George Tsunis, a Democratic campaign bundler, was handsomely rewarded for having raised $843,000 for President Obama's 2012 reelection campaign by being nominated ambassador to Norway. Unfortunately, for Tsunis, he did not fare well during a widely publicized Senate confirmation hearing in which he failed to answer Senator John McCain (R-AZ)'s rudimentary questions about Norway and its political system. For McCain, Tsunis' debunked confirmation hearing, became a convenient political football as he sought to once again question the president's foreign policy decisions. For Obama, who is facing a partisan gridlock in the U.S. Congress, his nominee for ambassador to Norway has put him in an awkward position: Four Senate Democrats, Al Franken (Minn.) Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Tim Johnson (SD) and Heidi Heitkamp (ND), along with every member of the Minnesota U.S. House delegation, signed onto a letter to the president asking him to rescind his nomination of Tsunis. "It is important that the U.S. Ambassador to Norway be a respected individual capable of the great responsibility the position requires... The answers provided by Mr. Tsunis clearly demonstrate that he is unqualified for this position and may damage an important international bond if confirmed," the lawmakers warned. Despite mounting political pressure by Democrats over Tsunis' ill received nomination, given the present partisan Congressional gridlock and personal tensions between McCain and President Obama in particular, the White House is unlikely to officially withdraw his nomination even though Tsunis has become a clear political liability. With the absence of failing to replace Tsunis with a viable - and competent - candidate, U.S.-Norwegian relations could suffer as a consequence.
Norway, a critical U.S. ally, has so far been the only NATO member to enthusiastically support the Obama-administration's "pivot to Asia" policy. In fact, Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide has not only given rhetorical support for U.S. efforts to maintain stability in the greater Asia-Pacific region, but provided a tangible contribution by dispatching Aegis frigate Fridtjof Nansen to participate in the recent Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises in Hawaii. While Oslo clearly understands that its security is depends on a robust alliance with Washington, President Obama has also demonstrated his personal commitment to the U.S.-Norwegian alliance by soliciting former Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg to serve as NATO's next secretary general.
In the meantime, amid the unfolding Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende is shuttling between Israel, Egypt, Ramallah and Qatar as part of an effort to bring momentum to a potential ceasefire. According to Norwegian newspaper reports, the Norwegian government is also considering hosting a peace conference that would convene "all" parties in order to restart the embattled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Brende's efforts have not gone unnoticed in Washington, especially given U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's demonstrated commitment to advancing a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace treaty. Amid these developments, and at this critical moment in time, the unresolved Tsunis debacle has left Washington without a steward to manage the important U.S.-Norwegian alliance. Even though Tsunis also gave $2,700 to Senator Harry Reid's (D-NV) campaign and $32,500 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last year, it is critical that the White House pressures him to withdraw his nomination. Given that Tsunis has so far has failed to step aside, it is time for the White House to prioritize an exit strategy for him so that the U.S.-Norwegian alliance can meet its full potential.