Diplomatic home-truths: They can kill you, and, even if not literally, they can cut careers short. Ask the UK’s former ambassador to Washington.

Kim Raddoch’s personal diary may look remarkably light of late, and it is not inconceivable that this senior and widely respected diplomat will be called upon to pass on valuable and much needed advice to aspiring civil servants in the Foreign Office. One wonders what sort of insights he will give future professionals. One of them surely must be that ambassadors can only do their job properly if they find themselves in a position to deliver candid and frank assessments of the government they are engaging with. But he will also stress that preserving such confidentiality is the cornerstone of any modern statecraft. Following theleaking

of diplomatic cables to the Daily Mail newspaper in which Raddoch delivered a scathing assessment of the Trump administration, the US President went on a twitter tirade not just offending and belittling the ambassador himself but also the Prime Minister. Though, it was not his twitter feed that vanquished the UK’s chief diplomat in Washington, but, rather, he fell on his

sword

due to political infighting and intrigue in the governing Conservative Party and its ongoing leadership contest, likely to produce another controversial Prime Minister in Boris Johnson. This view is widely

supported

by foreign policy professionals as well as political analysts and eloquently

put

by former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband who warned that there might be additional leaks in the offing; indeed, his predictions have subsequently been

proven

accurate, and, as he rightly suggests, there is a Brexit element to this saga. Even if transparency on all levels is the indisputable lifeblood for any democracy, it would be foolish and naive not to recognize that, in narrowly defined situations, confidentiality and even secrecy are inevitable prerequisites, and this is certainly the case in diplomacy, particularly when senior diplomats assess the governments they have to work with. The likelihood of further leaks will be incredibly detrimental to the British Civil Service as a whole, especially when such leaks occur not out of conscience, but because of political intrigue and maneuverings for political power and positions. Therefore, the attempts by

Scotland Yard

to track down the leaker and uncover his or her motives must succeed quickly.

Speaking to

Radio Atlantic

on this entire matter, long time US career diplomat Thomas Pickering provides perhaps the most profound, nuanced and reasoned assessment of the implications of what we have witnessed unfolding in recent days by going far beyond the often touted special relationship between the two countries. He also relates his own thoughts on the White House and its diplomatic posturing around the world, believing that what happened will potentially complicate the ambassador’s job as a career choice considerably. Since the close relationship between the UK and the US is much larger than Trump and the white House, the longterm repercussions may not be of much importance after all is said and done. However, as is plainly obvious by now, despite Brexit the UK remains much more closely aligned with its European partners on some of the most controversial issues of global significance. For example, the UK did not support the US administration in withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Iran, and, like most other EU countries, London is also skeptical about the policies pursued by the administration regarding the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Trump’s occasional unilateralism on trade, particularly relating to China, also causes considerable and frequent headaches in most European capitals including London. In this sense alone, leaving fanciful rhetoric aside, the question is what has truly remained of this ‘close relationship’ between the two countries.

Except for the commander in chief and a few of his more unworldly advisors, there has not been any particularly hostile reaction to Raddoch’s comments, and whilst it has become fashionable these days to assume that only our generations live in uniquely complicated times and deal with unprecedented challenges on a global scale, history teaches all of us otherwise and helps cool fraying tempers quickly. Most foreign policy professionals know that diplomatic scandals are nothing new, of course. The

XYZ Affair, for example, which led to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 was much more serious in scope, edging the young country ever closer to a full-fledged and costly war with France. Domestically, the mentioned Alien and Sedition Acts tarnished the reputation of the second US President John Adams who was in general a much under-appreciated statesman.

Thankfully, recent historiography has started to rehabilitate the man somewhat, and some scholars go even as far as to talk about ‘Adamsian Democracy’. What matters in this context is to remember that, not withstanding the personal tragedy involved for a capable civil servant, the Raddoch Affair, if such terminology is at all applicable, will pail in comparison; the spectacle we have been treated to here is largely one of political trivia and nothing more.

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