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Minnesotans pushing back against Obama’s Norway ambassador pick

WASHINGTON — George Tsunis’ rough congressional testimony in January damaged his nomination, a group of Minnesotans argues.

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“We want the American citizens to have a qualified ambassador in Oslo, and we want the government in Oslo to be dealing with a qualified ambassador,” said Davis, a member of the state’s Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce. “This is just basic common sense.”

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“I’m sure he’s a lovely person, but it would seem to me that if I was going to be front of a Senate confirmation hearing to become an ambassador of the United States, I would have been reading about the culture and the politics and had myself up to date with what’s going on,” she said.

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“There’s not really a bright line between whether you’re career or not and your effectiveness, really,” said Benson Whitney, a Minnesota businessman who served as ambassador to Norway under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama. “There are some great non-career ambassadors and some great career ambassadors. And there have been crummy career ambassadors and some crummy non-career ambassadors.”

Whitney, a member of an advisory council at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, observed what he called the “well-deserved tradition” of not speaking ill of his potential successor.

He admitted he wasn’t terribly active in the Norwegian-American community before his appointment, and he’d only visited the country as a child. But, “I worked very hard to understand the society and the government and the institutions because that’s a part of being an effective advocate for the president and the people and the United States,” he said.

“They’ll treat [Tsunis] with respect, but no one will have respect for him,” Davis said. “President Obama has a good legacy, his perception is good over there, but if this is pushed, that’s also going to be ruined.”