It must be a tremendous relief upon retiring from a long career in the world of international diplomacy to be able to finally reveal your true feelings as a private citizen without fear of retribution towards your native country.
Gérard Araud, who served as France’s ambassador to the United States up until this past Friday, certainly took advantage of his new found freedom to express his own views in an uncensored forum when he gave a farewell interview to the influential journal of international affairs, Foreign Policy Magazine.
In his frank discussion with the publication, Araud began with some advice to French President Emmanuel Macron: make sure that the next ambassador has a healthy constitution and a strong heart to be able to withstand the wild ride the Trump administration will take them on.
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He gave as an example his advisement to the French government last May that they could rest assured that Trump would not make any decisions regarding withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal — a deal that France was a part of through the European Union — because his White House contacts had assured him that there was no meeting scheduled to discuss Iran.
Just a few days later, Araud learned that “Donald Trump didn’t need a meeting” or a discussion with his advisors — even when making decisions of momentous importance to foreign policy — when Trump suddenly and unilaterally withdrew from the treaty.
President Trump presented quite a contrast for the French ambassador whose tenure bridged an Obama presidency that he described as “a normal working administration” headed by a more introverted, thoughtful, and well-prepared president and Trump whom he called “an extrovert” with “really a big mouth, who reads basically nothing or nearly nothing, with the interagency process totally broken and decisions taken from the hip basically.”
The departing ambassador described his shock at going from a situation where White House aides were “able to explain to you what the president was thinking or what the president was going to do. And suddenly it’s the opposite. A lot of offices are still empty. It’s amazing—after 55 months, a lot of people are changing overnight. It’s the fourth G-7 [emissary] we’ve had in the White House in two years! So the first problem is we have nobody in the offices or if they are there, they’re going to leave. But on top of that, even if you have somebody in the offices, they don’t know what the president is going to say. And if the president has said something, they don’t know what he means.”
That even America’s most stalwart traditional allies are aware of and deeply concerned over the chaos in the Trump administration is shockingly revealed by the impression of dysfunction at the highest levels that Araud relates.
“Very often even the secretary of state is surprised by a presidential announcement,” the former ambassador disclosed. “When there was the announcement on Dec. 19 about the U.S. withdrawal from Syria, nobody was aware of it, including the director of the CIA. And for the [decision to concede Israeli sovereignty over the] Golan Heights, what I understand was that the secretary of state was not informed. So it means the job of the ambassador has become much more complicated”
Asked how his diplomatic mission was complicated by Trump’s habit of making major policy announcements — as well as attacking his perceived opponents — via Twitter, Araud shared the advice he gave his colleagues in the French government on how to deal with Trump’s tweet’s — simply ignore them.
“He once criticized the French president [Emmanuel Macron], and people called me from Paris to say, “What should we do?” the ambassador said. “My answer was clear: “Nothing.” Do nothing because he will always outbid you. Because he can’t accept appearing to lose. You have restraint on your side, and he has no restraint on his side, so you lose. It is escalation dominance.”
Free from the burden of having his words carry the weight of official French policy, Aruad responded honestly when asked whether Trump’s re-election in 2020 would be a disaster for the West.
“I’m sure it won’t be a good thing,” he replied, before advising his successor to travel around the country to avoid beltway blindness to the concerns of everyday Americans outside of Washington DC.
While most of us expected that the Trump administration would transform America’s conduct of foreign affairs and affect our relationship with our allies, the depth of the alienation and confoundment that Araud’s exit interview reveals is truly concerning and only adds to the reasons that Democrats must begin impeachment proceedings as soon as possible.
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Original reporting by Michael Hirsch at Foreign Policy.