Well. As soon as my back is turned in The Hague it all happens.
Here is the piece I wrote for PunditWire on the eve of the US presidential elections:
Maybe as a former ambassador myself I am over-sensitive when it comes to what our political leaders say when standing in front of the coffins of murdered diplomats who died representing those leaders. But this is too much.
It’s one thing deliberately to mislead or tell outright lies when vital national interests are threatened. The deception/lie maybe has some claim to be necessary or at least defensible, to advance the Greater Good.
But it’s quite another to mislead/lie purely for one’s own ambitions. That is not necessary or defensible. And to do that standing just feet away from the body of a friend and colleague who died serving his country is beyond extraordinary. It’s ghoulish. Macabre. It dishonours his life and his death by instrumentalising both for private greedy reasons.
In short, never mind the avalanche of grisly revelations emerging from EmailGate and all the countless other lies and evasions and equivocations and obfuscations Mrs Clinton has emitted during her long mediocre years in US public life.
This one ghastly episode shows that Hillary Clinton is unfit to lead American diplomats and soldiers. How can they be expected to do what it takes and risk their own lives for their country in extreme moments of stress and danger, when they know that the President herself may dishonour their ultimate sacrifice merely because it suits her to do so?
Not that I argued that Donald Trump was better, as evidenced by this speech:
Islamic terrorism is eating up large portions of the Middle East. They’ve become rich. I’m in competition with them.
They just built a hotel in Syria. Can you believe this? They built a hotel. When I have to build a hotel, I pay interest. They don’t have to pay interest, because they took the oil that, when we left Iraq, I said we should’ve taken.
A bizarre nonsensical stream of semi-consciousness.
Mr Trump too is unfit to lead American diplomats and soldiers. How can they be expected to do what it takes and risk their own lives for their country in extreme moments of stress and danger, when they know that the President himself may well not have the foggiest idea what he’s talking about?
* * * * *
Thus the situation the world faces. The United States is poised to elect a new President who is unfit to lead that great country, and who will be entangled in impossible scandals and controversy from Day One.
Well, now we know. Mr Trump won it, as Mrs Clinton failed to mobilise or motivate several million voters who previously had voted for President Obama.
There is deep in Crawford DNA a petit bourgeois (or, if you prefer, irresponsible) glee at seeing the smirky status quo poked firmly in the eye. See eg Brexit. Hal Gordon also at PunditWire explains his similar emotion in this case:
I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. As those who have read my posts during this campaign are aware, I have criticized Mr. Trump in the strongest terms, comparing him to Joe McCarthy, Heinrich Himmler, Benito Mussolini and Lonesome Rhodes—a populist demagogue played by Andy Griffith in the film, A Face In the Crowd.
I retract nothing; I apologize for nothing. So why was I curiously elated on election night when Trump was declared the winner? Simple. It was a purely visceral reaction: I was tired of being condescended to by smug liberals…
It seems that others feel the same:
These things are, ahem, complicated. Yet oddly simple? The Democrats and Guardianistas and all such progressive wise people demanded ‘identity politics’. Now they have them!
Anyway, back to the core question. NOW WHAT?
Two former top UK diplomats agree that we are entering Uncharted Territory. Thus Sir J Greenstock who was the UK’s Ambassador to the United Nations:
How carefully will Trump listen to his advisers on the options as he enters the presidency? Or how unthinkingly assertive will his instincts make him? The avoidance of escalation will come at a cost to the US, because Washington has refused since 1990 to regard Moscow as an equal player. Does Trump have the courage, and the political capital, to bring the superpower down to the level of the lapsed superpower and start a constructive conversation? I think there is a possibility there, so long as Trump carries a stick – the doubling up of sanctions – in his other hand and resists any Kremlin scheming to take advantage of his inexperience…
As for the Middle East, will a Trump White House seek to refill the perceived Obama vacuum? Do we have an interventionist here? This is territory where angels fear to tread. Neither intervention, of the Iraq kind, nor non-intervention, of the Syrian kind, will fix the problems of the poor governance and dissatisfied peoples of this region. Time is needed, together with careful exploration of the sensible possibilities – dialogue, exhaustion with conflict, skilful international stakeholder management, the insistence of women on a decent life for their families. Putting the Iran nuclear agreement at risk, choosing sides in regional rivalries, or insulting Muslims, would be a bad way to start. Placing the campaigner Trump and gradualist diplomacy in the same sentence looks odd. But we just do not know what this unusual personality is capable of, good or bad…
Above all, the election of Donald J Trump has the feel of an epochal event, of a geopolitical disruption, of planet-wide regime change. It could be the clearest symptom yet of the disadvantage of democracy, that it enables the removal of governments the people dislike, but does not necessarily create the conditions for wiser ones to follow – a phenomenon not so different, after all, from the results of the Arab spring. Those states that have sheltered under a benign American umbrella had better start assessing their own self-sufficiency. There will be no free lunches coming out of Mr Trump’s America.
The latter thought is echoed by Sir R Cooper, formerly Tony Blair’s foreign policy adviser turned hard-core European:
Now we are in unknown territory. That’s not new – the future is unknowable, and new presidents are always unknown quantities – Hillary Clinton would have been an exception. But Mr Trump takes unknownness to a whole new level.
The campaign was more about attitude than policy. The attitudes amount to: don’t trust China; stay out of the Middle East; don’t bother about climate change; trade is bad for jobs; NATO are a bunch of free riders; and why is Russia a problem anyway? Since truth (and foreign affairs) have not been a notable feature of Mr Trump’s campaign we should wait and see what President Trump does. It may not be the same as what candidate Trump said he will do…
Instead of asking whether Donald Trump is serious, we should ask when we are going to get serious ourselves, collectively. Here are three difficulties: first our record of getting serious is not good. Second, it would be better to do this with the UK but maybe that’s no longer possible; third the United States itself has been an important element of the glue that keeps the EU together. That is surely over. Now it’s up to us.
