The British government is looking into how emails from their ambassador to the United States – which criticize President Donald Trump – ended up being made public.
The Daily Mail published bits and pieces of the cables from Sir Kim Darroch on Sunday which do not paint a pretty picture of what he thinks is going on in the White House.
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, [Cabinet Secretary Mark] 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 emails also look into the relationship between the UK and the Trump Administration with Garroch suggesting it was extremely important to use whatever channels were available to garner influence possible with the White House. Via Daily Mail:
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’.
There’s nothing wrong with the President asking others about their opinions and it shows his willingness to listen to others (which is good). However, it might explain why outlets like CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post are able to publish some of their pieces which don’t always paint a flattering image of Trump. A Trump adviser who is angry at another faction within the Administration could easily leak to a journalist what discussions are going on to push the president towards their line of thinking.
Two other interesting notes can be gleaned from The Washington Papers, as Daily Mail is calling them.
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 ego massaging shouldn’t be surprising as Trump does tend to come off as rather thin-skinned on Twitter and in his speeches.
The suggestion to keep things simple and blunt can be looked at two ways. Either Trump has no ability to think deeply and needs to be led to a conclusion or he just wants honest assessments. My guess is the answer is somewhere in between and depends on the issue. It’s something other presidents have done so it shouldn’t be shocking. What Trump does need to be careful about is not turning into some version of Tsar Nicholas II where it appeared he was a possible puppet to the machinations of Rasputin.
Great Britain is defending the cables. One spokesperson said people were paid to be honest in their assessments of other countries and it would not be surprising if the U.S. ambassador made similarly ‘frank’ comments about UK leadership or any other country. Nigel Farage did tweet he wanted Garroch removed as ambassador but he’s not in power.
What will be interesting to see is how the White House reacts to the commentary. It could cause some strain between the countries but it’s more likely both governments will smooth things over. Stranger things have happened, though.