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A quick primer in Trumpese. When he says “we” he usually means “I”. When he says “many” he often means “few”. And whenever he says “I can say things about him, but I won’t bother”, he means “I have no idea who this schmuck is, otherwise I would definitely say something very hurtful about him…”
Not that deciphering Donald Trump’s response to the leaked memo written by Sir Kim Darroch, the UK’s Ambassador to the United States, helps us make sense of this typically British fiasco. It is what it is: a frank assessment of the Trump administration and the person of the President. It hardly reveals anything we didn’t already know. It certainly wouldn’t require feet on the ground in Washington to reach those conclusions, though it does again show that our diplomatic corps remain perceptive and clear-eyed in pursuing our national interests.
Does the fact it might upset Trump really matter? Probably not. It’s unlikely that Trump remembers (or cares to remember) Darroch. The news that our ambassador doesn’t hold him in high esteem produced the kind of vague response that amounts to a jam jar full of nothing. It’s also hard to believe that this matters on the American side, given that many Americans hold pretty much the same feelings about their Commander-in-Chief. The story warranted a place in the Monday morning news in the US but fell well behind the ongoing amusement around the President’s belief that George Washington seized the airports from the British during the War of Independence.
Even then, this ugly portrait of a struggling administration is still mild, calling the President “inept” and “insecure” where others would prefer “malign” and “paranoid”. In Trump’s World Order, the UK doesn’t even hold that special a place, except as the landowners who give him grief about his golf course’s sand dunes. We’re somewhere between the countries he likes to insult and the countries he likes to laud.
More telling has been the response on the British side of the Atlantic.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt continues to play the obsequious caddy, ready to run in whatever direction the Donald scuffs his shot. “This was a personal view”, he said. “It’s not the view of the British government. It’s not my view. We continue to think that under President Trump the US administration is not just highly effective, but the best possible friend of the United Kingdom on the international stage.”
That is the straightest of straight bats or, if you prefer, loftiest of lofted clubs. It’s also a calculated response, clever in its way, but lacking the wink that would let us all know that we shouldn’t take it too seriously. The closest to self-awareness we get was Hunt’s belief that “it’s very important that our ambassadors and high commissioners around the world continue to feel that they are able to express those frank views.” In other words, whatever the British government thinks is wrapped in whatever the British government thinks it thinks. And what the British government clearly thinks is “Trade Deal”, said very loudly, while sticking their fingers in their ears because nothing else will be allowed to distract from that. La! La! La!
Boris Johnson, meanwhile, has one Neo-Assyrian sock in the Trump camp so none of this does him much harm and, in truth, probably a little good. It plays into the narrative that Whitehall doesn’t really want Brexit and harbours doubts about popular nationalism, including that very peculiar kind that might soon elevate him to Number 10. The Guardian even went as far as to suggest that the leak is all part of a grand scheme, hatched on the hard Brexit side, to install Nigel Farage as Darroch’s replacement. Certainly, one might raise such doubts given the source of The Mail on Sunday’s exposé was Isabel Oakeshott who is known to hold links and sympathy with the Farage camp.
Then again, The Guardian’s assessment comes from The Guardian, meaning their reading paints the Tories too starkly as a Brexit Party living in denial. That’s not to say that games aren’t being played (hard to believe the memo wasn’t leaked for some reason) but, if they are, they are immensely silly games. The idea that Farage could head to Washington to represent Her Majesty’s Government is a wild one given what it would say about domestic politics and the drift of the Conservative Party to the right.
Perhaps what we need now is a leaked memo from Woody Johnson, the US ambassador to the Court of St James, that might tell us what’s going on. And the way this crazy world is going, don’t bet against it.
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