The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at and repair. Douglas Adams, ‘Mostly Harmless’
Donald Trump is not making friends. Just before his inauguration as president, he opened fire on the USA’s most important allies. In an interview published by the German ‘bums and tits’ newspaper, Bild and The Times (strange partners but then no accounting for taste, is there?) on 15 January he ridiculed NATO as being ‘obsolete’, reprimanded Angela Merkel for the German government’s policy on accepting asylum seekers and appeared to promote breaking up the EU that he called a “vehicle for Germany.” Those comments followed another bolt from the blue when the outgoing ambassador to the EU, said that officials from Trump’s transition team had been calling EU leaders to ask which country would leave next? François Hollande led a set of damning attacks on him, followed by other EU leaders with anything but praise as they arrived at a summit in Malta to discuss the future of the union. Hollande described Trump’s recent comments as unacceptable and made it be known that there would be no future for the EU’s relations with the USA unless that future is defined in common. Other leaders were just a little less scathing but then they mostly do not only have a few weeks left in office, so there was considerably more than tut-tutting over his immigration policy and the bans he put in place. Well, except that judges have been blocking his block. Anyway, to rub salt into an already open wound, EU lawmakers then put on an exceptional show of unity when two of the main political parties in the European Parliament both said they are against Trump’s choice for ambassador to the EU.
Who needs friends when you have SuperTed Mk2?
The proposed ambassador is Ted Malloch, a businessman cum diplomat, albeit he does not appear to know much about diplomacy, who supports Brexit. He is an old friend of Trump, whose first noted utterance was that the USA will not tolerate a European Union dominated by Angela Merkel’s Germany. How strange, coming from a nation where their view is that the USA should dominate the entire world! He added that his pal, sorry I meant Mr Trump, will only deal with countries on a nation-by-nation basis and that Britain was still a major European power post-Brexit and that would be crucial in all US relations with the EU. So, he clearly does not know about Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and that it has still not been invoked, let alone a couple of years of negotiations started.
He then went on the offensive against Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator who, not that it is of course influential, called for Brussels to reject the ambassadorial appointment. Malloch thus said that only America would choose American diplomats and if the EU dared to intervene, there would an “equal measure of response in Washington”. If he really had any serious diplomatic experience then he would know that diplomatic law that regulates such decisions was agreed by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The protocol is that the government of a nation to which an ambassador is assigned must first approve the person. OK, the EU is not a nation state, but let’s just say that if there is already a diplomatic exchange we can forego that minor detail. It is possible that now and again, the receiving government might turn down a proposed ambassador or reverse approval by declaring the diplomat a persona non grata, which is to say an unacceptable person, which given his manners thus far Malloch is. Whilst the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations grants an ambassador and embassy staff diplomatic immunity and personal safety they are expected not to interfere with the affairs of the state they are placed within. Malloch has already clashed with Brussels when he made himself out to be some kind of political Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘Terminator’ when said that he helped bring about the decline of the USSR and would like to do a similar thing with the EU; his exact words when interviewed on BBC news was: “I had in a previous career a diplomatic post where I helped bring down the Soviet Union. So maybe there’s another union that needs a little taming.” His claim is quite extraordinary given that history has recorded that the Soviet Union had grown so large that it arrived at the point where it became unmanageable to continue state planning, thus actual causes were many including mounting ethnic conflicts, a lack of support for the ideological proposition of communism, which in reality the Soviet Union had never practiced because Lenin and Stalin in turn abandoned the higher ideals of that system along with massive economic problems caused by focussing on arms production whilst neglecting consumer manufacturing and agriculture. Despite attempts to reform by Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union fell apart because it failed to reorganise and restructure. Where and how Ted Malloch fits in the picture is a mystery. That is unless the script for the American superhero who did it all is still in the hands of scriptwriters and Hollywood is still waiting before the blockbuster appears. However, back to diplomacy. Take a deep breath, here we go.
The would be ambassador and the made up mayor
Malloch also decided to lay into Jean-Claude Juncker by saying he had been a “very adequate mayor, I think, of some city in Luxembourg and maybe he should go back and do that again”. Juncker has had a long political career, more or less since he finished studying in fact. His first post was when he was appointed as a Parliamentary Secretary to the Luxembourg government. He was later elected am member of the Chamber of Deputies, eventually became Minister for Finance, then later was twice Prime Minister and was also Luxembourg’s representative on the 188 member board of Governors of the World Bank before becoming President of the European Council then in 2014 became President of the European Commission when he was elected under the provisions established by the Lisbon Treaty. So, Mr Malloch, as a proposed diplomat, was firing undiplomatically from the hip in saying what Juncker had been that, in fact, he had never been.
Guy Verhofstadt and the leader of the European People’s Party, Manfred Weber, accordingly sent a letter to Mr Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk requesting that Mr Malloch would not be granted the role because of his, as they put it, “outrageous malevolence against the values that define this European Union”. Furthermore, they added, “We are strongly convinced that persons seeing as their mission to disrupt or dissolve the European Union, should not be accredited as official representatives to the EU.” One of the key points was also that such statements would: “… have the potential to undermine seriously the transatlantic relationship that has, for the past 70 years, essentially contributed to peace, stability and prosperity in our continent.”
