Britain’s Ambassador To The U.S.: Trump “Inept,” “Dysfunctional”
In memos to his superiors, the British Ambassador to the United States had an exceedingly frank, and negative, assessment of the current occupant of the White House.
The British Ambassador to the United States had a frank and unflattering assessment of the President of the United States for his superiors back home:
Britain’s Ambassador to Washington has described Donald Trump as ‘inept’, ‘insecure’ and ‘incompetent’ in a series of explosive memos to Downing Street.
Sir Kim Darroch, one of Britain’s top diplomats, used secret cables and briefing notes to impugn Trump’s character, warning London that the White House was ‘uniquely dysfunctional’ and that the President’s career could end in ‘disgrace’.
His bombshell comments risk angering the notoriously thin-skinned President and undermining the UK’s ‘special relationship’ with America.
In one of the most sensitive documents, Sir Kim writes: ‘We don’t really believe this Administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept.’
He also says that he doesn’t think Trump’s White House will ‘ever look competent’.
In reference to Trump’s ability to shrug off controversies in a life which has been ‘mired in scandal’, he says that the President may nonetheless ’emerge from the flames, battered but intact, like [Arnold] Schwarzenegger in the final scenes of The Terminator’.
He warns senior politicians in London: ‘Do not write him off.’
The leak is embarrassingly timed for the British Government, coming just weeks after the Queen welcomed Trump and his family with a 41-gun salute and a State banquet at Buckingham Palace as part of a diplomatic drive to secure a post-Brexit free-trade deal.
In a memo sent after the visit, Sir Kim warned that while Trump and his team had been ‘dazzled’ by the visit, and the UK might be ‘flavour of the month’, Trump’s White House remained self-interested: ‘This is still the land of America First’.
The Washington Files span the period from 2017 to the present, covering everything from Trump’s policy in the Middle East to his 2020 re-election plans.
One account of a Trump rally says that there is a ‘credible path’ for Trump to win a second term in the White House – but describes the crowd as ‘almost exclusively white’.
In what is likely to be regarded as a patronising passage in the cache, officials in London are told that in order to deal with Trump effectively ‘you need to make your points simple, even blunt’.
The most incendiary paper is a letter to National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill sent on June 22, 2017 – 150 days into the Trump administration – and copied to what Sir Kim describes as a ‘strictly limited’ number of senior figures in Downing Street and the Foreign Office.
The document, sent ahead of a National Security Council discussion on the UK-US relationship, paints a damning picture of the President’s personality and leadership style.
It says media reports of ‘vicious infighting and chaos’ inside the White House – dismissed by Trump as ‘fake news’ – are ‘mostly true’.
And referring to allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia – since largely disproved – the memo says: ‘The worst cannot be ruled out.’
The cache also includes diplomatic telegrams – known as ‘DipTel’ in Foreign Office jargon – updating Downing Street on political events in the US and providing commentary on Trump’s foreign policy decisions.
They reveal details of highly sensitive negotiations over efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, as well as the disarray surrounding the President’s handling of recent attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz.
One memo, sent by Sir Kim on June 22, refers to ‘incoherent, chaotic’ US-Iran policy, adding: ‘Its unlikely that US policy on Iran is going to become more coherent any time soon. This is a divided Administration’.
He questioned Trump’s recent claim that he aborted a missile strike on Iran because it would have caused a predicted 150 casualties, saying it ‘doesn’t stand up’.
‘It’s more likely that he was never fully on board and that he was worried about how this apparent reversal of his 2016 campaign promises would look come 2020’ – at the next Presidential election.
Another memo, sent on June 10, warns of tensions ahead over Brexit: ‘As we advance our agenda of deepening and strengthening trading arrangements, divergences of approach on climate change, media freedoms and the death penalty may come to the fore.’
In the confidential memo – marked ‘Official Sensitive’ – the UK’s most important diplomat accused Trump of ‘radiating insecurity’, filling his speeches with ‘false claims and invented statistics’ and achieving ‘almost nothing’ in terms of domestic policy.
