Trump may have just polled his best numbers with citizens, but one opposing view is clearly Britain’s Ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch. Leaked secret memos shows Darroch describing Trump as “inept,” “insecure” and “incompetent.” The disclosure could present serious problems for not just Darroch but U.S./U.K. relations. Trump is notoriously sensitive to such criticism and Great Britain will now have to consider whether Darroch should be recalled in the interests of diplomacy. Update: The British government has supported their ambassador for offering his good-faith and honest opinions. Trump later responded and said “We are not big fans of that man and he has not served the UK well … I can say things about him but I won’t bother.”
The incident shows how damaging leaks can be on diplomatic relations. These were clearly frank assessment meant to be shared in a strictly confidential setting.
Darroch paints a bleak picture of the competency of both Trump and his Administration: “We don’t really believe this Administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept.” He express doubt that the Administration will “ever look competent” and expects it to remain “mired in scandal.” He also suggests that Trump could be under some level of influence by Russia. In a letter to National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill sent on June 22, 2017 he stressed that “the worst cannot be ruled out” in terms of Russian connections or control.
Sir Kim Darroch has an extensive diplomatic and public service record. He is highly regarded in Washington as well the world at large. He has an impressive portfolio covering high positions with the European Union, national security agencies, and of course foreign postings. His unvarnished views of Trump and his Administration were obviously valued in London given his accomplished history. It is also notably that many of these communications are from the first year of the Trump Administration.
Darroch’s description of the White House as “uniquely dysfunctional” is shared by many (including supporters) who have been baffled by the continued missteps. However, this is the person who is the point of contact for relations with Great Britain. The damaging leak undermines the first and foremost principle for diplomats: never make yourself the issue. Assuming that he was not the source of the leak, this is hardly the fault of Darroch who must be able to share frank thoughts with his government. Whoever leaked these messages could not have put Darroch in a worse position as a diplomat now associated with assessments that are . . . well . . . undiplomatic.
On Sunday, the government issued a defense of its ambassador: “The British public would expect our ambassadors to provide ministers with an honest, unvarnished assessment of the politics in their country. Their views are not necessarily the views of ministers or indeed the government. But we pay them to be candid. Just as the U.S. Ambassador here will send back his reading of Westminster politics and personalities.”