A letter from Gianni Pittella, the leader of the Socialists and Democrats group, describedMalloch’s statements as ‘shocking’ and recommended the EU treat him as a persona non grata. He expressed the S&D group’s view as: “Mr Malloch openly expressed himself to be in favour of the dissolution of the EU, to be ‘brought down as the Soviet Union’ and wants to see the demise of the common currency within months, clearly show[ing] Mr Malloch’s hostility not only toward the European Union as such but also to our common values and principles. We firmly believe that ignoring this unacceptable stance would undermine our future relationship with the US administration and could potentially contribute to the spread of populism and Euroscepticism across Europe. Therefore, the S&D Group is clear that Mr Malloch should not be accepted as an official representative to the EU and should be declared a ‘persona non grata’.”
“I’ll be back!” ~ “Oh no you won’t”
Malloch has responded with a tit-for-tat threat that the credentials of proposed diplomatic appointments to the USA could be treated similarly and with further sabre rattling language a kind of they can’t do this irrespective of the fact that for a nominated ambassador to the EU to receive accreditation as head of a mission in Brussels, that person requires the approval of the Commission and the European Council along with that of member states and the European External Action Service, which is the EU’s equivalent of a foreign office. Malloch’s credentials as an experienced diplomat appear to be in tatters at best. Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, put a nice little finishing touch to the proposed rejection when he said: “Mr Malloch has made a series of public statements denigrating the EU, which threaten to undermine our traditionally strong relationship with the United States. The last thing we need in Europe is more nationalism, exported by the Trump administration. We demand that his accreditation is rejected.”
Further developments on Pitella’s part have yet again knocked holes in SuperTed Mk2’s claims. Pitella refers to one of his books in which Malloch claims to have been nominated for an Emmy award, dubbed the ‘genius’ and ‘global sherpa’ by Margaret Thatcher at the beginning of a 1992 speech and asserts he was ‘knighted’ by the Queen. Whoops! The production company behind the documentary film says it was submitted but never nominated, a video of the speech shows that Thatcher said no such thing and that whilst he received the medal of St John in 2005, it does not carry the right to a title or attending an investiture with the Queen. It may be she has never even heard of him. The title of the book, his autobiography, is ‘My Life Behind the Elite Curtain as a Global Sherpa’. Like some of the more famous Sherpas, they climb to great heights but many have fallen.
The French (Dis)Connection
Perhaps Trump was hoping it had all calmed down, so went ahead and put his ban on citizens of particular nations and people with recent visits to the same entering the USA. In response, 52 European politicians associated with the European Council on Foreign Relations called on EU leaders at the summit meeting in Malta to stand up to Trump regarding his executive order on immigration. Together they wrote that it “condemns entire nations and prevents refugees who have committed no crime from finding safety, making an international response to the refugee crisis all the harder. It also risks setting back co-operation on terrorism while stimulating ISIS’s recruitment.” They also stated that the EU should present a united front in defence of human rights, launch a rule-of-law mission to assist EU citizens in American ports and airports and “think about European security … in a more consolidated and responsible fashion”.
Just when all seemed to be quiet Trump tweeted his response to an attack in France that coincided with his contentious travel ban on citizens from several Muslim countries, which he claimed is essential to protect America from terrorists, but has since been has been at least temporarily undone by judges’ rulings in defence of the US Constitution. The text of his tweet is as follows: ‘A new radical Islamic terrorist has just attacked in Louvre Museum in Paris. Tourists were locked down. France on edge again. GET SMART U.S.’ It caused outrage in France when he was accused of attempting to capitalise on the attack with a whole row of non-facts in such few words. A response by a Frenchwoman using the pseudonym Engie Wild has proved very popular and has gone, as one says, viral on the Internet. Rather than try to recount the entire story here, please go to http://www.thelocal.fr/20170207/french-woman-tackles-trump-on-goes-viral-in-america to peruse another example of his widening gap with what is rapidly becoming a former ally.
Second to none
Between Hollande and Engie Wild it would appear that for those of us living in France we should probably be in fear of imminent invasion or at least Trump playing with the red button he is now probably ‘bigly’ considering. In fact, if anything, the new leader of the free world, well as he may consider himself to be, whilst considering building a wall between the USA and Mexico, might as well begin to build it along both coasts, up to and across Canada but not forget Alaska, Hawaii and one or two other bits of Americana that also need to be quarantined. Perhaps with the series of videos being almost mass manufactured by satirists that began with The Netherlands’ video ‘The Netherlands welcomes Trump in his own words’ that is easy to find on YouTube and other sites, followed since by France, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Kazakhstan, Austria, Australia, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Morocco, Mexico, Croatia, Namibia, Fryslân (Friesland in response to [the rest of] the Netherlands), Bulgaria and Mars, plus a few I have probably not yet come across, they need to secure themselves against world laughter. They are asking, using a parody of Trump’s “America first!” slogan, if they can be second.
I have not, but stand corrected if I am wrong, found one from the UK as yet. However another international spoof has gone viral when a Scottish television programme schedule advertised the inauguration ceremony as an episode of the ‘The Twilight Zone’. It was soon shared widely across borders, thus providing a glimpse into how the international community perceives the USA’s new political reality. Given the way Brexit is being waved through parliament like sheep into a fold, perhaps what was once the most dynamic and funniest satire in the world is too stunned by the actions of their own political head of state’s autocracy and the fate being brought to bear on the people of the UK.
Perhaps the best thing to do is to follow the advice of the late Douglas Adams, in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ when he wrote: “Don’t panic.”