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Obama names ‘ethics guru’ Eisen as new US ambassador to Prague



The Czech Republic will have been without a US ambassador for two years by the time Obama’s nominee Norman L. Eisen gets to Prague

Eisen, whose mother was born in Czechoslovakia, is currently Obama’s Special Counsel for Ethics and Government Reform foto: © ProfimediaČeská pozice

US President Barack Obama has bypassed the US Senate and directly appointed six people whose nominations had been stalled or blocked by lawmakers — including that of Norman L. Eisen, his choice as ambassador to the Czech Republic — to fill key administration posts.

Eisen’s nomination was blocked in September by Senator Charles Grassley (Republican, Iowa), who charged that Eisen had misrepresented facts to Congress about the firing of a federal official. Like the other three ambassadors named by Obama as “recess appointments,” Eisen can only serve for 12 months in the post without Senate approval.

The post of US ambassador to Prague has been vacant for nearly two years. Czech news agency ČTK reported this week in its annual review of foreign policy events that unofficial speculation has it Washington left the Czech post unfilled simply because the US had “stopped paying special attention to the Czech Republic” after the Bush administration’s plan to install an anti-missile defence radar on Czech soil was scrapped “and also because bilateral relations are problem free.”

US Press Attaché Paul Oglesby told Czech Position in a statement that the American Embassy in Prague welcomes President Obama’s decision to appoint Eisen. “Like the Czech people, we have anxiously awaited the completion of the appointment process. Our Charge’ d’Affaires talked to Ambassador-designate Eisen following the announcement from the White House,” Oglesby said. “Mr. Eisen says that he plans to come to Prague as soon as arrangements can be made.”

Obama used a recess appointment ‘to ensure one of his closest White House advisors would be his personal representative to the Czech Republic.’

Oglesby said that the fact Eisen has served “since the first day of the Obama Administration” as Special Assistant to the President and as Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform “demonstrates the importance President Obama attaches to our relations with the Czech Republic that he used a recess appointment to ensure one of his closest White House advisors would be his personal representative to the Czech Republic.”

The other Obama nominees for ambassadorial posts announced Wednesday are Matthew Bryza for Azerbaijan; Francis Ricciardone for Turkey; and — in the most high-profile case —Robert Ford for Syria. Many US senators objected to sending an ambassador to Syria, a country which they consider to be a state sponsor of terrorism.

Who is ‘Norm’ Eisen?

Eisen is a first-generation American whose parents were Holocaust survivors. His father emigrated from Poland, and his mother emigrated from Czechoslovakia. “My mother tells me that some of my first words were in Czech, as I repeated back the Czech lullabyes she sang me,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 22. ‘My mother tells me that some of my first words were in Czech, as I repeated back the Czech lullabyes she sang me.’

“I grew up hearing of my mother’s warm friendships with the Czech people; of their beloved President Tomáš [Garrigue] Masaryk, his American wife, and his friendship with our American President, Woodrow Wilson; of my mother’s visits to the most beautiful city in the world, ‘zlatá praha’ — Golden Prague — and of the other wonders of Czech culture like the music of Dvořák (whose famous New World Symphony was actually composed right here in the USA).”

For nearly two years, Eisen has served as Special Assistant to the President and as Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform. “In that capacity, he has helped lead the Administration’s historic initiatives on government ethics, lobbying regulation and open government,” the White House said in a statement. “His portfolio has also included financial regulatory reform, campaign finance law, whistleblower protection and other reform issues.

In a profile earlier this year, the Washington Post described Eisen — who studied at Harvard Law School with Obama — as “the president’s ethics guru, which usually means he’s telling top-level officials that they can’t get an exception to hire someone they want or can’t take a gift from a former colleague.”

One of his first tasks in that role was to compile all of Obama’s campaign promises about the role lobbyists would play in the White House and turn them into an executive order, one that “Obama signed the day after taking office,” the newspaper reported. Later, Eisen trained all White House staff, including the president and first lady Michelle Obama, on the new ethical guidelines, giving seminars to hundreds of people at a time. Eisen trained all White House staff, including the President and First Lady, on the new ethical guidelines.

