The US ambassador to Iceland, a dermatologist and a major Republican donor, reportedly became so paranoid about his safety that he asked to carry a gun and be taken everywhere in an armored car.
Despite the absence of particular security concerns, the embassy in Reykjavik advertised in the local bodyguard press to appease the ambassador, Jeffrey Ross Gunter.
Gunter’s alleged antics are not an isolated case. A record portion of Donald Trump’s ambassadorial appointments have been political, mostly rewards for large-scale donors, and his nominees have frequently been noted for their lack of qualifications or aptitude.
A report that Senate Democrats will release Tuesday on the current state department situation, titled Diplomacy in Crisis, said: “While it is true that each administration has its share of questionable appointments, the Trump administration’s elections have gone further, jeopardizing the department’s ability to safeguard the interests of our nation. “
Since being nominated in May 2019, Gunter has proven so difficult to work with that he has passed through seven Deputy Chiefs of Mission (DCM), career diplomats who do most of the day-to-day running of the embassy. According to CBS News, he turned down his first deputy, who had spent months learning Icelandic, because “he didn’t like the way he looked” at his introductory meeting.
Gunter also reportedly refused to return to his post after attending a conference in Washington in February, arguing he could do the job remotely, and was only brought back to Reykjavik in May after a call from the secretary. of State, Mike Pompeo.
The state department said Gunter’s return was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
CBS reported that Gunter was persuaded not to make a formal application for a gun permit to the Icelandic authorities, which have very strict firearm laws.
In response to the CBS report, Gunter released a statement to the Icelandic press, saying: “Our focus at the United States embassy continues where it has always been: to strengthen the bilateral relationship between the United States and Iceland, which contributes so much benefit to our two great nations. ” . I am honored to lead our team during this successful period of appreciation and respect between the United States and Iceland. “
On the issue of the ambassador’s concern with his personal safety, a state department spokesman said: “Protection programs for our leadership are standard features at most United States facilities around the world. We continue to have a very close working relationship with the Icelandic authorities on security and other matters. “
Gunter is far from the only wealthy Trump-donor-turned-diplomat noted for his eccentricities. UK Ambassador Woody Johnson, a billionaire backing Trump, has been investigated by the state department’s inspector general’s office (before the inspector general was fired in May) for racist and sexist comments.
Johnson reportedly resisted holding Black History Month events in 2018, asking his attendees if he was addressing “a lot of black people.” It was also reported that he had performed a number of official duties at a London men’s-only club, White’s.
Johnson dismissed the charges. He wrote on Twitter: “I have always followed the ethical rules and requirements of my office. These false claims of callous comments about race and gender are totally inconsistent with my long-standing history and values. “
Johnson’s former DCM Lewis Lukens claimed in December that the ambassador had fired him because he had mentioned Barack Obama in a speech to British university students.
Lana Marks was a bag designer and a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club before becoming her ambassador to South Africa, where she also forced her DCM, amid concerns that she was trying to install her son in a high level at the embassy. , after she referred to him as her “chief of staff” in a tweet, which she later deleted.
Marks told Foreign Policy that he had eliminated his DCM, David Young, because “our management styles were quite different” and that he was looking to get him a bigger job elsewhere. US officials said there was no connection between Young’s departure and Marks’ son.
“The speed at which DCMs are being phased out, and the reasoning behind the withdrawals, has created cause for concern,” the Democratic Senate report said. “In the process, the department lost significant institutional knowledge and substantive experience.”
The report includes a litany of cases of unskilled or uninvested diplomatic candidates. He points to the recent case of Mina Chang, who was appointed assistant administrator for Asia at the United States Agency for International Development, overseeing a $ 1 billion budget and 1,000 employees, despite having minimal experience and allegedly completing her resume with exaggerated accounts of your career. , claiming to have served on a UN panel that did not exist. There was even a fake cover of Time magazine about her accomplishments.
Chang resigned but denied the charges against him. She said the Time cover was made by an enthusiastic supporter, though Chang did not correct an interviewer who introduced her in 2017 as an example of her accomplishments.
Christine Toretti, nominated in May 2018 to serve as ambassador to Malta, had been the subject of a restraining order in 2008 for “placing a bullet riddled target sheet” in her ex-husband’s doctor’s office.
Ronald Neumann, head of the American Academy of Diplomacy and former deputy assistant secretary of state, said Trump’s diplomatic record was “somewhat out of the norm in numbers, and I think beyond the norm in the poor quality of political appointees. “
Of the 189 ambassadorial posts in the United States, only three are currently filled by African-Americans, according to the American Foreign Service Association. The increasing share of top jobs for Trump donors has also served to shut down career avenues across the board, leading to an exodus of aspiring diplomats.
Between July 2017 and June 2018, according to the Democratic Senate report, 722 full-time, non-seasonal employees left the state department, about 7% of total staff.
A state department spokesman dismissed widespread reports of low morale, using one of Pompeo’s favorite buzzwords.
“The arrogance of the state department has completely returned,” the spokesman said. “From day one, Secretary Pompeo has delivered on the advancement of the interests and values of the American people, both here at home and around the world.”