Hoekstra – who was born in Groningen but emigrated to the United States at age 3 – was a guest lecturer in Julian Emami Namini’s International Economics course. The session was open to non-International Economics students, as well. Assistant professor Emami Namini has been inviting ambassadors to the Netherlands since 2016. Hoekstra was preceded by his colleagues representing Iran, the United Kingdom and Germany.
Emami Namini was aware that Hoekstra, who is known to be a highly conservative Republican, was a controversial person. “Several of my colleagues told me not to invite him because of his views. But controversial people are great for teaching students that there are people out there who hold views that completely oppose their own. It’s all right as long as they are willing to be open-minded while debating and allow all sorts of questions to be asked. And he did allow that.”
The Netherlands second
Hoekstra opened his guest lecture on international trade relations by launching a charm offensive in which he flattered the Netherlands. “Dutch people always say, ‘we are only a small country’, but the Netherlands is the third- or fourth-largest foreign investor in America, so this country is very important to us.”
He referred to Zondag met Lubach’s ‘America First, The Netherlands Second’ video, which went viral in 2017. “We like that sort of thing in America. As long as America remains first,” Hoekstra said jokingly. He also complimented Mark Rutte on his state visit to Trump: “People were angry because he interrupted the President, but he did so with a smile, and at exactly the right moment,” said the ambassador, who is reputed to be a loyal Trump supporter. He then went on to sing the praises of the Trump administration’s international negotiations.
The interactive part of the lecture was more spectacular. Following a few questions on trade deficits and trade surpluses, as well as a few critical questions on the Trump administration’s tax cuts, one student had the guts to ask about the controversial statements Hoekstra had made in the past: his claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (which was not true), that one of Hillary Clinton’s members of staff was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood (not true either), and that ‘cars and politicians were being burnt in the Netherlands’ (uh huh).
When Hoekstra first took up his position in the Netherlands, Dutch journalists confronted him with the latter statement. Hoekstra called it ‘fake news’. Another journalist then showed him footage of the speech in which he made that statement, only for Hoekstra to deny that he had called it ‘fake news’. He later apologised for this poor showing. When a student asked about these statements after the lecture, a slightly annoyed Hoekstra said that he had ‘learned a great deal about the Dutch media’ in his first week on the job.
'Polarised, but civilised'
After the lecture, Julian Emami Namini walked Hoekstra back to his car. “I thought he responded well to the controversial questions,” he said afterwards. “You can tell that he is a politician rather than a professional diplomat. Unlike most diplomats, he actually dares express his views.” According to Emami Namini, Hoekstra himself had found the discussion ‘polarised, but civilised’. “He said he much preferred it to debates at American universities, where opinions are so polarised that people start shouting whenever they disagree with each other.”