Norway has a new US ambassador, after Republicans readily confirmed US President Donald Trump’s choice of a retired rear admiral, Kenneth J Braithwaite. His arrival comes just over a year after the US ambassador’s mansion in Oslo was vacated by Sam Heins, former US President Barack Obama’s envoy.
Heins had a short stay in Oslo, after Republicans in the US Congress held up Obama’s appointments and left Norway without a US ambassador for nearly two years. Heins didn’t arrive until the early spring of 2016, and then left even before Trump was inaugurated in January 2017.
Now there will be more life in the US ambassador’s’ historic Oslo residence known as Villa Otium, which may be in keeping with the home Braithwaite left in Pennsylvania. The US Embassy noted in its presentation of the new ambassador that he, his wife Melissa and their two children Grace Ann and Harrison had been living in another even older home in Chadds Ford known as “Twin Magnolias.” It was built in 1741, before the American Revolution, and, according to the embassy, was used by British General Lord Conrwallis as his staff quarters during the Battle of Brandywine in 1977.
There’s no question Braithwaite brings with him to Norway a military background and a keen interest in history. He’s a 1984 graduate of the US Naval Academy at Anapolis and a naval aviator who went on to work in legislative affairs on Capitol Hill, strategic communications and public affairs. He left active duty in 1993 but resumed naval service in the reserves and received a master’s degree in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania in 1995.
Much of his background seems particularly relevant for Norway, which shares a border with Russia, has a large Norwegian-Pakistani population and has been active with NATO in Aghanistan. Braithwaite has flown on missions tracking Soviet submarines, served on an aircraft carrier north of the Arctic Circle and was chief of strategic communications to the US ambassador in Pakistan with additional duties to the Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan. He ended his naval career as vice chief of information for the US Navy.
He’s also been active in business and local politics, and the embassy describes him as “an avid sailor, sportsman and amateur historian.” He’s aware that the current US president is not popular in Norway, is often blasted or ridiculed in local media and has also been criticized even by the conservative Norwegian government.
Braithwaite’s job will be to defend the man who appointed him and promote Trump’s policies. He seems encouraged by the recent visit to the White House made by Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide, and told news bureau NTB that he’ll work for stronger ties between the US and Norway. He said he’ll ensure “that we stand by the Norwegian people as a friend and ally.”
Such reassurances can be needed with a US president known for being unpredictablet, but Braithwaite told NTB that he thinks much of the Norwegian skepticism towards Trump is based on misunderstandings. He described Trump as “a warm and honest man, committed and with a strong personality.” He also said he’ll work towards setting up a reciprocal visit that would bring Trump to Norway.
He thinks Trump would enjoy a trip to Norway. While the government would be obliged to welcome him, it’s not sure whether the public would. Braithwaite stressed that Trump simply isn’t like most other politicians: “He’s a businessman from Manhattan, he says what he thinks, unfiltered.”