Richard Grenell, the foreign policy and national security spokesman for Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, announced his resignation yesterday, giving up the kind of high-profile political job he had coveted through much of his professional life.
Here at the United Nations, where he served for 8 years as the Bush administration's press spokesman, Grenell's political fall set off some reflexive expressions of glee from insiders, who had been stunned by Grenell's appointment and initially thought he'd been ousted for posting inflammatory and derisive tweets targeting everyone from Michelle Obama to Calista Gingrigh.
But as people began to realize that Grenell may have been forced out of his job because of opposition from social and religious conservatives -- not on his merits or lack thereof but because of his sexuality -- a twinge of guilt set in. "I take back the snarky comment," said one U.N. insider, who initially hailed news of Grenell's political demise with a laugh. "He had to resign ... because he is openly gay!"
In a statement posted on Jennifer Rubin's Right Turn Blog, which broke the news, Grenell said he decided to resign because "my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign." He thanked Governor Romney "for his belief in me and my abilities and his clear message to me that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team."
R. Clark Cooper, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said Grenell made his decision because it is "best for the Romney campaign" if it was unfortunate that "the hyper-partisan discussion of issues unrelated to Ric's national security qualifications threatened to compromise his effectiveness on the campaign trail...."
"Ric was essentially hounded by the far right and far left," he said. "The Romney campaign has lost a well-known advocate of conservative ideas and a talented spokesman, and I am certain he will remain an active voice for a confident U.S. foreign policy."
Grenell is a well-known, if not terribly popular figure at the United Nations, where he served as spokesman for every one of President George W. Bush's U.N. envoys, including John Negroponte, John Danforth, John Bolton and Zalmay Khalilzad. The son of Christian missionaries from the Church of God, Grenell preferred the role of political enforcer to that of the foreign policy wonk, routinely accusing reporters of anti-Republican bias.
Grenell regarded his famously combative relationship with the press -- detailed in this Village Voice article -- as a badge of honor, and Bolton and other foreign policy conservatives rallied to his defense when his tweets -- he once accused Vice President Joe Biden of using botox -- raised questions about his judgment and maturity.
"During his time at the U.S. Mission to the U.N., he showed discretion and good judgment, and did an excellent job representing our country during often very difficult circumstances," Bolton said in a statement. The Washington Post reported that Bolton sought to persuade Grenell not to resign. Romney's campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, meanwhile, said "We are disappointed that Ric decided to resign from the campaign for his own personal reasons. We wanted him to stay because he had superior qualifications for the position he was hired to fill."
But Grenell's foreign policy tenure was not without controversy.
In February 2003, a Mexican reporter at the U.N. published a story claiming that Grenell had pushed Mexico's U.N. ambassador, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, to "hurry up" his remarks to the press so that Negroponte, who was waiting in the wings for a chance to address the media, could speak. "Who cares what Mexico has to say?" he reportedly said.
The report set off a diplomatic storm in Mexico, where it was widely reported, and Negroponte, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico seeking the country's backing for the Iraq war, had to smooth things over with the Mexican envoy. At the time, there were rumors that the comments had been picked up on a reporter's tape recorder. But a recording never materialized, Grenell categorically denied it, and the U.S. State Department issued a statement defending him.
After leaving government, Grenell continued to monitor events at the U.N., tweeting and writing an occasional op-ed piece for Fox News or the Huffington Post that savaged Susan Rice's tenure at the United Nations and mocked the press as going to soft on her. "If she won't voluntarily resign then she should be fired," he wrote in one Fox News op-ed.
He even found time to take an occasional pot shot at me. After I retweeted a story by my colleague Glenn Kessler taking issue with Romney's characterization of Russia as America's principal geostrategic foe, Grenell fired back with a tweet comparing us to Sergeant Shultz in the 1960's sitcom Hogan's Heroes, and linking to a YouTube video with him relaying his classic line "I know nothing."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
Remember the back channel sniping about Ban Ki moon's lack of charisma, his hopelessly bland personality. Or the attacks from within the U.N.'s own ranks that Ban's weak leadership was destroying the institution. Remember the impassioned pleas to Obama Administration officials to dump Ban in order to save the United Nations from irrelevance.
