Sir Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to the U.S. whose blistering and insulting dispatches about President Trump became public, has resigned his position. I don’t see that he had much choice.
It is unrealistic to expect any president, and certainly not the current one, to deal with an ambassador whose contempt for him is this deep and now this public. And Britain would be poorly served by an ambassador to whom the leader of its closest ally would not speak.
This matter is unfortunate in at least two ways. First, it’s unfortunate that the ambassador’s confidential reports were leaked. An ambassador ought to be able to provide his candid assessments — however hackneyed — of affairs and people in the nation where he serves without having them published for all to see.
The reason for the leaking of Darroch’s thoughts is obvious. They support the anti-Trump narrative. If a British ambassador had expressed negative thoughts about President Obama, they very probably never would have seen the light of day.
This affair is unfortunate in a second respect. It’s unfortunate that the British ambassador held such a superficial view of President Trump.
Unfortunate, but not surprising. I’ve never met a British ambassador to the U.S., but I’ve spoken with other European ambassadors from nations of importance comparable to Britain’s.
These guys (all are male) were founts of conventional wisdom. Whatever skills they might have brought to other aspects of their job, their superiors back home could have learned as much about the U.S. from CNN as from these ambassadors.
Indeed, ambassadors to the U.S. pick up much of their thinking about the U.S. from the functional equivalent of watching CNN — consuming the mainstream media and talking to Washington “insiders.” Few such insiders think anything that’s original or unconventional. If they did, they would be Washington outsiders.
In the case of President Trump, Washington thinking is even less varied and nuanced than usual. That’s because many Republican insiders hold Trump in as much contempt as Democratic insiders do.
The thinking about Trump an ambassador and his staff are likely to encounter here runs the gamut from A to B — from “Trump is an unstable, incompetent fool” to “Trump is unstable, incompetent, and largely foolish, but has tapped into a mixture of legitimate grievances and America’s dark side.” How Trump’s supposed instability and incompetence can be reconciled with his successes and lack of any glaring failures or dire results as president is not clear.
The Washington Post notes that some ambassadors couch their criticism of Trump in terms of what others are saying about him. One diplomat told the Post:
I’m a little old-fashioned. I would not employ such language [as Darroch used]. What we normally do — at least we used to — is to take the opinions you read in the news, the people you talk to . . . and say, ‘look, opinion makers in Washington reflect’ whatever it is you want to say. . . . But you never so directly put it in your own words. That was a little too strong for me.
It boils down to the same thing. What most of these ambassadors want to say to the home office is precisely what they read in the news and what they hear from the people they talk to.
Conventional wisdom isn’t always wrong. Often there is some basis for it what holds, and that’s probably true to a small degree in this case. But, as here, conventional wisdom is always conventional and almost never wise.