Foreign diplomats on edge over Trump

Foreign diplomats on edge over Trump

Foreign diplomats are wary of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDACA recipient claims Trump is holding ‘immigrant youth hostage’ amid quest for wall Lady Gaga blasts Pence as ‘worst representation of what it means to be Christian’ We have a long history of disrespecting Native Americans and denying their humanity MORE and fearful of what could happen to U.S. foreign policy if he is elected president.

Trump’s unconventional and unpredictable policy positions have unnerved capitals around the globe, likely making his rise a big topic of discussion this week among leaders gathered at the United Nations General Assembly. 


An Ipsos poll conducted this summer found that 60 percent of foreign ambassadors now stationed in the U.S. would vote for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIdentity politics and the race for the Democratic nomination O'Rourke’s strategy: Show Americans the real Beto Conservatives pound BuzzFeed, media over Cohen report MORE over Trump, if given the chance. Just 7 percent would choose Trump.

"He is a clown,” said one of the diplomats, all of whom were granted anonymity to answer the survey freely. 

“He’s nuts,” said another. 

A third called the real estate mogul an “untrustworthy egomaniacal equivocator.”

Trump’s rhetoric and statements about foreign policy have “made many diplomats nervous and worried about American leadership, America’s role in the world,” said Dennis Jett, a longtime former American diplomat now at the Pennsylvania State University School of International Affairs. 

That sentiment was on display in the Ipsos poll, which asked foreign diplomats about their confidence that Clinton and Trump would “maintain existing agreements and relationships.”

Two in 5 respondents said they trusted Trump “a little,” with more than 1 in 4 saying they didn’t trust him to adhere to international agreements at all. Meanwhile, 93 percent of the diplomats surveyed said that they trusted Clinton “very much” or “somewhat.”

It’s not unusual for diplomats to gripe in private about U.S. politics, but it’s practically unheard of them for them to do so publicly, as multiple foreign leaders have done in the past year. 

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has called Trump a “hate preacher” similar to the arch-conservatives who have risen to prominence in Europe. 

Trump's “excesses make you want to retch,” scoffed French President François Hollande.

In December, then-United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron called Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. “divisive, stupid and wrong,” prompting a rebuke from the GOP nominee. 

Privately, such criticism gives way to genuine fear about what Trump’s election might mean.

“Foreign clients are very concerned about what they perceive as a tipping point in this election,” said one lobbyist that represents foreign governments. “This is less about Democrat versus Republican, and more about open versus closed economy, vis-à-vis the rest of the world.”

“With a wave of nationalism and protectionism sweeping the West, there is a real concern it will take hold in the United States and in what form it might show itself post-election,” said the lobbyist, who asked for anonymity in order to protect his clients.

“Whether it's immigration reform or trade policy, it feels as if much of the world is opening while the U.S. is teetering on closing,” he added.

The pessimism about Trump is not unanimous, however. 

One diplomat responding to the Ipsos survey said that Trump is “a businessman and will soon realize what is good for America, and that is a win-win, not a win-lose.”

The Ipsos poll, conducted for The Hill and Washington Diplomat, polled 30 ambassadors from every region of the globe. It was conducted from June 27 to 29, with most of the respondents hailing from either the Americas or Europe. A majority of the individuals surveyed, 76 percent, had been in the United States between one and eight years.

While the survey only generated a response from 30 officials, the results provide a window into how Trump is viewed among an elite group of diplomats who can shape policy toward the United States.

The respondents overwhelmingly said that Clinton would be better for their county on eight separate issues: trade and investment; international security; defense sales and support; development assistance; terrorism; immigration; international rule of law; and stability of the global economy. On no issue did respondents pick Trump over Clinton.

On the issues of terrorism and defense sales and support, between one-quarter and one-fifth predicted that Clinton and Trump would be about equal.

Since July, “the only thing that would change is a growing sense of apprehension and being appalled,” said Jett, the former U.S. diplomat. 

The comfort with Clinton is in part a reflection of her status as a known quantity. She has been a major figure in the U.S. government for more than two decades and forged relationships all over the world during her time as President Obama’s secretary of State.

Ninety percent of respondents to the Ipsos poll said Clinton has either “very strong” or “somewhat strong” foreign policy credentials.

Trump, meanwhile, does not have a background in foreign affairs, though his business empire spans the globe. During the campaign, he has trumpeted a quasi-isolationist “America first” policy that casts his unpredictability as a virtue.

“We must, as a nation, be more unpredictable,” he said during a speech in Washington in April. “We are totally predictable. We tell everything.”

For diplomats, that spells disaster. 

“First and most obviously, most foreign governments would like a relatively predictable post-November situation, and I think they regard Trump correctly as a giant leap in the dark,” said Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. 

“Whatever Hillary Clinton’s strengths or weaknesses might be, she has been a very conventional politician, at least when it comes to foreign policy,” he added. “Therefore, people don’t anticipate any kind of radical turn if she’s elected.”

Trump has promised just the opposite. 

For more than a year, he has proposed dramatic — and at times contradictory — breaks with mainstream U.S. foreign policy orthodoxy.

Among other points, he has questioned longstanding alliances with European and Asian nations, suggesting that the U.S. might not come to other countries’ aid unless they contributed more to their own security. He also has threatened to withdraw from trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and limit immigration to the United States, particularly from Latin America and the Middle East. 

Yet for more than a year, some have questioned whether he is truly committed to those positions.

The GOP nominee does not have a history in policy or negotiating diplomatic situations, so the only evidence of how he might behave as president is in his campaign rhetoric and business experience. 

“We know what he stands for only from what he’s been saying throughout his election campaign,” one diplomatic official said in response to the Ipsos survey. “Campaign talk is not always a reliable source on somebody’s real intentions.

“So, basically, we don’t know much on how he would handle the existing agreements and relationships.”