Ah, they seem so distant now.
I think Jeffrey Sachs probably best captured the mood at Turtle Bay this week as U.N. bigs and diplomatic heavyweights vied for the most over-the-top superlatives to burnish the former South Korean diplomats much maligned first term.
"The world can breath easier with the reelection this month of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki moon to a second term in office," wrote Sachs, the head of Columbia University's Earth Institute and a UN special advisor on the Millennium Development Goals. "During a recent trip with Ban to Egypt and Tunisia, I watched in awe as he deftly backed the democratic changes underway in those two countries while simultaneously dealing with many other upheavals in the region."
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, gushed about the record of the top U.N. diplomat, citing his support for democratic change in the Middle East, his role in the ousting of Ivory Coast's strongman Laurent Gbagbo, and seeking to wash away any of the doubts about Washington's attitude towards Ban.
"This is an important day in the life of this institution," Rice said at Ban's reelection ceremony. "For the past four and a half years, the Secretary General has navigated turbulent waters with a steady hand."
"We have all benefited from the wisdom and experience he has amassed over the course of a long, distinguished, and selfless career of public service," Rice continued. "Secretary General Ban is a leader who listens to the voice of the voiceless-of the refugees sheltered beneath UN tents, of the children vaccinated through UN programs, of the innocent civilians whose lives have been saved by effective U.N. action."
Even outside analysts got into the act, penning a series of articles that highlighted Ban's contribution to global peace and tranquility. In a blog post entitled "Why Ban Ki-moon is Good for the United States," Daniel F. Runde, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, played up Ban's contributions to U.S. initiatives from Afghanistan to Iraq.
Notably, the South Koreans showed a bit more restraint in characterizing the tenure of their most famous foreign sons. South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan described Ban as a "legendary diplomat" in the Korean foreign-service and the pride of the Korean nation. "Secretary-General Ban is widely acknowledged and respected in Korea and beyond for his virtues of integrity, diligence, and a strong work ethic."
The glowing plaudits perhaps didn't reflect the more skeptical views of Ban's tenure that emerge from within the U.N. quarters, where many rank and file diplomats and civil servants still remain unenthusiastic about his leadership. Human rights groups say that while they appreciate his support for pro-democracy demonstrators in North Africa and the Middle East in recent months they are withholding judgment until they see whether he can exercise the independence necessary to challenge powerful interests, including China, on their human rights records. "Free at last from reelection concerns, the Secretary General needs to work on his legacy," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. "While we welcome his new tone over the Arab spring or the Ivorian crisis, his willingness to stand up to big powers remains a question mark."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
First the good news: U.S. President Barack Obama is more than twice as popular in Egypt as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad.
Now, the bad news: the American president's standing has never been worse in Egypt, plummeting since 2008, when he received a 25 percent favorability rating, to 12 percent in 2011. Even Osama Bin Laden, the late al Qaeda leader, was more popular this year, with a 21 percent favorability ranking. The Iranian leader fared worse, dropping from 21 percent favorability rating in 2008 to a miserable 5 percent.
The findings are drawn from a public poll of Egyptian views in the aftermath of the public uprising that brought about the resignation of Egypt's fallen leader Hosni Mubarak. The poll was commissioned by the International Peace Institute, a New York-based think tank with close ties to the United Nations and Arab governments.
The poll seeks to capture the mood of the country in the lead up to the Egypt's first post-Mubarak election, and to handicap the presidential campaign. It shows that Egyptians currently fret over issues like the economy, stability, and government corruption more than they worry about the course of the country's democratic transition.
According to the poll, conducted by Charney Research and based on interviews with 800 Egyptians, Amr Moussa, the outgoing Arab League chief, has emerged as an early frontrunner. Thirty-two percent of respondents say they would vote for Moussa, who once served as Mubarak's foreign minister.
Essam Sharraf, an engineering professor who is serving as the country's interim prime minister, finished second with 16 percent of votes ( though his favorability ranking is higher than Moussa's). And Mohammed Tantawi, the army chief, finished third with 8 percent of those questioned saying they would vote for him. Mohammed El Baradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who emerged from retirement to serve as Egypt's best known pro-democracy advocate, finished seventh, with only 2 percent of respondents pledging to vote for him.