Earlier, Sedwill had sent Sir Kim an outline presentation for the meeting. Sir Kim thought the slides ‘looked good’. There was just one point he felt he needed to correct: ‘My only disagreement with the slides: I don’t think this Administration will ever look competent,’ he declared.
It was an extraordinarily damning assessment. The problem was that Ministers and diplomats had to find a way to deal with the President.
Sir Kim highlighted how America was still the UK’s No 1 security partner and the ‘cultural and historical ties’ between the two countries were ‘profound’. The UK needed America: as an export market; for defence and intelligence cooperation; and for a post-Brexit trade deal.
‘The starting point is that this is our single most important bilateral relationship,’ Sir Kim wrote.
But he added: ‘As seen from here, we really don’t believe that this Administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional, less unpredictable, less faction-riven, less diplomatically clumsy and inept.’
The Ambassador also had recommendations on how to deal with this new phenomenon of an American President that appeared in public and in private to be utterly disinterested in traditional diplomacy and obssessed with relationships that stroked his ego regardless of whether or not they were in the interests of the United States:
He therefore compiled a three-point guide for how Britain’s politicians and officials should handle this most unpredictable of Presidents. His first suggestion was to ‘flood the zone’, which meant influencing as many of the President’s key advisers as possible.
Sir Kim said Trump spends his days in the Oval Office asking his White House team, Cabinet members and senior Republicans for their opinions ‘on the business of the moment’.
But, crucially, the diplomat also highlighted how the President spends his evenings phoning his friends outside the administration ‘seeking reinforcement or a different take’. Many of these friends have been ‘cultivated’ by the British, Sir Kim boasted.
‘It’s important to ‘flood the zone’: you want as many as possible of those who Trump consults to give him the same answer,’ he wrote. ‘So we need to be creative in using all the channels available to us through our relationships with his Cabinet, the White House staff, and our contacts among his outside friends.’
Sir Kim’s second recommendation was for Theresa May to call Trump more often, stressing ‘there is no consistently reliable substitute for the personal phone call from the Prime Minister’.
‘The President respects and likes her,’ he added. ‘I know they have already talked several times. But in a perfect world, they would be speaking two or three times a month, if not more.’
The diplomat’s third pointer was to urge Britain’s politicians and officials to use flattery and to pander to the President’s ego when they come into contact with him.
‘You need to start praising him for something that he’s done recently,’ he advised. ‘You need whenever possible to present them as wins for him.’ In comments which could be viewed as highly patronising, Sir Kim also advised his bosses to make their points ‘simple’ and ‘even blunt’, adding: ‘as a senior White House adviser told me, there is no upside with this President in being subtle, let alone ambiguous.’
The article goes on from there, including a longish biography of the Ambassador that seems out of place given the context of the article but also includes more detail from the memos, which appear to date from as recently as just a few weeks ago given their reference to recent events such as the recent incident where Trump ordered air strikes against Iran only to issue a stop order minutes before the mission was set to begin. Additionally, as The New York Times notes, the leak comes at a precarious time for the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom:
LONDON — In a series of leaked diplomatic cables, Britain’s ambassador to the United States described President Trump as “radiating insecurity” and his administration as diplomatically “clumsy and inept,” a withering assessment that threatened to damage bilateral relations at a delicate moment for Britain.
The cables were published late on Saturday by The Mail on Sunday,which called them “The Washington Files.” They span a period from 2017 to the present and include candid assessments of American domestic politics and Washington’s treatment of Iran over its nuclear weapons program.
It is unclear who leaked the documents and how The Mail obtained them. But the British news outlet identified only one recipient in Britain: Mark Sedwill, the nation’s national security adviser, who became cabinet secretary in 2018.
As of Sunday morning, the White House had not commented on the leak, but Mr. Trump has been known to react badly to criticism. The British government recently hosted the American president for his first state visit, which included a lavish banquet at Buckingham Palace and a 41-gun salute — gestures seemed aimed at winning his good will.
As Britain barrels toward Brexit, set for Oct. 31, a hard exit from the European Union appears more likely, and Mr. Trump has repeatedly dangled an advantageous trade deal with the United States.
