“Inept”: Leaked diplomatic cables reveal what Brits really think of Trump

Can the US-UK “special relationship” withstand the pain of frank communication?
Can the US-UK “special relationship” withstand the pain of frank communication?
Image: Reuters/Carlos Barria
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The US and the UK have long enjoyed a “special relationship,” as evidenced by a recent visit by US president Donald Trump and his family to meet with the queen of England. But that bond may have just hit a bump in the road now that secret diplomatic cables from Britain’s top ambassador to the US were leaked, revealing a not-so-diplomatic or flattering assessment of the American president and his administration.

The Mail on Sunday reported on July 7 that Nigel Kim Darroch’s private cables, memos, and briefing notes paint a devastating picture of the White House under Trump. “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,” the diplomat wrote. He referred to battles among members of the Trump administration as “knife fights” and predicted that the Trump presidency could end in “disgrace.”

Yet the diplomat admitted that Trump, despite being otherwise “inept,” appears especially resilient. His downfall should not be counted on. Although he has been “mired in scandal” throughout his life, Darroch writes of Trump, he says that the president may nonetheless “emerge from the flames, battered but intact, like [Arnold] Schwarzenegger in the final scenes of The Terminator.” The documents note that Trump has some hope for reelection, remarking however that attendees of his campaign rallies are “almost exclusively white.”

The leaked documents date from 2017 to the present. Darroch explained to officials in London hoping to communicate with the president that “you need to make your points simple, even blunt.”

This is not the first time that Darroch’s writing about Trump has gone public. The British ambassador, appointed to his post in the US in 2015 while Barack Obama was in office, took over the role in 2016. That year, after Trump was elected, a memo from Darroch to British prime minister Theresa May predicted that Trump could be influenced by Britain. The US president suggested a different ambassador for the British role, guidance which the Brits ultimately rejected.

Now, Darroch may find himself even more unwelcome by the American president. The ambassador’s private writings cast doubt on Trump’s abilities to manage his administration and even to deal with reality. Darroch questions Trump’s claims of fake news, saying most of what the president dismisses is actually true, and suggests that the president’s own telling of events and decisions can’t be trusted. For example, Darroch doubted the claim that Trump recently aborted a planned missile attack on Iran because he worried about casualties. In the ambassador’s view, Trump was never sold on the strike to begin with and was probably more concerned about its potential effects on his reelection than with Iranian lives.

A spokesman for Britain’s foreign office responded to the revelations by saying of British diplomats, “Their views are not necessarily the views of Ministers or indeed the Government. But we pay them to be candid, just as the US Ambassador here will send back his reading of Westminster politics and personalities.”

For his part, Trump has not yet responded to news of the leaks, focusing his tweets so far today on political rival and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, as well as on lowering prescription drug prices. Perhaps he’s being uncharacteristically diplomatic.