The poll shows that the Egyptian army, which refused orders to fire on public demonstrators during the country's popular uprising, remains "extremely popular" with 90 percent of Egyptian respondents expressing a favorable view. Egypt's various secular parties also did well, garning 25 precent of respondents' votes, while Islamist parties gained 19 percent. The best-known political parties, the New Wafd Party and the Muslim Brotherhood, received respectively 40 percent and 31 percent favorability ratings. The Brotherhood's unfavorability rating, at 29 percent, was 10 points higher.
"The military right now is riding a wave of popularity because it is seen as playing two key roles [in Egypt's popular revolution]," Craig Charney, the pollster, told Turtle Bay. "It delivered the coup de grace to Mubarak and did it in a way that maintained a substantial degree of stability."
Charney said that the findings also demonstrated that fears of a religious take over by Islamists are overblown. "The much feared green-tide just isn't there, with the Muslim Brotherhood receiving 12 percent while the Salafists for all their sound and fury came away with only 4 percent," Charney said.
While an exiled Egyptian national, Ayman al Zawahiri, has been selected as the new leader of Al Qaeda, the poll suggested that the terror organization would have been better at influencing events in Egypt under the leadership of their late Saudi leader, Osama Bin laden, who was killed by elite U.S. commandos in Pakistan.
According to the poll, bin Laden's favorability ratings rose from 18 percent of those questioned in 2008 to 21 percent in 2011. In contrast, Zawahiri scored a favorability rating of only 11 percent this year.
Charney said that while other polls have found somewhat higher support for President Obama's response to the Egyptian uprising, he has suffered from a generally dim view of American policy throughout the region.
"Despite President Obama's words and measures in support of Egypt's revolution, he only narrowly edges out the leaders of al Qaeda and Iran in popular regard there," Charney said in a statement. "But our findings do clearly show that Egyptians have little regard for the likes of al-Zawahiri and Ahmadinejad."
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
A top U.S. official claimed Thursday that as many as 200 people have been killed in post-election violence in Ivory Coast as followers of the country’s long-term ruler, Laurent Gbagbo, stepped up a campaign of violence and intimidation to help him cling to power. Pro-Gbagbo gangs were marking the homes of members of ethnic groups aligned with his opponent, raising concern that they would be targeted in violent attacks.
The spreading violence came as the U.S., France and key African states launched an effort to recruit reinforcements for a U.N. peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast, where some 6,000 Ivoirians fled violence for safety to Liberia. They also sought to bolster the international standing of Ivory Coast’s new leader, Alassane Ouatttara, whose new U.N. envoy was recognized by the world body on Tuesday.
“President Alassane Dramane Ouattar is the legitimately elected leader of Cote d’Ivoire,” said Betty King, the U.S. representative to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Speaking at a special session of the rights commission on Ivory Coast, King said the U.S. has “credible reports that almost 200 people may have already been killed, with dozens more tortured or mistreated, and others have been snatched from their home in the middle of the night." See the rest of my article in the Washington Post.
Diplomatic immunity meets U.S. airport security
India’s U.N. ambassador, Hardeep Singh Puri, ran head first into the Transportation Security Administration’s enhanced airport searches, as a Texas agent demanded he be allowed to inspect the foreign dignitaries turban. The incident underscores the sometimes bumpy relationship between the TSA and foreign delegations traveling to the United States in an era of heightened security. See the rest of my article in the Washington Post
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
The United Nations confirmed today that Sudanese government forces bombed targets in southern Sudan, providing the first official confirmation of such air attacks in the run up to the south’s independence referendum, Reuters reported.
The European Union decided to impose sanctions on Ivory Coast’s long-time leader Laurent Gbagbo in an effort to press him to yield power after a disputed election, the Voice of America reports. The U.N. and key African and European powers have recognized opposition leader Alassane Outtara as the country’s victor in the election. Forces loyal to the two leaders reportedly clashed today.
