Dear Ric, some of your old U.N. sparring partners may have wanted you to fail … but not like this

Richard Grenell, the foreign policy and national security spokesman for Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, announced his resignation yesterday, giving up the kind of high-profile political job he had coveted through much of his professional life. Here at the United Nations, where he served for 8 years as the Bush administration’s press spokesman, Grenell’s political ...

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628403_romney_26.jpg

Richard Grenell, the foreign policy and national security spokesman for Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, announced his resignation yesterday, giving up the kind of high-profile political job he had coveted through much of his professional life.

Here at the United Nations, where he served for 8 years as the Bush administration's press spokesman, Grenell's political fall set off some reflexive expressions of glee from insiders, who had been stunned by Grenell's appointment and initially thought he'd been ousted for posting inflammatory and derisive tweets targeting everyone from Michelle Obama to Calista Gingrigh.

But as people began to realize that Grenell may have been forced out of his job because of opposition from social and religious conservatives -- not on his merits or lack thereof but because of his sexuality -- a twinge of guilt set in. "I take back the snarky comment," said one U.N. insider, who initially hailed news of Grenell's political demise with a laugh. "He had to resign ... because he is openly gay!"

Richard Grenell, the foreign policy and national security spokesman for Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, announced his resignation yesterday, giving up the kind of high-profile political job he had coveted through much of his professional life.

Here at the United Nations, where he served for 8 years as the Bush administration’s press spokesman, Grenell’s political fall set off some reflexive expressions of glee from insiders, who had been stunned by Grenell’s appointment and initially thought he’d been ousted for posting inflammatory and derisive tweets targeting everyone from Michelle Obama to Calista Gingrigh.

But as people began to realize that Grenell may have been forced out of his job because of opposition from social and religious conservatives — not on his merits or lack thereof but because of his sexuality — a twinge of guilt set in. "I take back the snarky comment," said one U.N. insider, who initially hailed news of Grenell’s political demise with a laugh. "He had to resign … because he is openly gay!"

In a statement posted on Jennifer Rubin‘s Right Turn Blog, which broke the news, Grenell said he decided to resign because "my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign." He thanked Governor Romney "for his belief in me and my abilities and his clear message to me that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team."

R. Clark Cooper, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said Grenell made his decision because it is "best for the Romney campaign" if it was unfortunate that "the hyper-partisan discussion of issues unrelated to Ric’s national security qualifications threatened to compromise his effectiveness on the campaign trail…."   

"Ric was essentially hounded by the far right and far left," he said. "The Romney campaign has lost a well-known advocate of conservative ideas and a talented spokesman, and I am certain he will remain an active voice for a confident U.S. foreign policy."

Grenell is a well-known, if not terribly popular figure at the United Nations, where he served as spokesman for every one of President George W. Bush‘s U.N. envoys, including John Negroponte, John Danforth, John Bolton and Zalmay Khalilzad.  The son of Christian missionaries from the Church of God, Grenell preferred the role of political enforcer to that of the foreign policy wonk, routinely accusing reporters of anti-Republican bias.

Grenell regarded his famously combative relationship with the press — detailed in this Village Voice article — as a badge of honor, and Bolton and other foreign policy conservatives rallied to his defense when his tweets — he once accused Vice President Joe Biden of using botox — raised questions about his judgment and maturity.

"During his time at the U.S. Mission to the U.N., he showed discretion and good judgment, and did an excellent job representing our country during often very difficult circumstances," Bolton said in a statement. The Washington Post reported that Bolton sought to persuade Grenell not to resign. Romney’s campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, meanwhile, said "We are disappointed that Ric decided to resign from the campaign for his own personal reasons. We wanted him to stay because he had superior qualifications for the position he was hired to fill."

But Grenell’s foreign policy tenure was not without controversy.

In February 2003, a Mexican reporter at the U.N. published a story claiming that Grenell had pushed Mexico’s U.N. ambassador, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, to "hurry up" his remarks to the press so that Negroponte, who was waiting in the wings for a chance to address the media, could speak. "Who cares what Mexico has to say?" he reportedly said.

The report set off a diplomatic storm in Mexico, where it was widely reported, and Negroponte, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico seeking the country’s backing for the Iraq war, had to smooth things over with the Mexican envoy. At the time, there were rumors that the comments had been picked up on a reporter’s tape recorder. But a recording never materialized, Grenell categorically denied it, and the U.S. State Department issued a statement defending him.

After leaving government, Grenell continued to monitor events at the U.N., tweeting and writing an occasional op-ed piece for Fox News or the Huffington Post that savaged Susan Rice‘s tenure at the United Nations and mocked the press as going to soft on her. "If she won’t voluntarily resign then she should be fired," he wrote in one Fox News op-ed.

He even found time to take an occasional pot shot at me. After I retweeted a story by my colleague Glenn Kessler taking issue with Romney’s characterization of Russia as America’s principal geostrategic foe, Grenell fired back with a tweet comparing us to Sergeant Shultz in the 1960’s sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, and linking to a YouTube video with him relaying his classic line "I know nothing."

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch

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