Not quite sure who ‘us’ is here, insofar as he is talking about the European Union. Does he include the new Bulgarian President who seems to have won on a ‘pro-Russia’ position?
The Daily Telegraph have been urging me to opine. And it’s churlish to turn them down.
Following the Arab Spring upheavals Western politicians including Mr Obama have vaingloriously demanded that “Assad must go!” But if Assad goes, does Syria go with him? Who or what replaces him? No one wants to say. Moscow has exploited this confusion, strongly supporting Assad to drive back ISIS and US-backed opposition groups alike.
Thus President Assad is still there, and it is President Obama who is going. If now Washington cuts its support for anti-Assad groups, maybe Washington and Moscow can together impose a brutish peace settlement in Syria that leaves Assad or at least Assadism largely in control.
Could that outcome be the start of a new Trump Doctrine, namely forgetting (most) classic US foreign policy principles of the past few decades and instead just cutting ad hoc deals, dirty or otherwise? And if so, what might that mean for Europe?
[I]t’s one thing for Moscow to prop up Assad in the Syria imbroglio where Moscow has international law on its side. It’s quite another to start destabilising or threatening European states and above all Nato members.
Or is it? Might Donald Trump’s apparent willingness to cut deals with Vladimir Putin undermine Nato and put European security once again at risk through incompetence or naivety?
The problem with doing deals with Moscow is that Russian negotiators have a ruthless single-mindedness that can be matched only with steely discipline. Few current senior Western diplomats and policymakers dealt with Moscow through the Cold War years and understand the lingering pathology of Russian communist collectivism on the other side of the table. European leaders nonetheless have to impress on President-elect Trump that it will be a strategic blunder if he lets Vladimir Putin frame the basis for any deal on Russian neo-imperialist terms.
This week we remember the millions who died in two World Wars. Let’s also remember that of the mighty empires that entered the First World War, only the Tsarist empire survives in modern Russia’s patchwork quilt of federal oblasts, republics and autonomous okrugs. If Washington under new management somehow lets Moscow think it can get away with attacks on former Tsarist territories now outside Russia’s internationally accepted borders, a catastrophic “anything goes” unravelling of international order could start.
And another today on the always fascinating question: should HMG use Nigel Farage as an envoy to engage with the new President? To which the answer is a choice between:
It’s going to be tricky enough to engage with Donald Trump anyway, given his personality and the derision that many top Conservatives have heaped on him during his election campaign. This situation calls for patient quiet diplomacy. Expand access and contacts in Washington as he assembles his team. Make gracious constructive public noises. Look at his emerging policy instincts, and get the machine working fast to find areas where interests and opportunities coincide.
Whatever other talents Nigel Farage brings to modern politics in general and transatlantic relations in particular, quiet diplomacy is not among them! He is a populist whirling dervish crossed with an untrustworthy wrecking-ball. It’s impossible to imagine him conveying any serious messages seriously and reliably to Mr Trump, and not attempting to use his access for his own outlandish, noisy reasons. Look at the mess he’s already created – the more we try to bring him in, the more we legitimise him and then legitimise his inevitable attacks on us!
Let’s face it, building a useful close relationship with Donald Trump is not going to easy for anyone. We Brits in London have not exactly endeared ourselves to him and his team, even if the embassy in Washington have done their honest best during the campaign.
In Nigel Farage, we have someone whom Mr Trump likes and respects, and maybe even listens to. Why not use that, in sparing and (as far as possible given the Farage modus operandi) tightly controlled doses, at least while the Trump team is being formed and Trump Doctrines are coalescing (or coagulating)? But how? Can Nigel Farage be trusted?
Ah. That’s the question. Why not ask him?
My advice to the Prime Minister
When in doubt, play it straight. Invite Nigel Farage to No 10 for an informal chat and see what he has to say about this first meeting. Make the point that while you value his personal relationship with Donald Trump, especially in these weeks before he assumes office, there’s no obvious way to use it in the UK’s interests unless everything is done with a certain, ahem, self-restraint and subtlety and above all confidentiality. What might Mr Farage suggest by way of assurances in that sense? Then see what he says.
* * * * *
What does it all mean?
This ultra-gloomy Spiegel piece caught my eye. Europe must (sic) lead the West!
At the beginning of the 1990s, the winner of history was clear: The West.
What made it so strong? On the one hand, it was freedom itself. The market economy was clearly superior to economic forms that were more directly controlled by the state. In the free play of forces, the West developed better products and greater affluence, along with the strength to win wars and arms races.
And the fear of losing freedom was a strong glue that held societies together. Of course there were debates, demonstrations and sulking, and there were some who preferred to be red than dead, but it was always possible to establish a majority for the fundamental Western consensus: We will preserve our freedoms at home and abroad, and we may even expand them. This idea also held the countries together. Under American leadership, and under the American nuclear shield, they were strong and relatively united as “the West.”
The 1990s were the happiest time for the West. The democratic world had grown, and the fear for our freedom seemed to have been dispelled once and for all. There was no longer a major power challenging freedom.
Until Sept. 11, 2001, that is, when it all started again. Belligerent Islamists attacked the capital of freedom, New York, and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The terror has continued unabated since then…
The entire drama can be encapsulated in this sentence: That which is unique about the West — freedom — is perceived as a threat. A crisis couldn’t be more fundamental than that…
Some people warn that we are now heading back to the 1930s.
But what if it’s the 1830s? Or, say, the 1530s?
How to tell?