People do write books. Thomas Wright is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of All Measures Short of War: The Contest for the 21st Century and the Future of American Power – “a groundbreaking look at the future of great power competition in an age of globalization and what the United States can do in response” – for those into geopolitical theory. But of course Donald Trump shoots from the hip so Wright’s book doesn’t matter that much. Yes, the old alliances worked pretty well for seventy years. The United States led “the free world” with no real objections from our allies. It was an age of both overt and covert cooperation. The aim was to contain the commies. Everyone understood that. The spats were minor. France at one point pulled out of NATO – but they really didn’t. The West was a team, with a few prima donnas. That was understood, and the old alliance could work still – Wright has a few ideas about that – but that point may be moot. Donald Trump is easily angered. Donald Trump seems perpetually angered. Donald Trump thrives on being angered, and he hits back, immediately – ten times harder as he says. He doesn’t think these things through. And he doesn’t read books about geopolitical theory. He doesn’t read. He acts. No, that’s wrong. He reacts. He hits back. The rest of the job seems to bore him.
Thomas Wright is appalled by that, and now it’s specific:
Theresa May did everything she could to accommodate Donald Trump. She was the first leader to visit him after he became president. She offered him a state visit to the United Kingdom at a much earlier stage in his tenure than his predecessors had received one. She uttered nary a word of criticism of his administration. She had a foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, whom Trump likes. She accepted without protest when Trump’s decisions went against her advice – on climate change and the Iran deal, in particular.
Trump actively undermined May on at least a dozen occasions – whether by interfering in investigations into terrorist attacks or by criticizing her Brexit strategy – but every single time, the prime minister turned the other cheek. She went out of her way to make the state visit a success. The president brought his extended family to London and seemed to treasure every moment. Trump could not have wished for a prime minister who was less demanding or more sycophantic.
And none of it mattered:
Trump gave May nothing in return. Her government’s extraordinary generosity and tolerance of the intolerable could not even save the U.K. ambassador, Kim Darroch, from the president’s wrath. After the ambassador’s cables were leaked to the Daily Mail, Trump denounced him as a “pompous fool” who had not served the United Kingdom well. He declared that his administration would no longer deal with him. Darroch was immediately disinvited from a White House dinner with the emir of Qatar. He resigned…
He had to resign, but it seems that everyone knew what was going on:
Darroch’s crime was to state the obvious: that the Trump administration is inept and dysfunctional. Gérard Araud, who served as France’s ambassador to the United States for four years, told me that “anyone who has any experience of Washington would agree” with Darroch’s assessment. “There is no bureaucratic process anymore,” Araud said. He offered Syria as an example: “When Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces, nobody in the administration – not Bolton, not the head of the CIA, not the chairman of the Joint Chiefs – knew he would take this decision. They did not know what it meant. Syria was just one of countless examples. Trump makes these decisions from the hip. No one knows what he will decide or what will happen the day after.”
But one should not say such things, as only Americans can say such things:
The administration’s brazen hypocrisy on what is expected of ambassadors is unsurprising but still shocking. Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, has been scathing in his criticism of Brussels, calling the European Commission “out of touch with reality” and “off in the clouds.” In a New Year’s Eve interview on BBC Radio 4, Woody Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to the U.K., said he had traveled throughout the United Kingdom and found the people desperate for new leadership. Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, began his term by calling for the United States to shame Germany on defense spending, and said he wanted to empower Trumpian conservatives in Europe. And this is what they have said on the record. One can only imagine their private briefings to the president.
In short, only Americans can insult others. Americans may NOT be in insulted, ever. Those seem to be Trump’s rules, and the world will just have to deal with that, which Wright explains this way:
There are important lessons to be learned. For the United Kingdom’s next prime minister, it is obvious that flattery and sycophancy are not enough when dealing with Trump. In one cable, Darroch noted that Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron were busy distancing themselves from Trump but warned London: “I don’t think we should follow them.”
He was wrong. The United Kingdom needs to fight its own corner. Trump respects only power and leverage.
But that raises other issues:
The problem for London, as Araud told me, is that “the U.K. is trapped by Brexit.” Its positions on Iran, climate, and trade are almost identical to those of continental Europe, but it is leaving Europe and so has no natural allies to turn to. The United Kingdom hoped to survive because of the special relationship, but in Trump’s Washington, Araud said, “alliances don’t matter and there is no sentimentality. The past is increasingly irrelevant.” It’s not just Trump. “Americans are not romantic; all that matters is what you are doing.”
So this will not end well:
Boris Johnson may believe that he gets on with Trump, but when he is in power, he will find that his personal rapport buys him nothing of substance. He needs leverage. He needs to be transactional. He is dealing with a man without honor.
That may be a bit severe. Boris Johnson will be dealing with a man who lives to be angered, who loves to hit back ten times harder, immediately, and who then basks in the praise for being so strong. Honor has nothing to do with it. Someone hit him. He hit back ten times harder. He ruined them. And that’s that. The “special relationship” with the Brits, that stared with FDR and the Lend Lease Program that armed them against the Nazis before anyone over here was ready to go to war is now dead. Trump killed it. But he didn’t mean to. He doesn’t seem to have given it much thought. He was just angry.
