Trump's handling of the British ambassador confirms the ambassador's assessment

Under the pressure of President Donald Trump’s continued rants against him, British Ambassador to the United States Kim Darroch resigned for doing his job as a professional diplomat and for telling the truth to his government about the Trump Administration. 

London press revelations that Darroch in sensitive memorandums to his government described the Trump administration as “inept,” “insecure,” “diplomatically clumsy,” “faction riven” and “uniquely dysfunctional” infuriated Trump and he couldn’t let it go.

While Darroch’s assessments of the Trump’s Administration may be shocking to those not familiar with how foreign policy works, as a former diplomat, I find nothing particularly unusual or revealing in Darroch’s assessments as reported in the press.  Most of Darroch’s judgments are common in the steady stream of thoughtful criticism of the Trump presidency in the United States, including criticism by former Trump senior officials and by accounts from leaked anonymous sources in the White House. 

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Darroch's opinion almost certainly reflects the assessments of most serious ambassador accredited to Washington today. However, very little could be worse for an ambassador in residence than to have his sensitive private reports to his or her capital on the nature of the local government exposed in public. When Trump refused to move on from the issue and continued to attack Darroch personally, the UK ambassador’s fate in Washington was sealed.  

The public exposure of Darroch’s sensitive memos is surprising. The British career foreign service is among the very best professional diplomatic organizations in the world. They are extremely knowledgeable, active, committed to UK foreign policy and are consistent around the world. When they are on your side, they are a great help; but when Her Majesty’s government disagrees with U.S. policy, they can be a very serious problem. If the leak originated in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, someone in London must have had a major personal grudge against Darroch. Other domestic political shenanigans also may be ongoing in London. But who knows?

Any professional ambassador is responsible for giving the best personal assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the host government and its leaders, the conditions in the host country that affect his or her nation and to assess the policy of the host government and how best to influence the host government based on conditions in the country as the embassy sees it. 

London is not the first capital to be embarrassed by diplomatic reports leaked to the public. In 2010, Wikileaks published 250,000 classified American diplomatic cables from around the world, many of them critical of host governments and their leaders in allied nations. Most allies shrugged it off after the media spotlight shifted elsewhere.

The allies took U.S. criticism with confidence and understanding. “You should see what we say about you guys in our cable,” one allied diplomat said to me at the time.

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Based on Trump’s actions, will Washington accept the banishment of its presidential representatives when Wikileaks or other sources publishes classified U.S embassy reports critical of the host government in the future?

The source of Trump’s wrath may be Darroch’s assessment that the president was dazzled by his royal treatment in the recent visit to London and how this tracked with Darroch’s strategy of playing to Trump’s obvious weaknesses through political theater and pageantry over policy substance.

In truth, Trump’s appearances in London was all theater, and not very good theater at that. With a huge entourage of personal family and staff guests to impress and wearing ill-fitting formal attire that looked like a short-term rental, Trump in London seemed like the crazy uncle who brought uninvited guest to Thanksgiving dinner. But if it helped promote British policy, the UK was more than happy to feed the ego, even as they held their royal noses.

In forcing Darroch’s resignation, Trump followed his misguided gut by attacking and shunning Darroch personally. In securing Darroch’s resignation, Trump fails to grasp the overall effects. 

Trump’s personal insecurity is on public display in his act of vengeance against the ambassador. In normal times, the State Department would have handled such matters. Trump’s obsession with Darroch also raises the question of whether the President of the United States doesn’t have more important tasks that demanding the professional scalp of a foreign ambassador. Further, Trump’s attacks only amplify the truth about Darroch’s reports and reinforce the image of a U.S. president as an insecure bully leading a one-man government in the United States.

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In the end of this, Darroch may well become a foreign policy hero as a straight-shooting British diplomat just as George Kennan was for the U.S. after he wrote the “long-telegram” describing Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union and how to handle them in 1946.

The Darroch affair is far bigger than the act of firing the UK ambassador. It is another example that the United States is led by a man who even our closest allies in Europe do not respect as a reliable leader while they struggle to understand how to engage the United States on serious foreign policy and national security issues today.

The Darroch resignation further illustrates the increasing isolation of the United States from allies vital to U.S. influence and security around the world. Running Darroch out of Washington does nothing but emphasize this reality.

James W. Pardew is a former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria and career Army intelligence officer. He has served as Deputy Assistant Secretary General of NATO and is the author of Peacemakers: American Leadership and the End of Genocide in the Balkans.