Washington Post: Ambassador Gutman on his time in Belgium

In a cover story with the Washington Post Sunday Magazine the former US ambassador in Belgium, Howard Gutman, recently looked back at his time in Belgium.

Mr Gutman told Washington Post readers that when he arrived in Belgium the country had been at the European forefront in its opposition to US policy in Iraq and its cynicism about America.

Howard Gutman: "Before I arrived, Belgium had sought to close the port of Antwerp to U.S. ships, ban American planes from Belgian airspace, and apply its law of universal jurisdiction to indict senior U.S. Defense Department officials, including then-Secretary Donald Rumsfeld."

"The U.S. Embassy and I understood that, to achieve our policy goals, we needed to change public opinion about America."

Mr Gutman and his staff pulled out all the stops as he was convinced that the US needed to rebuild the relationship with Belgium after the Bush era. Together with his staff in Brussels he was determined to work hard to do so. The ambassador went out to the people of Belgium, visited all the countries municipalities, regularly appeared on television becoming somewhat of a celebrity and helped to change Belgians’ perception of the US.

In the interview the former ambassador also provides greater insight into two of the darker episodes during his tenure in Brussels: the misrepresentation of a speech to a Jewish audience as a result of which he was seen to blame Israel for the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and allegations that he had met drug dealers and prostitutes in a Brussels park.

The US state department later apologised to the ambassador for its role in the latter affair, an apology that was prime time news in the US but passed largely unnoticed in Belgium.