Prior to joining the Obama administration, Eisen served as the deputy general counsel of the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team. Previously, he was a litigation partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm Zuckerman Spaeder, where he launched and co-chaired the firm’s Public Client Practice. In that capacity, he represented government entities on an array of matters, and also handled white-collar investigations and complex commercial affairs.

Eisen is a co-founder of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a government watchdog group. He also served for three years as an assistant director of the Los Angeles office of the Anti-Defamation League, a national civil rights organization whose mission is “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people [and] secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike.”

He received his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1991 and his B.A. from Brown University in 1985.

Eisen’s view on Czech–US relations

“The Czech Republic is a loyal friend in the heart of Europe that we must never take for granted [which] works with us toward common goals in Afghanistan, in the Balkans, on energy security and on human rights around the world.” Eisen said in his July 22 testimony before the US Senate. “Why? Simply put, because of the values our two countries share: love of democracy and commitment to a free market system that promises all citizens a chance to prosper,” he said, evoking key moments in the two countries’ history. “If confirmed [as ambassador], I will work from the base of those values to forge common strategies and joint projects that will cement our bilateral ties.”

The Czech Republic joined the NATO military alliance and has more than 400 troops deployed in Afghanistan, and operates a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Logar Province, where civilians from Czech NGOs work with the Afghan people to build infrastructure, good governance, and the rule of law, Eisen noted. “In addition to deployments to Afghanistan, Czech soldiers serve in the NATO mission in Kosovo. If confirmed, I will work to further strengthen such strategic cooperation and encourage the Czech Republic to maintain such cooperation.” Eisen will marshal ‘all of our resources to support Westinghouse’s bid for the Temelin nuclear power plant tender.’

Westinghouse and ČEZ

The US is the Czech Republic’s fifth-largest foreign investor and an important trading partner with $6.6 billion of US investment since 1993, he said. “If confirmed, I will seek to expand our bilateral economic ties. I will focus on this important trade relationship and seek to increase business opportunities for U.S. companies in the Czech Republic by, for example, marshalling all of our resources to support Westinghouse's bid for the Temelín nuclear power plant tender, and providing direction to Czech companies that want to invest in the United States.”

Westinghouse Electric Co. (the nuclear-building arm of Japan’s Toshiba Corp.) is competing for the contract to double the output at ČEZ’s nuclear power plant in Temelín against a consortium led by Russia’s Atomstroyexport and Czech nuclear industry supplier Škoda JS (part of Russian engineering group OMZ since 2004) and Areva of France, the world’s largest builder of nuclear reactors.

Energy security

The Czech commitment to energy security springs from a belief that reliable access to supplies is fundamental to economic growth and the right of every nation, Eisen testifed in confirmation hearings, saying the 2009 Russia-Ukraine gas dispute underscored the perils of relying on a single source for energy and the need to build cross-border interconnections within the internal EU gas market.

“If confirmed, I will work to help the Czech Republic increase its energy security by supporting projects designed to diversify energy sources and routes, including the Southern Corridor which would bring Caspian gas to Europe for the first time; increase interconnection of internal EU gas and electricity networks; promote greater market transparency; and support U.S. energy technology solutions, including nuclear energy, to enhance Czech energy security,” he said.

Human rights

Eisen also stressed that he would “encourage the Czech government to continue its efforts to ensure that all Czech citizens, irrespective of their origin or faith, enjoy the same rights and opportunities, including the Roma (Gypsy) minority.

“I will encourage the government to continue to strengthen its capacities in the fight against extremism, with respect for human rights and the rule of law, through law enforcement and education,” Eisen told the Senate hearing. “If confirmed, I will work tirelessly with the talented interagency team at Embassy Prague and take every opportunity to engage with the Czech people and their government to advance our common goals and values.” 


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