- - Thursday, July 11, 2019

Diplomacy isn’t always diplomatic. Kim Darroch, late the British ambassador in Washington, had several choice things to say about what he thinks of President Trump, and now he’s gone. He put his remarks in a cable (more correctly called a “cablegram”) to London and a busybody in the Washington embassy or the Foreign Office in London leaked them to a London newspaper, the Mail on Sunday.

Much of what Mr. Darroch said was familiar to readers of The New York Times and The Washington Post, or to viewers of CNN and MSNBC. President Trump is “inept.” The White House is “uniquely dysfunctional.” The White House is riven by “factions.” The president has connections to “dodgy Russians.”

The leaked cablegram calls to mind the leaking of American diplomatic cablegrams nearly a decade ago. In that case, Wikileaks released 250,000 stolen cablegrams by U.S. diplomats in dozens of world capitals, which came to light on the front pages of many of the world’s leading newspapers, including Der Spiegel of Berlin, Le Monde of Paris and the Guardian of London.

The result was spectacular embarrassment for all hands. Diplomats, to no one’s surprise, often write harsh and unkind things about the leaders of their host countries. That’s what ambassadors are paid to do.

Mr. Darroch, a popular diplomat in Washington, suffered more than embarrassment. Like the chagrined American ambassador to Mexico after the Wikileaks cablegram dump in 2010, he resigned, and will return to London. The career foreign service officer’s fate was sealed after President Trump, who is famously thin-skinned and does not appreciate the power of wit and the light touch, administered a Twitter thrashing of Mr. Darroch.

“The wacky Ambassador that the U.K. foisted upon the United States is not someone we are thrilled with, a very stupid guy,” the president tweeted. “He should speak to his country, and Prime Minister May, about their failed Brexit negotiation, and not be upset with my criticism of how badly it was handled. I told @theresa_may how to do that deal, but she went her own foolish way — was unable to get it done. A disaster! I don’t know the Ambassador but have been told he is a pompous fool. Tell him the USA now has the best Economy & Military anywhere in the World, by far.” This was the president’s version of the schoolyard boast that “my daddy can lick your daddy, and I’m the daddy.”

Ambassador Darroch resigned well ahead of his scheduled January departure. “The current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like,” he said. Boris Johnson, the man most likely to succeed Theresa May as prime minister, pointedly neglected to say something nice about Mr. Darroch during the fracas, and Mr. Johnson’s conservative rival, Jeremy Hunt, who is fast becoming an also-ran in the race to succeed Mrs. May, had expressed ritual support for her ambassador.

Piers Morgan, the English commentator on CNN, had typically flayed Mr. Darroch. “It’s completely untenable to have an Ambassador continue in his job after such a fiasco has wrecked all credibility with the country he is supposed to be working with,” he said. “If Sir Kim genuinely held such grievous concerns about the president of the United States, he should have imparted them to the Prime Minister in person. To commit them to a digital imprint knowing full well the inherent danger of doing so was incredibly dumb. Rather than build bridges as he was supposed to do, he’s burned them.”

Mr. Morgan, like other excitable voices on both sides of the Atlantic, seemed to think the ambassador had “single-handedly” poisoned the decades-old special relationship” between America and Old Blighty. This is more than a bit over the top. The special relationship, forged in the heat of two world wars and several smaller conflicts, is based on more than politics. It’s a shared history of fundamental law, religion, language and literature that make up what the French sometimes sneer at as the culture of “the Anglo-Saxons.” The special relationship sometimes frays at the edges, but it endures.

Diplomats of every country must retain the latitude to write frankly about what they discover about the countries they are serving in. That’s a vital function of a foreign service. Mr. Darroch might have erred in predictable and pedestrian ways in his judgment of President Trump, but the sin and crime here was the leak. If diplomats constantly fear that their cablegrams risk becoming leaks their role as conduits of information will be diminished. That would be a tragedy for all the world’s capitals.

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