Trump’s hissy-fit over Darroch will blow a chill wind across Britain’s embassies in the Middle East
The betrayal of our man in Washington sends a message to every British diplomat: don’t criticise the dictators or their cops or their torturers. Stick to the cocktail circuit. And whatever you do, don’t tell the truth
Just for a moment, let’s forget poor old Kim Darroch. Let’s jump a couple of days in front of this news story. Let me tell you how his utter humiliation and sacrifice at the hands of Trump – and with the connivance of the man who will probably be the next British prime minister – will affect the Middle East.
Let’s go first to Riyadh where, just off Al Khawabi street, stands the British embassy, wherein labours Simon Collis, our man in Saudi Arabia. He’s previously served in Bahrain, Tunis, Amman, Dubai, Qatar, Damascus and Baghdad. In other words, he’s an old Arab hand. He’s also a Muslim convert and the first British ambassador to make the pilgrimage to Mecca.
But right now, Collis is going to be thinking very carefully when he reports back to the Foreign Office about the Kingdom upon which he must report fully, fairly and truthfully for his government. For all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten his reputation if The Leaker gets his hands on the diplomatic bag from Riyadh.
For it’s Collis who must report on the antics of Mohammad bin Salman, the author of the blood-soaked Yemen war and, according to the CIA, the dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi.
I don’t presume to guess what Collis says about this very dangerous man. But he must surely have told his masters that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is – at the very least – uniquely dysfunctional, incompetent and inept. Or words to that effect. This would apply to both the Yemen slaughter and the chopping-up of Khashoggi.
Much worse has been said about bin Salman, and I doubt if he’d throw a Trump-like hissy-fit if he learned that Simon Collis had written so unkindly of him. But I doubt if a leak of the ambassador’s “dipreps” would garner many more invitations to the Royal Palace. It would not ease the passage of the next tranche of weapons which we plan to sell the plucky little prince for possible air raids on Yemen.
Collis wouldn’t be dismembered. But a prince’s anger can embrace an ambassador or two, and at 63 – two years before retirement – Collis’ professional life would come to an abrupt halt.
Now let’s fly up the northern coast of the Gulf and across Sinai to Cairo, take the half-hour taxi journey into town and gaze upon the magnificent Nileside embassy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Here, in Cairo’s Garden City suburb, Sir Geoffrey Adams, our man in Egypt, political descendant of Evelyn Baring and Myles Lampson, composes his regular reports to the Foreign Office. His dispatches must contain the latest and most terrifying reports of the police state which field marshal-president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi runs with cruel efficiency, after deposing the government of the country’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi.
Sir Geoffrey must have reported the death of Morsi in his trial cage last month. And he must have told the Foreign Office his views on the ruthless president, of Sisi’s Pharaonic dreams of a new Cairo, his useless “enlargement” of the Suez Canal, his outrageous incarceration of 60,000 political prisoners, his state police torturers, and the corrupt financial basis of the Egyptian army’s wealth.
At the very least, Sir Geoffrey – an old Etonian, another old Middle East hand (Tehran, Jeddah and Jerusalem) and at 62 only three years from retirement – must have described Sisi, president with a Saddam-like 97.08 per cent of the vote, as uniquely incompetent, dysfunctional and inept. Or words to that effect. And if he did – and if his eloquent “diprep” to London fell into the hands of The Leaker – I don’t think the vain and over-sensitive field marshal-president would think kindly of Sir Geoffrey.
Indeed, I do suspect that in Cairo he would at once find himself frozen out of all government invitations. The Egyptian media, so lickspittle that television presenters dressed up in military costume when Sisi staged his coup against Morsi, would, I fear, tear Sir Geoffrey to pieces. And home, I fear, he’d have to go, with or without having the rug pulled from beneath him by his cowardly prime minister-to-be.
And now a trip north across the Mediterranean to the bleak hilltops of Ankara where Sir Dominick Chilcott KCMG, a former deputy ambassador in Washington and private secretary to two foreign secretaries (Rifkind and Cook), must regularly report on the dictatorial and equally Pharaonic dreamer who banged up 50,000 political prisoners after the attempted coup against him in July 2016, including thousands of judges, teachers, academics and journalists.
Only slightly dented by his loss of Istanbul in recent elections, Recep Tayip Erdogan’s grasp of the Turkish economy is slipping, yet his police state appears as strong as ever, his plan to build a massive new canal between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara overshadowing even Sisi’s “new” Suez Canal.
