The British are credited with perfecting the art of diplomacy as well as being excruciatingly polite, so the revelation that Sir Kim Darroch, the UK’s ambassador to the U.S., had many unflattering things to say about U.S. President Donald Trump in leaked communiqués has understandably caused some embarrassment in Westminster, in addition to straining the transatlantic relationship. But the fact is Darroch was only doing his job, which calls for diplomatic envoys to deliver clear, accurate and unvarnished advice to the governments which have appointed them. The real question is why the British government is still leaking like a sieve, or perhaps more accurately a sinking ship.
- The leaked diplomatic cables, first published in the Daily Mail, have Darroch calling Trump “inept,” “insecure” and “incompetent,” among other choice adjectives, as well as warning that his administration could end in debacle, noting that “we could be at the beginning of a downward spiral… that leads to disgrace and downfall.”
- Even more troubling for U.S. allies, Darroch depicts Trump’s “uniquely dysfunctional” White House as rudderless, reactionary and unreliable both in ordinary matters and times of crisis.
- On that note, Darroch also notes that U.S. policy on Iran will continue to be “incoherent,” as Trump’s various advisors present different views while the White House seems unsure of its goals.
- Whatever one makes of these critiques, one thing is clear: they were never intended to be made public. The number of British civil servants and politicians who received copies of Darroch’s communiqués was “strictly limited,” and of course on condition of strict secrecy – a condition now obviously abrogated by at least one of them.
- Also beyond question is the fact that Darroch was just doing his job, which requires him to keep his government informed of the situation in Washington D.C. to the best of his ability. In terms of norms, the language and tone of the communiqués doesn’t differ substantially from American diplomatic cables of the previous decade, as revealed by Wikileaks.
- Even those remarks which might be considered ad hominem attacks on the president, for example regarding his character, could be relevant for British leaders trying to understand Trump’s motivations and decision-making style.
- The real question is the motivations of the as-yet unnamed senior British official who leaked the cables. Some British pundits are speculating that large swathes of the civil service have been politicized by the ongoing Brexit drama, with its proven ability to suck in apparently unrelated subjects. For example, could the leak be intended to delay or complicate Brexit by damaging the U.S.-UK relationship, making it less likely that Britain will be able to swiftly negotiate a free trade deal with America as Brexiteers have promised?
- Whatever the reason, as the Tory leadership contest nears its climax it seems Theresa May’s government is fated to end as it spent most of its existence – leaking, faction-ridden and completely out of control.