The British Foreign Office, which did not challenge the authenticity of the leaked documents, said in a statement: “The British public would expect our ambassadors to provide ministers with an honest, unvarnished assessment of the politics in their country.
“Their views are not necessarily the views of ministers or indeed the government,” it said. “But we pay them to be candid. Just as the U.S. ambassador here will send back his reading of Westminster politics and personalities.”
[Ambassador Darroch’s memos] warned of “real risks on the horizon,” as Mr. Trump guided United States policy away from consensus with Britain. “This ‘America First’ administration could do some profoundly damaging things to the world trade system: such as denounce the W.T.O., tear up existing trade details, launch protectionist action, even against allies,” he wrote. “It could further undermine international action on climate change, or further cut U.N. funding.”
He noted that Mr. Trump’s decision to order a missile strike on a Syrian air base had been a political success, but warned that “a less well judged military intervention is not inconceivable.”
There is some history to the relationship between Mr. Trump and the British ambassador. Shortly after he took up the post in 2016, a memorandum by Mr. Darroch was leaked, suggesting that Mr. Trump would be “open to outside influence if pitched right.”
Mr. Trump then recommended, via Twitter, that his friend Mr. Farage, then the leader of the U.K. Independence Party, be appointed as ambassador to Washington in Mr. Darroch’s place. “He would do a great job!” Mr. Trump wrote.
A Downing Street spokesman responded swiftly that Mr. Darroch had the government’s support. A diplomat for 29 years, Mr. Darroch has served as Britain’s permanent representative to the European Union, as head of the Foreign Office’s press office and as national security adviser.
There’s been no response from the White House as of yet, or from the President, who is spending the weekend at his golf club in central New Jersey. However, the British government appeared to acknowledge the truth of the reports regarding the memos in its own response to the report:
In a statement, a spokesperson for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office didn’t specifically discuss the secret cables or name Darroch, a veteran diplomat serving as ambassador here since 2016, but effectively defended the comments reported by the Mail.
“The British public would expect our ambassadors to provide ministers with an honest, unvarnished assessment of the politics in their country,” the spokesperson said. “Their views are not necessarily the views of ministers or indeed the government. But we pay them to be candid. Just as the U.S. Ambassador here will send back his reading of Westminster politics and personalities.”
The spokesperson went on to suggest unhappiness that the information was leaked: “Of course we would expect such advice to be handled by ministers and civil servants in the right way and it’s important that our ambassadors can offer their advice and for it remain confidential.”
The spokesperson added, however: “Our team in Washington have strong relations with the White House and no doubt that these will withstand such mischievous behavior.”
Obviously, the leak of these cables is going to be somewhat embarrassing to the President, the British government, and Ambassador Darroch and there were have to be some kind of papering over these frank assessments of the President for the sake of the public face of the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, the memos offer a behind the scenes glimpse at how the American President is being viewed by the rest of the world. When even the Ambassador of one of our closest and most important allies is talking about the President in this manner with his superiors, it speaks volumes about how Trump and, in turn, the United States are being perceived in these years since the 2016 election.
It’s not entirely surprising, of course. It doesn’t take a foreign policy genius to recognize the fact that this President is acting far differently, and far more destructively than even the worst of his predecessors in the years since World War II. This is, after all, a President who has spent the better part of his two and a half years in office doing everything that he can to ruin our relationships with allies such as the United Kingdom, something that I have made note of several times her at OTB — see here, here, here, and here — and the extent to which he has succeeded in driving a wedge between the United States and its most important allies. Additionally, he has repudiated international agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Accords, and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and demonstrated that under Trump, the United States simply cannot be trusted to keep its agreements or to be the force for international stability. Finally, he has demonstrated that he has no understanding of the norms of diplomacy and shows no inclination of wanting Given all of this, one must say that Ambassador Darroch’s words are if anything, understated and even a bit too diplomatic.
In any case, I’ve often wondered over the course of the past thirty months how the leaders of other nations around the world truly felt about the President. As these memos show, it’s not a flattering portrait, but then it’s also sadly not very surprising.