Ask members of the Washington diplomatic corps about the cables that Sir Kim Darroch, the British ambassador who resigned on Wednesday, wrote to London describing the dysfunction and chaos of the Trump administration, and their response is uniform: We wrote the same stuff.
“Yes, yes, everyone does,” Gérard Araud, who retired this spring as the French ambassador, said on Wednesday morning of his own missives from Washington. “But fortunately I knew that nothing would remain secret, so I sent them in a most confidential manner.”
So did Mr Darroch, who alone and with Mr Araud, tried to navigate the minefield of serving as the chief representative of longtime US allies to a president who does not think much of the value of alliances.
Mr Darroch submitted his resignation the morning after Boris Johnson, who is likely to become Britain’s next prime minister, notably declined during a televised debate to defend the diplomat and also refused to criticise Donald Trump.
In his resignation letter, Mr Darroch said the furore over his characterisation of the Trump administration made it impossible for him to carry out his role.
“Although my posting is not due to end until the end of this year, I believe in the current circumstances the responsible course is to allow the appointment of a new ambassador,” he wrote.
He came to that conclusion after he found himself in the vortex of what for years has been the definition of a classic Washington gaffe: He was caught in public saying something that is widely believed. It would have been stranger, his diplomatic colleagues said, if Mr Darroch had been writing cables describing the Trump White House as a smooth-running machine.
“It could have been any of us,” one ambassador, who is still serving and therefore spoke on the condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday.
Until Mr Darroch’s confidential cables appeared in The Daily Mail over the weekend, none of the major ambassadors in Washington had been denounced by Mr Trump as “wacky” or “very stupid’’ — descriptors that the envoy’s friends were quick to say hardly applied to one of Britain’s most sophisticated diplomats and former national security advisers.
Mr Johnson’s failure to back the ambassador was met with withering criticism from opponents, including his rival in the leadership race, Jeremy Hunt, the current foreign secretary. Mr Hunt called Mr Trump’s comments “unacceptable” and said he would keep Mr Darroch in his job.
“The fact that Sir Kim has been bullied out of his job because of Donald Trump’s tantrums and Boris Johnson’s pathetic lickspittle response is something that shames our country,” said Emily Thornberry, the Labour Party’s shadow foreign secretary. “It makes a laughing stock out of our government.”
She added, “Just imagine Churchill allowing this humiliating, servile, sycophantic indulgence of the American president’s ego to go unchallenged.”
With a few exceptions — including the ambassadors from Israel and the United Arab Emirates, who have supported Mr Trump’s every move — foreign diplomats in Washington these days describe living in something of a black hole.
Decisions that directly affect their nations’ trade relationships or troops are delivered with no notice. Their contacts in the State and Treasury departments as well as in Congress freely tell them they have little idea what decisions Mr Trump may make.
And the Trump administration has almost revelled in keeping foreign diplomats in the dark. While Mr Darroch, following in the tradition of his predecessors, hosted receptions in the British Embassy’s grand ballroom and weekend cocktail parties under tents on the lawn overlooking Embassy Row, few administration officials have attended.
There were occasional appearances by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s elder daughter and son-in-law, who also serve as the president’s senior advisers and live with their children a few blocks from the embassy. A few other officials, like Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counsellor, showed up at Mr Darroch’s famous New Year’s parties, held amid the embassy’s stunning art collection.
But those were rare occasions. Mr Trump’s secretaries of state, Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, did not appear to nurture the “special relationship” between the United States and Britain. Nor did Mike Pence, the vice president, who lives next door to the British Embassy.
While Mr Darroch often tried to reach out to the White House and the National Security Council, like most of the ambassadors from Nato nations, he never quite felt that he broke into the inner circle.
In December, when Mr Trump announced on Twitter that the United States was withdrawing forces from Syria — where both the British and the French have deployed troops, some of them dependent on US forces for transportation and intelligence — Mr Darroch was given no notice.
He called around the capital, reaching out to key members of Congress and national security reporters to glean information. To be fair, Mr Trump’s own national security team was also taken aback, and the defence secretary, Jim Mattis, resigned in protest. (Mr Trump later insisted Mr Mattis was fired.)
Traditionally, the British ambassador would be brought in for consultations with senior US officials about major decisions under consideration in the Middle East, or in dealing with Russia, where Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters — the British equivalent to the National Security Agency also known as GCHQ — often takes the lead in gathering intelligence.
But not in the Trump era.
All are examples of the chaos Mr Darroch had described to his successor as national security adviser, Mark Sedwill, in a 2017 memo that leaked on Saturday, leading to Mr Trump’s declaration that the ambassador from America’s oldest ally was, in effect, persona non grata.
Mr Johnson, the frontrunner in the prime minister’s race, said on Wednesday that he regretted Mr Darroch’s departure, and that whoever leaked the ambassador’s messages should be “run down, caught and eviscerated.”
There will be a new British ambassador, presumably appointed after parliament selects a new prime minister to replace the departing Theresa May, and seats a new government. But under current conditions, it is unclear whether that diplomat’s access will be much better.
A comment from the State Department about Mr Darroch’s departure on Wednesday blandly repeated its commitment to the special relationship.
The two countries “share a bond that is bigger than any individual,” the statement said, “and we look forward to continuing that partnership.”
The New York Times