The date: January 16. The place: the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. Members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations are interviewing the three individuals who have been appointed by President Obama as his new ambassadors to Norway, Iceland, and Hungary. All three, in the opening statements and in their answers to questions, roll out Fun Facts about the countries to which they are to be posted. Some of these facts are read off of crib notes; others are obviously the result of recent cramming for this occasion. It very quickly becomes clear that, despite their palpably strenuous efforts to project expertise, none of these three appointees really knows anything about the countries that they are talking about. At times, indeed, they sound frighteningly reminiscent of that Miss South Carolina contestant in the Miss Teen USA pageant a few years back, who, when asked why many Americans can't locate the U.S. on a world map, produced many of the right kinds of words but strung them together in a way that make no grammatical sense and conveyed nothing resembling a fact or opinion. Easily the worst of the three appointees facing the Senate committee is George Tsunis, the CEO of the company that owns the Hilton, Marriott, and Intercontinental hotel chains, and the prospective ambassador to Norway, a country in which, he admits, he has never set foot.
To be sure, Tsunis's appearance starts out promisingly enough. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York gives him an effusive introduction, describing him as a good friend who, out of his extraordinary patriotism, has agreed to serve his country in the role of ambassador, a position to which he is eminently suited and to which he will bring a range of extraordinary talents. Yet from the moment Tsunis opens his mouth he starts putting his foot in it. He refers to an unspecified "former president" of Norway – a position that does not, in fact, exist, since Norway is a kingdom, not a republic. In answer to one senator's question, Tsunis starts spouting out data about Norway, but utterly fails to shape it into anything resembling a sensible answer to the actual question. At around the one-hour mark in this video, his questioner rescues him from his own incoherent babble, to which Tsunis replies: "Thank you for that save." The "save," however, proves to be in vain, because a few moments later, in answer to another question, Tsunis again begins to make absolutely no sense, and when he trails off with the enigmatic words "it's important that we continue…interesting…," his interlocutor is obliged to rescue him once again.