The U.N.’s special rapporteur for Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, called today for the release of at least 2,200 prisoners of conscience, saying that many are suffering serious health problems and at least one Buddhist monk died last month in detention.
Oil for Food Fallout
A Scotland-based engineering company, Weir Group, pleaded guilty to charges of violating the terms of the $64 billion U.N.-oil-for food program, which allowed companies to sell goods to Iraq under strict U.N. monitoring, according to the Wall Street Journal. The company agreed to pay $22 million in fines, according to the Journal.
South East Asia
Poppy cultivation in Southeast Asia increased by 22 percent this year, according to the finding of the UN Vienna-based drug agency, AFP reported.
Follow Me on Twitter @columlynch
As Sudan's key political leaders vowed today to press ahead with the country's first competitive elections in 24 years, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court reminded the world how politically awkward the April 11-13 vote could prove: Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the first sitting head of state the court has charged with war crimes, may have his rule legitimized through a U.N.-backed election.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the court's Argentine prosecutor, described the spectacle of international election observers traveling to Sudan to monitor the vote, and prodded states to focus on arresting Bashir and send him to The Hague to stand trial. "It's like monitoring a Hitler election," Moreno-Ocampo said, according to Reuters.
The run-up to the landmark national and local elections in Sudan has been marred in recent weeks by reports of a political crackdowns on government opposition figures and logistical problems that raise questions about Sudan's ability to distribute ballots to eligible voters. Last week, the Carter Center, the Atlanta-based NGO headed by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, proposed the Sudanese National Election Commission approve a "minor" delay in the vote to ensure that polling stations can be set up in remote communities. The commission rejected the request.
Human Rights Watch issued a statement this week accusing Sudanese authorities of detaining activists, breaking up public gatherings, and preventing opposition parties access to the media. In Darfur, election officials and candidates have been prevented by conflict and banditry from reaching potential voters. In the southern Sudan, Human Rights Watch documented several incidents of arbitrary arrest, intimidation and torture of members of political parties opposed to the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), a former rebel group that is now southern Sudan's ruling party."Conditions in Sudan are not yet conducive for a free, fair, and credible election," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa Director for Human Rights Watch. "Unless there's a dramatic improvement in the situation it is unlikely that the Sudanese people will be able to vote freely for leaders of their choice."
Bashir threatened today to expel those foreign election observers calling to delay the elections, a move that reflected the Sudanese leader's growing exasperation with critics of the April vote. Bashir said the government "will cut off their fingers and put them under our shoes."
Sudan's election is part of a carefully choreographed political process that has its roots in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the Islamic government's 22-year civil war with the SPLM. But no one expected that the ruling party's candidate would be the target of an international arrest warrant.
The accord calls for national and local elections in 2010, to be followed by a 2011 referendum in southern Sudan to decide whether the south will secede from Sudan. Bashir's ruling National Congress Party, which sees elections as a means to legitimize its rule, opposes any calls for delay. The SPLM also opposes a delay in voting out of concerns that it would lead to a postponement of the independence referendum it favors.
The preparations for an election involving Bashir have placed the United States, which brokered the Sudanese peace accord, congressional leaders, who support the election, and the United Nations, which is helping to organize the vote, in a tough spot.
"Many Sudanese are hopeful that the upcoming elections will lead to the transformation of Sudan into a more inclusive and democratic country," Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-NJ), told Turtle Bay. "Yet, many others question the legitimacy and credibility of an election when an indicted criminal like Bashir running for president."
The United Nations has mounted a public relations campaign aimed at assuring outsiders that even a flawed election in the African country may be worth having. U.N. officials assembled a group of reporters in New York last week to highlight the historic nature of Sudan's upcoming vote, the country's first in 24 years, and noted that it enjoys broad Sudanese support. "We shouldn't look at this as a negative; we should look at this as a positive," said a senior U.N. official.
Ibrahim Gambari, the special representative of the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, said that while the election may take place in an "imperfect environment" it would alter Sudan's political landscape for the better.
"The security will be pretty good, if our experience in the registration period was anything to go by," he told the Associated Press after attending an international fundraising conference for Darfur in Cairo.
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.