It’s not often when a newly appointed ambassador has a massive credibility gap with the country where he serves before he even takes his post. Yet, Pete Hoekstra, the United States’ new ambassador to the Netherlands, managed to pull that off–and bigly.
Last month, Dutch reporter Wouter Zwart called out Hoekstra for claiming that Dutch police are aware that there are “no-go zones” in certain cities with large Muslim immigrant populations. He also claimed that radical Muslims were burning Dutch politicians on a regular basis. This is a very common conspiracy theory that has been peddled in Islamophobic circles for years.
Hoekstra denied making that statement–even though there was footage of Hoekstra saying exactly that in 2015. Incredibly, he then denied the denial. Later, Hoekstra appeared to realize that he’d made himself look foolish, and apologized.
But apparently he’s a slow learner, judging by what happened when he formally took up his post on Wednesday. After presenting his credentials to King Willem-Alexander, Hoekstra held his first official press conference as ambassador. But he was in for a surprise. Watch here.
One of the reporters on hand wanted to give Hoekstra a chance to take back his comments about “no-go zones.” He asked the ambassador if he now realized that was “a wrong remark.” Hoekstra referred to the apology he issued on Twitter, and curtly said that he was “not revisiting the issue.”
If Hoekstra thought that would be enough, he badly miscalculated. Several other reporters tried to ask Hoekstra about that remark, and were not appeased when Hoekstra kept referring to his earlier apology and claimed he wasn’t commenting further on the matter.
One of them, Roel Geeraedts of RTL reminded Hoekstra of a quotation mounted on the fireplace from John Adams, this country’s first ambassador to what is now the Netherlands.
“I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.”
That quote is also on display in the White House State Dining Room.
Hoekstra replied that he had read the quote, prompting Geeraedts to move in for the kill.
“If you’re truly an honest and wise man, could you please take back the remark about burned politicians, or name the politician that was burned in the Netherlands?”
After a long five seconds, Hoekstra tried to call on someone else. Bad move, Pete. Very bad move. Geeraedts tried to get Hoekstra to answer his question, and another reporter asked him to provide any example of a politician who had been set on fire. When Hoekstra refused to answer, one reporter finally lost patience with him.
“This is the Netherlands. You have to answer questions.”
Sherry Keneson-Hall, an embassy counselor, tried to tell reporters that Hoekstra was responding–when it was obvious that he wasn’t. Reporters asked Hoekstra about that remark at least five more times.
This is how the scene played out on Dutch television.
Notice the lack of commentary. None was really needed. Hoekstra’s dissembling spoke for itself.
The obvious question–why did Hoekstra even think he could dissemble his way out of this? Perhaps he isn’t used to being held to account. From 1993 to 2011, he represented a congressional district in West Michigan that would vote for a comatose Republican; his lowest winning percentage was 62 percent. The only time that he had to do any heavy lifting in a general election contest was in 2012, when he challenged Debbie Stabenow for Senate. That race all but ended when he ran this staggeringly racist ad before the Super Bowl.
Not surprisingly, Stabenow boatraced him, 58-38.
Geeraedts later told The Washington Post that everyone wanted to ask Hoekstra about the “no go zones” nonsense. When it was obvious that Hoekstra wasn’t willing to address “that crazy statement,” Geeraedts said that he and his colleagues did what any good reporters would do–“we all kept asking it.”
By Wednesday, the State Department was forced to officially disavow Hoekstra’s 2015 comments. Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs Irwin Goldstein said that Hoekstra now realizes that he “made mistakes in 2015,” and the State Department has made clear that “he must move to get this behind him.”
Goldstein said Hoekstra will be interviewed on Dutch television on Friday and will be expected to address the comments. He added that Hoekstra plans to tour Muslim communities as part of a weekend tour of the country.
Doing something that is too embarrassing and too wingnutty even for this White House takes a lot of effort. But Hoekstra managed to pull it off.
(featured image courtesy Graham Davis, available under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license)