UK residents who read this blog may have felt that I have been rather harsh in my criticisms of successive UK governments who proudly speak of having a ‘special relationship’ with the US when all it seems to mean is that they feel obliged to go along with anything that the US does on the international stage, even into its disastrous wars, and getting little in return. What is worse is that this subservience likely contributed to the other nations in the EU seeing the UK as less than committed to a common European cause.
The events of the last few days, in which the private diplomatic cables from the UK ambassador Kim Darroch to the US were leaked revealing his low opinion of Donald Trump and his administration, have not only shown that the UK gets little in return, Trump seems to feel that he can be openly contemptuous of the UK political leadership and not fear any consequences.
It should not be a surprise that all ambassadors are expected to give their honest opinion of the situation in the country they are stationed. Otherwise they are not serving their country well. One might quibble that perhaps Darroch could have used softer and more euphemistic language but he could not have known that the cables would be leaked and for all I know, speaking so bluntly may be the norm and what is expected. The best thing for Trump to have done would have been to either ignore the cables story or laughed it off with some self-deprecating joke. But that would require Trump to demonstrate that he has class and we well know that Trump is incapable of such a level of sophistication. Instead he has done what he always does when he feels disrespected and that is lash out at Darroch, saying that no one in his administration will have any more dealings with him.
When prime minister Theresa May expressed her confidence in her ambassador, which she had to do if she did not want a serious revolt in her Foreign Office and an uproar in parliament, Trump did not empathize with her that this was forced on her, but instead took it as an opportunity to unleash a tirade against her as well.
“The wacky ambassador that the UK foisted upon the United States is not someone we are thrilled with, a very stupid guy,” Trump wrote. “He should speak to his country, and Prime Minister May, about their failed Brexit negotiation, and not be upset with my criticism of how badly it was handled.
“I told her how to do that deal, but she went her own foolish way – was unable to get it done. A disaster! I don’t know the ambassador but have been told he is a pompous fool. Tell him the USA now has the best economy and military anywhere in the world, by far and they are both only getting bigger, better and stronger.”
That kind of direct harsh personal criticism of one country’s leader by another country’s leader would normally result in, at a minimum, the first country’s ambassador being ‘called in to the Foreign Office and asked to explain’, which is diplomatic-speak to signify deep displeasure and a rebuke. A bigger sign of displeasure would be to recall the ambassador temporarily for ‘consultations’ but that option is closed to May because Trump would crow that it was a victory for him that Darroch went back to the UK.
Of the two contestants to the Conservative party leadership and thus becoming the next prime minister, current foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has at least made some remonstrations but Boris Johnson has uttered not the slightest criticism.
The controversy escalated further as Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary and Conservative leadership candidate, responded by calling the president’s language “disrespectful and wrong”.
In Tuesday night’s Conservative leadership debate, Hunt reiterated his support for Darroch and said that he would keep him in place were he to become prime minister. Frontrunner Boris Johnson was more limited in his criticism of Trump, saying that a good relationship with the US was “of fantastic importance”. And he refused to say that he would back Darroch if he won the contest.
Today Darroch resigned and observers say that it was the lack of support in a debate with Hunt last night by Johnson, widely expected to become the prime minister, that triggered his decision.
So it looks like May and the likely next prime minister Johnson are once again going to swallow their pride and be pushed around contemptuously by Trump, with Johnson stooping to even lower levels of groveling than May and previous prime ministers.
In the past, I have frequently used the term ‘lapdog’ to describe the UK’s attitude to the US. The term lapdog may be too kind since lapdogs are treated well in return for their subservient attitude. Perhaps ‘lackey’ is a better term for the UK in this ‘special relationship’ especially with Johnson
I know that some of the readers of this blog live in the UK and am curious: How does the British public react to the weak response of the UK government to being treated so badly by the US, especially when it is done so brazenly by Trump?