If you read this column on a regular basis you know that I’m an Anglophile. No, it doesn’t mean I’m afraid of angles. It means that I greatly appreciate most things from the UK. As such, some of the business I do in DC has led me to attend first-rate social and business receptions at the British Embassy. That’s where I met the former British ambassador who resigned this morning.
Sir Kim Darroch is a nice man. He’s witty, articulate, and friendly. I’ve met him a couple of times. Never for more than a photo op or a momentary chat. The man struck me as an excellent diplomat. But he seems in this matter to have been crashingly indiscreet.
Can’t blame him in a sense, as we all say untoward things when we think only our close associates are listening. Sir Kim, in a diplomatic “letter,” as opposed to the more widely distributed diplomatic telegram or “diptel,” ragged on President Trump and the administration as “inept,” “insecure” and “incompetent.” At least he has a talent for alliteration, if not for subtle transatlantic protocol.
There was added brutal candor from his view, but you’ve probably already read the other slights. The president, given that he is this president, responded in kind and then unofficially PNGed (stands for persona non grata. It made Darroch a non-person to the administration) Sir Kim. That directly led to his resignation. Though all sides in this brouhaha knew that the ambassador, being a known Europhile, would have been replaced anyway by the incoming Johnson government.
But the wider issue is the attitude of the British leadership (it stretches across party lines) towards America. During my military service in Europe, since then socially and professionally, I’ve known scores of Brits. I think they are among the best people in the world. Not just because they are our closest ally and cousins. For me, aside from my fellow Americans, there are no funnier or erudite people than the English, no braver than the Scots. Will admit to not knowing a lot of Welshmen or Ulstermen. But I can do a decent rendition of “Men of Harlech” in a pinch.
However, their views of the U.S. can be clouded by befuddlement and myopia.
The befuddlement stems from the fact that it is hard for them —it’s the same with Euros— even after over a century to wrap their head around the reality that a clumsily rambunctious historically teenage nation such as ours is in a role of world leadership. They and the Euros worked and strived for that status for a thousand years, only to see it all come tumbling down after WWI. That the U.S., relative bumpkins, parvenus, uncouth, gullible colonials, could replace them in the global catbird’s seat is exceedingly strange to many of their top people. Hence the compensatory condescending words of Sir Kim towards the president and his team.
Some Brits say they see themselves as Greece to our Rome. Hardly. They really see themselves as Greece to our suburban Little Rock on a slow weekend.
By the way, for anybody even remotely associated with the government of Theresa May to call another leader or government “inept” and “dysfunctional” is the tea pot calling the kettle black. He should have thought better, even in private communication. Sir Kim should have known that when you write something down in government, as we see here, it is prone to public exposure. He should have made a phone call on a secure line. Not immune from compromise, but not as easy as this.
The myopia, readily apparent for all to notice in publications like The Economist, is that certain of them do not understand how any even semi-civilized people (to them we barely qualify) can live in a leading society not structured around UK/Euro social and political norms. Case in point: Guns.
I have had dozens of conversations over the years that featured Brits bemoaning to me the “American obsession with guns.” When I try to explain that guns to us are the longbow at Agincourt or the broadsword at Stamford Bridge, as they settled the land, defend us from enemies, and safeguard our freedom from tyranny, I am met with incredulous looks as if to say, “Didn’t know you still had an Apache problem.”
Thus for numbers of representatives of the former Empire who look wistfully back to the Edwardian era, we in the states don’t cut the cultural and historical mustard. We don’t have proper tone. To them we never have and never will and it grates on them.
That attitude is likely at the center of the Sir Kim issue, why the ambassador said what he did, and why this morning he became toast. Trump just wasn’t British-lite enough for him. Saving that, the president wouldn’t even pretend to be, and being the Leader of the Free World, the president was bound from the beginning to win this match.
As opposed to my theoretical presidency, where I’d knight most GOP members of Congress, have the Third Infantry troop the colors in front of the White House every day at noon, and appoint myself (ala Churchill) a general officer in all the military branches and wear the heavily ribboned uniforms to wallow in it.
Probable incoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson was born here in the U.S., is a pal of Trump, and is a conservative. All of which bespeaks a natural affinity with America and the better strata of our society. In a debate for the Tory Party leadership last night Boris defended the special relationship and not the ambassador. His opponent, Jeremy Hunt, looking for a “Love Actually” moment, defended Sir Kim. Boris might have lost that point with the audience but he easily won the debate.
Prime Minister Johnson will set this minor kerfuffle right and restore equilibrium to the special relationship. He’d better. For after this column the new ambassador could PNG me from embassy parties.
And that would be a true breach of transatlantic protocol.