My two previous posts explained some of the ‘internal’ technique issues arising from Sir Kim’s Darroch resignation as UK Ambassador to Washington. How have our leaders dealt with it?
One key moment was the televised debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt as the vie to become the next Prime Minister. The cunning closed question question is posed to them both: Will [Sir Kim] still be in his job in January?
Watch Boris Johnson try to smirk-bluster his way out of answering the question, by pressing Jeremy Hunt on his position. Johnson is duly mauled in ensuing comment for ‘throwing Sir Kim under the bus’, sucking up to President Trump and so on.
Not that J Hunt does better. He defensively commits to keeping Sir Kim in his job until he retires at the end of the year. Why do that if his access to senior White House people in Washington collapses and so his position is untenable? This and his other footling explicit criticisms of the US President make him look ridiculous:
In deliberately stepping into the ring and playing the hero to Trump’s villain, Jeremy Hunt is exposing himself to punches in all directions. What foreign leaders don’t seem to understand is that the best way to handle the mercurial and moody American in the White House is to let him rant and rave like a five-year old until he uses up all his energy or turns his attention to another target.
The White House aides who have survived Trump’s tantrums are the ones who shut up and eschew the spotlight. Those who visibly push back by leaking to the press or contradicting him in public are the ones who eventually see their influence capped or their careers ended early.
One of the basic traits of a diplomat is reading the signs of foreign leaders and anticipating their reactions. Hunt is either clueless as to what makes Trump tick or is so desperate to be seen as the courageous, strong-willed Brit whose destiny is the PM’s residence that he is letting ambition get in the way of his current position.
Hard to disagree.
The right answer is to say something like this:
This is an unprecedented situation, created by an appalling leak of highly confidential diplomatic documents containing the Ambassador’s frank advice and analysis.
It’s not surprising that President Trump has reacted as he has done.
It’s also clear that this episode has placed Sir Kim through no fault of his own in a really difficult professional position.
He of course has my full support. This is why I have asked him to come back to London ASAP so that I can hear from him personally on what he thinks the appropriate way forward now is for his remaining time in Washington.
In other words, don’t make a silly noise. Buy some time for things to cool down and talk frankly to Sir Kim about the realistic prospects of him quietly but effectively seeing out his final months in Washington.
Above all, sound like an adult with your eye on the ball, namely maintaining close and effective relations with the US leadership, however difficult that task turns out to be.
I’m so old that I can remember when Conservative leaders acted and behaved in a subtle, conservative way.
ProTip to British Foreign Secretaries.
In any tricky situation, think what Lord Carrington might say and do. Then say and do that.