Richard Grenell was one of the highest-profile figures when it came to the Trump administration’s foreign policy.
Echoing former president Donald Trump’s attitude, Grenell did not pull any punches as US ambassador to Germany, even if that meant criticizing then-chancellor Angela Merkel’s policies, or when he followed Trump’s business-focused instincts by bringing about an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo as the administration’s special envoy.
While Grenell is in the private sector these days, he was named a top pick for secretary of state in a theoretical second Trump administration in a “shadow cabinet” compiled by the pro-Trump America First Policy Institute, according to The Washington Post. A sign of his political capital was evident from his trip to the Balkans before traveling to Israel. In Serbia, he met with Prime Minister Ana Brnabic and President Aleksandar Vucic. In Albania he met with Prime Minister Edi Rama, and in Montenegro he also met with the heads of government.
Grenell carried a Trump-esque message with him to Tel Aviv this week, where he participated in conservative activist organization CPAC’s Israel conference, also sponsored by the Tel Aviv International Salon and conservative publisher Shibboleth.
SPEAKING TO The Jerusalem Post at a VIP smorgasbord-and-drinks event on the sidelines of the conference, where representatives of right-wing Israeli organizations mingled with members of a CPAC delegation that toured Israel and held extensive meetings in addition to the one-evening conference in Tel Aviv, Grenell said he was “here in Israel at CPAC to talk about the American-first agenda, the importance of having America do what every other country does – put itself first.
“It only seems to be a controversy inside America that we should have policies that help America,” Grenell lamented. “I believe that an America-first agenda helps the world. When the largest, most powerful country is working towards democracy and human rights and capitalism, those are values that the rest of the world should and will follow, if there is a strong America.”
Such a policy would also include “Judeo-Christian values” in the US, he said.
“I grew up Evangelical, and there is a biblical absolute for Christians to pray for the peace of Israel. That biblical absolute that my mother taught me should be the focus, because it means that... the connection will be more than just solving problems.”Richard Grenell
America-first policy in US-Israel ties
Asked what an “America-first policy” means for US-Israel relations, Grenell said it means “getting off of Middle East oil and having an America that concentrates on its own energy independence, and a tough foreign policy that creates things like the Abraham Accords, which created a completely different paradigm for the Middle East.”
Grenell seeks a long-term vision for US-Israel ties that would continue to be relevant even if there is peace in the region.
“I want US-Israel relations to not be dependent upon conflicts or the need for military support,” he said. “I grew up Evangelical, and there is a biblical absolute for Christians to pray for the peace of Israel. That biblical absolute that my mother taught me should be the focus, because it means that... the connection will be more than just solving problems.”
Grenell doubled down on the point, even when asked about the wisdom of a relationship based on a “biblical absolute” when Americans are trending away from religion.
“I’m more concerned about Americans mentally pulling out of the Middle East... and therefore beginning to say, ‘Well, why would we need Israel? Why would we need a strong partnership, if we are solving problems, with Israel making peace with every Arab nation?’” he said. “When the problems are solved, what does that do for the US and Israel? I’m much more focused on the special relationship because there is a biblical mandate and Americans know that is real.”
At the same time, he said “there is a concern that a growing number of people don’t care what the Bible says.”
When it comes to US President Joe Biden’s policies on Israel, Grenell said that there is a “huge, growing divide between senator Biden and President Biden.
“He relies on his statements from the past, which were sometimes okay, but as president he is completely a puppet controlled by [his chief of staff] Ron Klain and [Director of the United States Domestic Policy Council] Susan Rice and some very progressive people hostile to the Middle East and specifically Israel,” Grenell said.
Rice and Grenell have a history of sparring in public remarks, and she once called him “one of the most nasty, dishonest people I’ve ever encountered.”
Grenell warned that Biden is “weaker than the Europeans right now” when it comes to negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran, and that he “just wants a deal, any deal.
“The opposite of America First is consensus with the Europeans,” he said. “My message to the Europeans when I was ambassador was that we must always insist that any Iran deal goes to the Senate to become a treaty. If it doesn’t go to the Senate, then it is nothing more than an executive order from the president of the United States, which will immediately be changed with the next president.... The reason why the Joe Biden-Barack Obama administration didn’t put [the Iran deal] forward to the Senate is because they would have failed.
“That is an admission that the deal is not popular and is just political,” he said.
WHEN GRENELL was ambassador to Germany in 2018-2020, he was critical of Berlin for not spending enough on its defense and for signing the Nord Stream 2 agreement to build a pipeline for natural gas from Russia to Germany, and in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, he described himself as having been vindicated.
“The German government admitted they were wrong on defense spending and Nord Stream 2. They haven’t quite said president Trump and Grenell were right, but I hear it. They pretty loudly and clearly admitted they made a mistake,” Grenell said.
The former ambassador said not enough people are talking about mistakes Merkel made.
“It’s clear that she moved Germany and Europe away from a Western alliance to a simple transactive one,” he said. “She wanted to sell cars to Beijing and Moscow, and misread her opponents. She thought she would never get over-leveraged by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, and she was.
“I would like to have a real discussion in Europe about Merkelism and how bad it was for Europe,” he stated.
Grenell said that the Biden administration’s decision to drop Trump-era sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline “created the war in Ukraine” and “gave Putin a green light.”
“When the Senate Democrats and Merkel said ‘let’s drop the sanctions,’ it was a terrible decision. Combined with the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal... it’s a green light for Putin,” he said.
Grenell also negotiated economic normalization agreements between Serbia and Kosovo in 2020 – which also resulted in Kosovo opening an embassy in Jerusalem – and continues to work in the Balkans region in his work in the private sector, looking for investment opportunities for Americans.
When it came to mediating between Serbia and Kosovo, Grenell recounted that “president Trump really wanted to see a focus on economic agreements and not the same old political talk.
“They got stuck focusing on recognition and de-recognition for 20-plus years, and they weren’t making any progress. I think that the validation of another country matters less, and I don’t know why we have to linger on that,” he said.
Leaders in the Balkans “love Trump’s vision of economic development and normalization,” he added.
Asked why focusing on the economic angle – such as in the 2019 Peace to Prosperity Workshop in Bahrain – did not work in bringing Israel and the Palestinians closer, Grenell said the situations are “fundamentally different.”
In the Balkans, he said, “people really want to have more trade that is normalized.... There hasn’t been an election [for president] in the Palestinian Authority since 2005, and that is not the case in the Balkans, where they are having regular elections.”