Dan Balz has given these things some thought:
Nigel Sheinwald, a former British ambassador to the United States, called Trump’s treatment of Darroch “vindictive and undignified,” adding that the president has repeatedly taken advantage of a government weakened by the Brexit stalemate. “This would never have happened under any other presidency in modern times…”
Balz reminds everyone of that:
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher occasionally sparred but were united in their conservative visions and their views of the then-Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Bill Clinton and Tony Blair formed a partnership to advance centrist remakes of their political parties and tie their countries together. They were modernizers who brought their parties back to power and sought to spread the New Democrat and New Labour gospel elsewhere.
When America was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, Blair was the first foreign leader to speak with President George W. Bush by telephone, and he offered unwavering support to Britain’s ally. Blair remained steadfast in his support of Bush’s subsequent policies, including the invasion of Iraq in 2003, something that has tarnished the legacies of both leaders but especially Blair’s back home in Britain.
Trump has followed a different script. He and the Brexiteers are cut from similar cloth – outsiders who tapped populist and anti-elite sentiment in their countries to upend and ultimately remake the politics on both sides of the Atlantic.
So the “special relationship” really is over:
Darroch’s resignation has forced a moment of reflection, a moment of reckoning, in the relationship between the longtime allies. The traditional ties – cooperation on defense and intelligence issues, cultural relations and all the rest – will continue apace. British and U.S. government officials will do their work as they have tried to do it for years, cordially and professionally.
But with Trump in the White House and operating as no president has before – throwing his weight around to try to force other independent actors to do what he wants – and with Brexit still unresolved and now the major fault line in British politics, the relationship between the two countries faces a period of severe strain and possible remaking.
But it is hard to remake anything without something to work with, not just chaos. The New York Times’ David Sanger reports on those difficulties:
Ask members of the Washington diplomatic corps about the cables that Sir Kim Darroch, the British ambassador who resigned Wednesday, wrote to London describing the dysfunction and chaos of the Trump administration and their response is uniform: We wrote the same stuff.
“Yes, yes, everyone does,” Gérard Araud, who retired this spring as the French ambassador, said on Wednesday morning of his own missives from Washington. “But fortunately I knew that nothing would remain secret, so I sent them in a most confidential manner.”
So did Mr. Darroch, who, alone and with Mr. Araud, tried to navigate the minefield of serving as the chief representative of a longtime American ally to a president who does not think much of the value of alliances.
So they both made sure no one but one or two people saw what they wrote. They were both careful – but Darroch got hacked by someone who wanted him gone – a “hard Brexit” fanatical white nationalist Boris Johnson supporter, or the Russians having fun, or Steve Bannon – no one knows. But it really doesn’t matter:
“It could have been any of us,” one ambassador, who is still serving and therefore spoke on the condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday.
But all signs point to Boris Johnson:
Mr. Darroch submitted his resignation the morning after Boris Johnson, who this month is likely to become Britain’s next prime minister, notably declined during a televised debate to defend the diplomat and also refused to criticize President Trump…
Mr. Johnson’s failure to back the ambassador was met with withering criticism from opponents, including his rival in the leadership race, Jeremy Hunt, the current foreign secretary. Mr. Hunt called Mr. Trump’s comments “unacceptable” and said that he would keep Mr. Darroch in his job.
“The fact that Sir Kim has been bullied out of his job because of Donald Trump’s tantrums and Boris Johnson’s pathetic lickspittle response is something that shames our country,” said Emily Thornberry, the British opposition Labour Party’s shadow foreign secretary. “It makes a laughingstock out of our government.”
She added, “Just imagine Churchill allowing this humiliating, servile, sycophantic indulgence of the American president’s ego to go unchallenged.”
Johnson, however, seems convinced that the Brits want to be ruled by Donald Trump, so he’ll help them out with that. He’ll be Trump’s lieutenant there, the next best thing to Prime Minister Trump. Who doesn’t like Trump? Who doesn’t love Trump?
That’s an odd gamble, but Sanger is more interested in the death of diplomacy in Washington:
With a few exceptions – including the ambassadors from Israel and the United Arab Emirates, who have supported Mr. Trump’s every move – foreign diplomats in Washington these days describe living in something of a black hole.
Decisions that directly affect their nations’ trade relationships or troops are delivered with no notice. Their contacts in the State and Treasury Departments as well as in Congress freely tell them they have little idea what decisions Mr. Trump may make.
And the Trump administration has almost reveled in keeping foreign diplomats in the dark. While Mr. Darroch, following in the tradition of his predecessors, hosted receptions in the British Embassy’s grand ballroom and weekend cocktail parties under tents on the lawn overlooking Embassy Row, few administration officials have attended.
