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Carl Bildt gives himself a promotion

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has stirred somewhat of a controversy with his recent op-ed on Internet freedom in the Washington Post, but the mini scandal has nothing to do with computers. Bildt, perhaps accidentally, raised the importance and authority of the prime minister’s role in Swedish government. “When I was prime minister of Sweden, ...

573867_100202_bildt2002.jpg
573867_100202_bildt2002.jpg

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has stirred somewhat of a controversy with his recent op-ed on Internet freedom in the Washington Post, but the mini scandal has nothing to do with computers.

Bildt, perhaps accidentally, raised the importance and authority of the prime minister's role in Swedish government. "When I was prime minister of Sweden, then-President Bill Clinton and I had the first e-mail exchange between heads of state," he wrote.

The problem is that King Carl XVI Gustaf  is actually Sweden's "head of state." Gustaf has no actual political power, of course, but in a country with as rich of a monarchial history as Sweden, the slight did not go unnoticed.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has stirred somewhat of a controversy with his recent op-ed on Internet freedom in the Washington Post, but the mini scandal has nothing to do with computers.

Bildt, perhaps accidentally, raised the importance and authority of the prime minister’s role in Swedish government. “When I was prime minister of Sweden, then-President Bill Clinton and I had the first e-mail exchange between heads of state,” he wrote.

The problem is that King Carl XVI Gustaf  is actually Sweden’s “head of state.” Gustaf has no actual political power, of course, but in a country with as rich of a monarchial history as Sweden, the slight did not go unnoticed.

“I hear from Swedish friends of mine that the mistake is causing a mini stir in Stockholm and recriminations at who is responsible for the embarrassment,” said Mark Douglas Lenzi, who has worked with Bildt and published a letter in the Washington Post calling out the Swede for making the error.

“Let’s hope that the king does not read The Post,” the letter read.

Bildt isn’t the first European politician to elevate his own position. Former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar is said to have liked to be called “president.” After all, heads of government in constitutional monarchies have essentially the same job as real heads of state, like Clinton, but the gaffe is embarrassing for Bildt nonetheless.

So what was it? Did Bildt not understand the Swedish system? Was it a translation or editing error? We may never know. The Swedish Embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

AFP/Getty Images

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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