Europe

In Leaks, U.K. Ambassador Casts Trump as Ineffective and Erratic

LONDON — In a series of leaked diplomatic cables, Britain’s ambassador to the United States described President Trump as “radiating insecurity” and his administration as diplomatically “clumsy and inept,” a withering assessment that threatened to damage bilateral relations at a delicate moment for Britain.

The cables were published late on Saturday by The Mail on Sunday, which called them “The Washington Files.” They span a period from 2017 to the present and include candid assessments of American domestic politics and Washington’s treatment of Iran over its nuclear weapons program.

It is unclear who leaked the documents and how The Mail obtained them. But the British news outlet identified only one recipient in Britain: Mark Sedwill, the nation’s national security adviser, who became cabinet secretary in 2018.

As of Sunday morning, the White House had not commented on the leak, but Mr. Trump has been known to react badly to criticism. The British government recently hosted the American president for his first state visit, which included a lavish banquet at Buckingham Palace and a 41-gun salute — gestures seemed aimed at winning his good will.

As Britain barrels toward Brexit, set for Oct. 31, a hard exit from the European Union appears more likely, and Mr. Trump has repeatedly dangled an advantageous trade deal with the United States.

The British Foreign Office, which did not challenge the authenticity of the leaked documents, said in a statement: “The British public would expect our ambassadors to provide ministers with an honest, unvarnished assessment of the politics in their country.

“Their views are not necessarily the views of ministers or indeed the government,” it said. “But we pay them to be candid. Just as the U.S. ambassador here will send back his reading of Westminster politics and personalities.”

In the cables, the British ambassador, Kim Darroch, says that British analysts do not believe that the Trump administration “is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept.”

On Sunday morning, Nigel Farage, the Brexit Party leader who has a close relationship with Mr. Trump, called for Mr. Darroch to step down, calling him “totally unsuited to the job.”

The diplomat noted that Mr. Trump has regularly survived scandals in the past, and suggested that he could win a second term as president. “Trump may emerge from the flames, battered but intact, like Schwarzenegger in the final scenes of ‘The Terminator,’ ” Mr. Darroch wrote, referring to the 1984 science-fiction film.

He warned of “real risks on the horizon,” as Mr. Trump guided United States policy away from consensus with Britain. “This ‘America First’ administration could do some profoundly damaging things to the world trade system: such as denounce the W.T.O., tear up existing trade details, launch protectionist action, even against allies,” he wrote. “It could further undermine international action on climate change, or further cut U.N. funding.”

He noted that Mr. Trump’s decision to order a missile strike on a Syrian air base had been a political success, but warned that “a less well judged military intervention is not inconceivable.”

There is some history to the relationship between Mr. Trump and the British ambassador. Shortly after he took up the post in 2016, a memorandum by Mr. Darroch was leaked, suggesting that Mr. Trump would be “open to outside influence if pitched right.”

Mr. Trump then recommended, via Twitter, that his friend Mr. Farage, then the leader of the U.K. Independence Party, be appointed as ambassador to Washington in Mr. Darroch’s place. “He would do a great job!” Mr. Trump wrote.

A Downing Street spokesman responded swiftly that Mr. Darroch had the government’s support. A diplomat for 29 years, Mr. Darroch has served as Britain’s permanent representative to the European Union, as head of the Foreign Office’s press office and as national security adviser.

Among other revelations in the leaked cables:

• British officials cast Mr. Trump’s state visit as a strategic coup, writing that his team was “dazzled” by their reception. “These are close contacts, with whom we have spent years building relationships: These are the gatekeepers and the ‘Trump whisperers,’ the people we rely upon to ensure the U.K. voice is heard in the West Wing.”

• In a confidential letter dated June 27, 2017, and addressed to Mr. Sedwill and a handful of senior Downing Street figures, Mr. Darroch says allegations that the Trump camp colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign “cannot be ruled out.”

• Ambassador Darroch’s six-page letter gave a harsh assessment of Mr. Trump’s domestic accomplishments, writing, “Of the main campaign promises, not an inch of the Wall has been built; the executive orders on travel bans from Muslim countries have been blocked by the state courts; tax reform and the infrastructure package have been pushed into the middle distance; and the repeal and replacement of Obamacare is on a knife edge.”

• In that letter, the ambassador described the White House as “a uniquely dysfunctional environment” and said that Britain should be prepared for more outbursts from Mr. Trump. “There is no filter,” Mr. Darroch wrote. “And we could also be at the beginning of a downward spiral, rather than just a roller coaster: something could emerge that leads to disgrace and downfall.”

• The letter outlines Britain’s efforts to influence Mr. Trump’s thinking, writing that “it’s important to ‘flood the zone’: You want as many as possible of those who Trump consults to give him the same answer.’ So we need to be creative in using all the channels available to us through our relationships with his cabinet, the White House staff, and our contacts among his outside friends.”

• The ambassador advised against taking the path chosen by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France, who were shunning Mr. Trump. “I don’t think we should follow them,” he wrote, advising that British interlocutors should sometimes push back. “Arguably, you get more respect from this president if you stand up to him occasionally — provided the public comments do not come as a surprise and are judicious, calm and avoid personalizing,” he wrote.

• Another memo, sent on June 10, 2017, expresses skepticism about the project of deepening trading arrangements after Brexit, saying that “divergences of approach on climate change, media freedoms and the death penalty may come to the fore.”

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