But it’s more than that:
Mr. Trump’s secretaries of state, Rex W. Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, did not appear to nurture the “special relationship” between the United States and Britain, nor did Vice President Mike Pence, who lives next door to the British Embassy.
While Mr. Darroch often tried to reach out to the White House and the National Security Council, like most of the ambassadors from North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations, he never quite felt that he broke into the inner circle.
And that’s a serious problem:
In December, when Mr. Trump announced on Twitter that the United States was withdrawing forces from Syria – where both the British and the French have deployed troops, some of them dependent on the American forces for transportation and intelligence – Mr. Darroch was given no notice.
He called around the capital, reaching out to key members of Congress and national security reporters to glean information. To be fair, Mr. Trump’s own national security team was also taken aback, and the defense secretary, Jim Mattis, resigned in protest. (Mr. Trump later insisted Mr. Mattis was fired.)
Okay, no one was told anything, but that doesn’t make anything better, and this happens a lot:
Similarly, the White House barely gave allies notice last year of Mr. Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement, even though Britain, France and Germany had helped negotiate it. As one NATO ambassador noted, it took weeks for the administration to gather them and describe its new Iran strategy, which was composed largely of a series of 12 demands that Mr. Pompeo also announced in a speech.
“For me, as a foreigner, it was fascinating,” said Mr. Araud, who said he looks back at his tenure as French ambassador as a grand political science experiment. “It’s what happens when a populist leader takes command in a liberal democracy. These people don’t recognize or accept the idea that an ambassador or a bureaucrat could be of any use. They only want to deal with other leaders.”
And that is how things went:
Mr. Araud recalled a moment in 2017 when France’s foreign minister was planning a trip to Washington. The ambassador gave the State Department two months’ notice to try to get on Mr. Tillerson’s schedule. He did not hear back until a day before the event, Mr. Araud recalled, and was told the meeting would last only 20 minutes.
“So the minister didn’t come,” Mr. Araud said.
So the old alliances are dead. Diplomacy is dead. The leader speaks and that’s that.
But who does he listen to? That would be these folks:
President Donald Trump is scheduled to host several right-wing internet personalities at an event Thursday that the White House said was intended to “share how they have been affected by bias online.”
Trump and other Republican politicians have recently amplified attacks on social media companies for what they see as unfair censorship directed at conservatives. Trump has repeatedly decried “censorship” of users who have been banned from social media for breaking terms-of-service agreements on sites like Twitter and Facebook. Some users have had their accounts terminated by social media platforms for operating fake accounts or directing hate speech at other users.
Trump wants to make sure these voices are not silenced ever again:
While the Trump administration has generally embraced the far-right social media sphere, Thursday’s event will be one of the first to bring that digital ecosystem into the real world. Disinformation researchers who spoke with NBC News said the event further legitimizes a network of social media personalities who repeatedly target politicians and social media users with disinformation, trolling and harassment campaigns.
So it will be the usual. The moon landing was faked. So was Sandy Hook. Both the Boston Marathon bombing and the 9/11 attacks were false flag operations – our government did that to control our minds. And Hillary Clinton did run a child sex slave ring out of a pizza shop in Virginia, after she had murdered Vince Foster. And of course George Soros is part of a Jewish Conspiracy to fill America with Mexican drug dealers and murderers and rapists, and gang members, many of whom are ISIS terrorists.
But there are limits:
The toxicity of at least one of the attendees has already caused problems for the event.
Cartoonist Ben Garrison, who was initially invited to the summit, is no longer attending. Garrison faced criticism for a cartoon that showed George Soros as a puppet-master. The Anti-Defamation League called the cartoon “anti-Semitic” in 2017. Images of Soros, a Democratic donor who is frequently the target of conspiracy theories, have been a recurring trope in Garrison’s cartoons.
But others will take up the slack:
Conspiracy theorist Bill Mitchell, an online radio host and frequent guest on Infowars who has promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory, has tweeted that he will attend the event. Tim Pool, a YouTube personality who has pushed the false conspiracy theory that former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich leaked hacked emails to WikiLeaks, also plans to attend the event.
Right-wing commentator Ali Alexander also received an invitation. Alexander made headlines in recent weeks for questioning Kamala Harris’s ethnicity in a tweet that was re-tweeted by Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son. Harris was born in Oakland, Calif., and her father and mother are immigrants from Jamaica and India, respectively.
The White House has neither disclosed how guests were invited to the summit nor provided a full list of expected participants, but did say on Wednesday night that the event would be closed to the press.
And there’s this too:
The only social media network that has publicly said it’s attending is Minds – billed as the crypto “anti-Facebook” and once home to several neo-Nazi extremist groups. Pulp, a public relations firm that counts Minds among its client list, posted a photo of the invitation the fringe social media site received to the White House for the summit.
So there it is. Trump blows off our allies. He humiliates their leaders and then their ambassadors. He keeps his own military and diplomats in the dark about everything. But he’ll huddle with the neo-Nazis to see what can be done in this sorry world now. This is what we signed up for, right? Were we that angry?