The American “Melting Pot” Can Turn Into A Volatile Mixture At The Top
America has always fancied itself as a “melting pot” of ethnicities and religions that form a perfect union. The Latin phrase, E Pluribus Unum, “out of many, one,” is even found on the Great Seal of the United States.
However, as seen in a recent blow-up between First Lady Melania Trump and now-former Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel, old feuds from beyond the borders of the United States can result in major rifts at the highest echelons of the US government.
On November 13, Ms. Trump’s communications director, Stephanie Grisham, fired off a tweet that read: “it is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she [Ricardel] no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.” The White House announced Ricardel’s departure the next day, November 14.
Ricardel is a longtime friend and associate of national security adviser John Bolton, who brought her into the National Security Council from the Department of Commerce, where she served as Undersecretary for Export Administration. Ricardel reportedly angered Ms. Trump over seating arrangements on a flight by Ms. Trump to Africa two weeks ago. Ricardel, who was to accompany the First Lady, did not make the trip. Ms. Trump, in an interview conducted with ABC News during the trip, said there were people in the White House she did not trust. Apparently, Ricardel was one of them.
The bitter feud between Melania Trump and Mira Ricardel likely has its roots in their backgrounds in the former Yugoslavia. Ricardel was born Mira P. Radielović, the daughter of Peter Radielovich, a native of Breza, Bosnia-Herzegovina in the former Yugoslavia. Ricardel speaks fluent Croatian and was a member of the Croatian Catholic Church. Melania Trump was born Melanija Knavs [pronounced Knaus] in Novo Mesto in Slovenia, also in the former Yugoslavia. Villagers in the village of Sevnica, where Ms. Trump was raised, claim she and her Communist Party parents were officially atheists. Ms. Trump later converted to Roman Catholicism. She and her son by Mr. Trump, Barron Trump, speak fluent Slovenian. The Yugoslav Civil War, which began in earnest in 1991, pitted the nation’s ethnic groups against one another. There are ample reasons, political, ethnic, and religious, for bad blood between the Slovenian-born First Lady and a first-generation Croatian-American. The “battle royale” between Ms. Trump and Ricardel is but one example of a constant problem in the United States when individuals with foreign ties bring age-old inter-ethnic and inter-religious squabbles to governance.
Perhaps no one in recent memory brought such a degree of ethnic baggage to her job like Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Albright’s Czech roots and the Yugoslav warrant issued for the arrest of her professor-diplomat father, Joseph Korbel, for the post-World War II theft of art from Prague, brought forth extreme anti-Serbian policies by the woman who would represent the United States at the United Nations and then serve as America’s chief diplomat. Albright’s hatred for Serbia was not much different than Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Polish heritage evoking an almost-pathological hatred of Russia, while he served as Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser.
Albright’s bias against Serbia saw her influence US policy in casting a blind eye toward the terrorism carried out by the Kosovo Liberation Army and its terrorist leader Hashim Thaci. That policy resulted in Washington backing an independent Kosovo, a state beholden to organized criminal syndicates protected by one of the largest US military bases in Europe, Camp Bondsteel.
Ties by US foreign policy officials to their countries of origin continued to plagued administrations after Carter. For example, Kateryna Chumachenko served in the Reagan White House and State and Treasury Departments and later worked for KPMG as “Katherine” Chumachenko. She also worked in the White House Public Liaison Office, where she conducted outreach to various right-wing and anti-communist exile groups in the United States, including the Friends of Afghanistan, on whose board Afghan refugee and later George W. Bush pro-consul in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, sat. Khalilzad, like Chumachenko, worked in the Reagan State Department. Chumachenko was married to Ukrainian “Orange Revolution” President Viktor Yushchenko, and, thusly, became the First Lady of Ukraine. Khalilzad became the Bush 43 ambassador to the UN, where he often was at loggerheads with Iran, Libya, Syria, and other Muslim states. As was the case with Albright and her anti-Serb underpinnings, it was difficult to ascertain whose agenda Khalilzad was serving.
After being fired from the White House, there were reports that Ricardel was offered the post of ambassador to Estonia. That Baltic country was no stranger to hauling foreign baggage into the US government. Former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a bow-tie wearing former Estonian language broadcaster for the Central Intelligence Agency-funded Radio Free Europe; long time resident of Leonia, New Jersey; could have just as easily ended up in a senior State Department position rather than President of Estonia. Such is the nature of divided loyalties among senior US government officials of both major political parties.
In 1981, Ronald Reagan appointed Valdas Adamkus as the regional administrator for the US Environmental Protection Agency, responsible for the Mid-West states. Retiring from the US government after 29 years of service, Adamkus was elected to two terms as President of Lithuania.
One might ask whether Ilves and Adamkus were kept on the US government payroll merely to support them until they could return to their countries in top leadership positions to help lead the Baltic nations into NATO membership.
From 1993 to 1997, Army General John Shalikashvili served as Chairman of the Joint Chefs of Staff. Shalikashvili was born in Warsaw, Poland to a Georgian and Polish mother. During World War II, his father served in the Georgian Legion, a special unit incorporated into the Nazi German “SS-Waffengruppe Georgien.” General Shalikashvili served as commander of all US military forces during a time of NATO expansion into Eastern Europe. It was no surprise that he was an avid cheerleader for NATO’s expansion to the East.
Natalie Jaresko served in positions with the State Department, the Departments of Commerce, Treasury, the US Trade Representative, and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). In 2014, she became the Finance Minister for Ukraine. Earlier, she served as a financial adviser to Yushchenko. The United States is not the only “melting pot” in North America that suffers from officials burdened by ethnic dual loyalties. Halyna Chomiak, the Ukrainian-born émigré mother of Canada’s Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, weighs heavily on Freeland’s ability to advance Canada’s interests over those of the nation of her mother’s birth.
Trump’s entire White House Middle East police team is composed of individuals who place Israel’s interests ahead of the United States. Trump takes his Middle East advice from principally his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a contributor to and member of the board of the “Friends of the IDF,” an American non-profit that raises funds for the Israeli armed forces. Kushner was named by Trump as a “special envoy” to the Middle East, while Jason Greenblatt, a former attorney with the Trump Organization, was named as special envoy in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Although the two positions appear to overlap, Kushner and Greenblatt, both Orthodox Jews who have little time for Palestinians, are on the same page when it comes to advancing the West Bank land grabbing policies of the Binyamin Netanyahu government in Israel. Trump thoroughly Zionized his administration’s Middle East policy with the appointment of another Israel supporter, David M. Friedman, as US ambassador to Israel. Friedman had been a bankruptcy lawyer with the Trump Organization’s primary law firm, Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman.
Trump has nominated as US ambassador to South Africa, handbag designer Lana Marks, who was born in South Africa. Marks, who is known only to Trump from her membership in his Mar-a-Lago, Florida “billionaires club,” left South Africa in 1975, when the country was under the apartheid regime. Marks claims to speak Afrikaans, the language preferred by the apartheid regime, and Xhosa, the ethnic language of the late President Nelson Mandela. Because Marks embellished her professional tennis career by claiming, without proof, participation in the French Open and Wimbledon in the 1970s, her mastery of Xhosa can be taken with a grain of salt. So, too, can her ability to deal with the current African National Congress government led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who had just been released from prison when Marks left the country in 1975. The claims and politics of Marks and every official and would-be US official who failed to shed their biases from their native and ancestral homelands, can all be taken with a metric ton of salt.
Melting pots are fine, so long as they truly blend together. However, that is not the situation in the United States as high government officials have difficulty in consigning the bigotry inherent in family folklore and beliefs to the family scrapbooks.