Presidents often offer campaign contributors with thin foreign policy résumés first dibs at top diplomatic posts, but the guy President Obama nominated to be ambassador to Norway has the small but proud Norwegian-American community steaming over his lack of qualifications.

In Minnesota, home to the largest Norwegian population in the U.S., Norwegian organizations and public officials reacted with alarm to a series of bumbling answers and non-answers that George Tsunis, a Long Island businessman who raised $850,000 for the president’s reelection campaign, gave to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in response to basic questions about the Nordic nation’s economy, culture and political system.

Tsunis, who has never been to Norway, blanked in response to a question from Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, about how to increase trade with the oil-rich Nordic nation. And when Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, asked him what he thought about the anti-immigration Progress Party that is now a member of the governing coalition in parliament, Tsunis claimed that the party was a fringe element that the government had been “quick to denounce.”

Representatives of the Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce and the Sons of Norway, both of which are based in Minneapolis, as well as Minnesota’s two U.S. Senators, Al Franken and Amy Klobucher, have voiced dismay at Tsunis’ apparent unfamiliarity with the nation in which he hopes to  represent American interests.

And a stop by the Norwegian-American Genealogical Center on W. Main St. in Madison revealed no shortage of disappointment from the local Norwegian community to the perceived slight.

“It doesn’t sound like he knows anything about the culture,” said Solveig Quinney, the head librarian at the center, which keeps records on Norwegian immigration to the U.S. and holds classes on Norwegian culture. “He kept referring to the prime minister as ‘president.’”

Why would a multimillionaire with no experience in Norway seek a job there?

“Well it’s a beautiful country,” responded Quinney, who was born in Stavanger, Norway on the day the Nazis invaded in 1940, but has lived in the midwest since she was nine.

“Well it’s also the richest country in the world,” added David Wright, the group’s director of development and membership, referring to rankings that show Norway among the top countries in per capita income. “So there’s a lot of business, a lot of international exchange with Norway and America, a lot of business going on about oil. So it’s a big deal.”

Julie Allen, a UW-Madison professor of Scandinavian Studies, noted that standards of “cultural familiarity” are already low for U.S. ambassadors, but that the case of George Tsunis demonstrates the opportunity that presidents squander by not appointing more knowledgeable diplomats.

“The fact is that the U.S. does have significant Scandinavian-American communities, particularly in the Midwest and Northwest, and many of the members of those communities are very familiar with Norway and would be much more sensitive to Norway's cultural and domestic political issues than Tsunis has shown himself to be so far,” said Allen.

“It's hard to know what other qualifications make a good ambassador and it is possible that Tsunis has those in spades, but it wouldn't have been hard for President Obama to find someone well-qualified among the Scandinavian-American community, for example, if he had cared to.”

For instance: Tom Loftus, the former Wisconsin Assembly Speaker and native of the Norski haven of Stoughton, who served as ambassador to Norway from 1993 to 1997 under President Bill Clinton.  

Jack Craver is the Capital Times political reporter, focusing on elections, candidates and campaign finance.

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(16) comments

Samuel Clemmons

The last one, Barry White, was also an Obama lackey. You can easily google the amount that he bundled. If I remember, it was about $400-500 K.

Here is how represented his "constitutents"

It is in regards to searching out and finding Norwegian citizens ;living in Norway, who are called "US persons" so as that they can be taxed and penalized by the IRS.

Here is what is happening there in Norway. The ambassador is in charge of implementing it.

Here is what it is about

These are very serious issues initiated by the administration. The Norwegians who will affected by it do not even know what is coming at them. Currently, there is no relief in sight from USA or Norway---it's the opposite. The situation will worsen. The media is not addressing it.


I disagree that we should have a Norwegian as ambassador to Norway. Serving as ambassador is basically a public relations position that requires a lot of entertaining, smoozing, putting the United States in a positive light. I've never met a Norwegian who was wiling to pick up the check, no matter what their status in life. If one is unfortunate enough to be dining with a group of Weegies, come check time you can always find them absent from the table until the bill is paid.


Tsunis' situation is so far gone and problematic that there is actually a petition rightly calling for Tsunis’ withdrawal or defeat....



Where did I say it must be OK?! This is a non-partisan issue that has been going on for decades. Ambassador appointments have been the desert of the rich for as long as there have been Ambassadors going back to Roman times.


Trent logic,

If someone else did it, must be ok.


Remember when H W Bush appointed the Miller Beer heiress from Milwaukee to the spot in Norway? She was neither Norwegian in heritage or language but thought it was a fun post. Never mind the money daddy gave to the Bush campaign. These appointments are a joke and the US is not alone. There was the recent controversy from India with the criminal who abused her house servant.

Norway has received billions in aid for being part of NATO for decades and they sit on top of huge natural resources. Without the USA they are Russia's bitch for their claims to North Pole resources. The country couldn't defend themselves from a polar bear without us. They are the population of slightly larger than Wisconsin but claim independence. There are more ethnic Norwegians here in the USA than in Norway. Great country, lots of culture but not the population to hold their own in the modern world demographics.

Jefe' von Q

Really,,,this is worthy of my 'inbox' how? This is not new,,,,,,or NEWS!


To all of you criticizing Obama about an Ambassador appointment as being "political", guess what? This has been the trend for about the last 40 presidents or so, most that go to "unimportant" countries are usually political, or a payback....this is nothing new.


Now I’ve heard everything. Obama making an appointment based upon political contributions? I thought Democrats NEVER did anything based on politics or rewards for contributions! They always use the most qualified people and have the purest of motives. At least that’s the impression you’d get reading the likes of the CT.


Norwegians we have in large numbers but it is doubtful Obama even looked. His picks for ambassador have more to do with political donations and rewards than does the ambassador have ties to the country he or she would represent. Some voters must have believed Obama when he said he stood for change the way they did business in DC in 2008.


Obama has not exactly surrounded himself with competent people. That is especially troubling for a President who happens to be incompetent.


I'm disappointed that Ollie and Lena didn't get the gig.
But it's not too late!
Obama could claim that the appointment was a simple clerical mistake.
Tunius was supposed to be ambassador to "Little Norway", outside of Mt. Horeb.(It's called DAMAGE CONTROL, folks).
Then Ollie and Lena could claim their rightful place in the REAL Norway.


Ollie? Who is Ollie? It's OLE, not OLLIE! If you can't get it right, or you don't know the subject matter, don't comment! You and Obama's nominee should both be smacked upside the head with some pre-boiled lutefisk!


Sorry, my bad. Peace, brother.]
But it's still Ollie


sorry - it's ole. As a descendant of Olaf - believe me - it's Ole. Lena would not be happy with you -


Me thinks this adamman character is playing with a very dull sword, ja.....ja...

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