Erdogan treats critics like stinging nettles and cuts them down, impulsively cursing the European Union and Russia (until Putin threatened to destroy Turkey’s economy), and rules from an Ottoman Palace whose very chairs are painted in gold.
Sir Dominick must surely have described Erdogan as uniquely dysfunctional, incompetent and inept. Or words to that effect. But The Leaker would quickly put a stop to such nonsense on the part of our man in Turkey. Erdogan would have not the slightest hesitation in giving Sir Dominick his marching orders – whether or not the bounder who must surely become his prime minister back home chucks him under the only tram in Istanbul.
We could travel further in the Middle East – to Iran, for example, where Nicholas Hopton (diplomatic alma maters: Rabat, Sanaa, Qatar) – enjoys the lawns of his residence in the cool summer of north Tehran, but whose regular dispatches to the Foreign Office must occasionally have described the entire Islamic Republic as uniquely incompetent, dysfunctional and inept. Or words to that effect.
And then – yet again – let us imagine that The Leaker strikes once more. In an immensely proud nation whose sense of betrayal by the West over its nuclear deal – a betrayal all too real – Iran’s supreme leader would surely have no hesitation in ostracising Hopton and encouraging him to take the next available flight to London out of the Imam Khomeini International Airport (economy class, I suppose, for this would be Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit Britain).
Our ambassadors do not always get it right, of course. One of Hopton’s predecessors woefully supported the Shah in 1979 long after his overthrow was inevitable. One of Collis’ predecessors ended up successfully persuading a British civil servant to abandon the fraud enquiry into the UK’s most valuable arms deal with Saudi Arabia. But by and large, they try to tell the truth. And let’s remember this.
For Sir Kim Darroch’s mistake was not to call Trump’s White House incompetent, dysfunctional and inept. The error of the British ambassador to Washington was not that his comparatively mild reproof of the US administration was leaked. It had nothing to do with whether Darroch was – or was not – “a very stupid guy” or a “pompous fool”, to quote the inept and dysfunctional and faction-riven US president. Besides, Arab diplomats have often told me they find UK ambassadors pompous.
No, poor Sir Kim’s act of original sin – his ultimate, unspeakable and unforgivable deed of wickedness and iniquity, his very malevolence-made-manifest – was to tell the truth.
This, and this alone, is what lies behind the utterly childish, nay infantile, “crisis” now enveloping the would-be British prime minister Johnson – bombastic enough, but too cowardly to stand by Kim’s “right to report” – and the Tories and the Brexit party and the UK civil service and the whole circus of babies now clowning Britain out of Europe.
This is serious stuff. So let us re-write Darroch’s ambassadorial report to the UK government. Let us suppose – for just a moment of fantasy – that Her Majesty’s man in Washington had penned an encomium of such flattering, Boris-like, Farage-inducing, May-grovelling praise that Trump responded by tweeting his admiration for so eloquent a diplomat.
The US president would surely have urged Britain to extend Kim’s retirement date sine die, would have told Boris Johnson to sign him up as the next UK foreign secretary, or even – let us not get carried away with realism when it comes to the White House – a possible future British prime minister.
And if The Leaker decided to scatter the reports of Messers Collis, Adams, Chilcott and Hopton around the Daily Mail newsroom, how much happier would be the final years of their diplomatic careers if they called their local Middle East autocrats “good guys” – Trump’s own description of Sisi – whose democratic credentials, while slow to be established, were leading their countries into the broad sunlit uplands of freedom and justice? You can see where this kind of thing can go.
Now I don’t believe British diplomats would write that kind of garbage, even if a future prime minister might encourage them to do so. After all, if you sail into power on an ocean of lies, you might as well let the lies go global afterwards. For Sir Kim’s betrayal – and that is what it was – sends a message to every British diplomat: don’t criticise the dictators or their cops or their torturers. Stick to the cocktail circuit. And whatever you do, don’t tell the truth. That would be in line with a Boris Johnson premiership.
So I guess our men in the Middle East will just have to go on telling the truth. But to avoid The Leaker, they should perhaps, after writing each “diprep”’, seal the document in a paper envelope, and, their report (typed, not printed from a laptop) tucked into a zipped-up inner pocket, take a flight to London (again, economy class) and a taxi to the Foreign Office. And here they might – if they trust the new foreign secretary – insist on handing the envelope, by hand and in person, to their boss. And, if Boris Johnson is prime minister, they should make sure the paper doesn’t later drift across the road to No 10.