At the outset of the Trump administration, Canadian ambassador David MacNaughton was at a reception for Grand Old Party bigshots. He recalls sidling up to the bar where he met a newly appointed U.S. ambassador whose candour jolted him.
The Republican revealed how much he had paid to the Trump campaign for his appointment. It worked as simple as that, he explained. The size of your donation determined the size of your position. He’d received a mid-level posting because he’d made a mid-level contribution.
Mr. MacNaughton was taken aback. In what tries to pass off as a great democracy but has become an affront to the term, diplomatic posts, he knew, were often awarded to big donors, but not to the extent of a formalized system.
In respect to U.S. President Donald Trump and the Ukrainian quid-pro-quo scandal, we are now learning about a fellow named Gordon Sondland. He was a well-heeled hotel owner with no government or diplomatic experience who had coughed up US$1-million for the Trump inauguration. He was appointed Ambassador to the European Union.
In his new job, Mr. Sondland loved throwing his weight around. He even had a buzzer, The Washington Post reports, that sent a signal to some lackey that his tea cup needed refilling.
The EU wasn’t big enough for his britches and so he extended his mandate to include Ukraine. Not that he knew much about the country, but no matter.
He connived with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Kurt Volker, the U.S. special representative for Ukraine, to make it clear to President Volodymyr Zelensky that he would not get military aid unless he undertook investigations of former vice-president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Long-time diplomats in the region were appalled by the work of this rank amateur. His handiwork contributed to the scandal in which Mr. Trump is now convulsed, his adolescent spasms on display daily. On Tuesday, the administration, probably with good reason, blocked Mr. Sondland from appearing before House committee impeachment investigators.
The Ukraine debacle offers just one of so many examples of how the foreign policy establishment has been neutered, how traditional American diplomacy has been shredded by Mr. Trump’s contempt for conformity. Foreign policy has now been reduced to whatever the swarm of wasps in his brain happen to come up with.
This week’s example saw the U.S. President announcing, out of the blue, a withdrawal of troops from northern Syria while giving the green light to Turkey to move on the country no matter what the impact on the Kurds.
Denunciations poured in, even from his own Republicans. “We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back,” tweeted Nikki Haley, the president’s former ambassador to the United Nations. “The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake.”
As he often does, Mr. Trump then equivocated, leaving everyone confused as to his real position. “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate,” he tweeted, “if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey…”
His “great and unmatched wisdom” had been on display with respect to Greenland and the blizzard of baloney he put forth on possibly purchasing that Arctic island. “It is an illustration of how diplomacy has been completely siloed into Trump,” former foreign service officer Brett Bruen said. Although the idea was wacko, the manic President showed how serious he was by cancelling a state visit to Denmark over its refusal to entertain the idea.
Whether it be Greenland, or his denunciation of “shithole countries,” or an off-the-wall call to Saudi Arabia vowing to get that country a seat at the G7 table, or his kowtowing to dictators, the capricious outrages never cease.
Early in his administration, he had some foreign-policy pros such as National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster to restrain him and get him to adhere to a systemic approach, an inter-agency process of policy development. But Mr. Trump chafed under the constraints, and that system, one that, faulty as it was, had been in place since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is gone.
All the while the results from the handiwork of the great deal maker are scant. No deals with North Korea, or Iran, or Russia, or China, or in the Middle East.
The swamp is drained, replaced with a septic tank.
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