 2018
Thanks. I read both. The thing is: Pim Fortuyn was killed (by left wing extremist), Theo van Gogh (by muslim extremist), @petehoekstra still thought he had to exaggerate. And needs to take it back, hope he does.
— Roel Geeraedts (@RGjournalist) January 11, 2018