The consternation President Donald Trump has inspired in many Americans has perhaps been felt even more acutely by foreign diplomats, who have been trying to size up the American leader since he surged to the front of the crowded Republican primary field.
After the publication of full transcripts of Trump’s calls with the leaders of Mexico and Australia, some of those diplomats were able to have a laugh at his expense.
But the details revealed by the transcripts may not give them any more insight into dealing with the mercurial US president.
The day the transcripts were published, Jorge Guajardo, one of Mexico’s most senior diplomats, received several messages from colleagues about them.
“He’s the opposite of Teddy Roosevelt,” one official told him, according to McClatchy. “He speaks loudly and carries a small stick.”
The transcripts, published by The Washington Post, appeared to show that Trump didn’t understand the domestic political consequences that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto would face if he backed off his stance that Mexico would never pay for the border wall Trump touted as a central part of his campaign.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to around the world is laughing,” Guajardo told McClatchy. But that derision exists alongside a confusion about how to deal with the US president.
Trump has made Mexico a main target during his campaign and the first months of his presidency, and US and Mexican diplomats have had so many meetings that the latter’s Latin American and European counterparts have reached out for advice about dealing with the new White House.
As far back as spring 2016, foreign diplomats were expressing their frustration with Trump’s pronouncements.
“As the (Trump) rhetoric has continued, and in some cases amped up, so, too, have concerns by certain leaders around the world,” one foreign official told Reuters in March 2016.
Diplomats from Europe, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East all expressed concerns about candidate Trump in private conversations.
“The responses have ranged from amusement to befuddlement to curiosity,” a US official said in March 2016.
“In some cases, we’ve heard expressions of alarm,” the official added, “but those have been more in response to the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment as well as the general sense of xenophobia.”
Those diplomats appeared to have tried to play catch-up, however. In November, about 100 of them packed Trump International Hotel a few blocks from the White House in Washington, DC, to enjoy champagne and sliders as they listened a sales pitch about Trump’s newest hotel.
Dozens of those present told The Post that spending money at the hotel was “an easy, friendly gesture to the new president,” even as some of them expressed concerns about the propriety of such behaviour.
Lynn Van Fleit, founder of the nonprofit Diplomacy Matters Institute, told The Post at the time that much of the talk among Washington-based diplomats was about “how are we going to build ties with the new administration.”
For some, that enthusiasm appears to have curdled.
In the months after Trump’s inauguration, foreign officials came to see Trump’s unpredictability as incoherence — with his private assurances in some cases quickly undermined by his public announcements, usually via Twitter.
“Nobody can tell us on Russia what the American policy is, on Syria what the American policy is, on China what the American policy is,” one ambassador told The Post in April. “I’m not sure there is a policy. They will listen to me and tell me, ‘We will get back to you when there is a policy.'”
US diplomats have not always stayed silent.
In June, the acting US ambassador to the UK tweeted support of London Mayor Sadiq Khan after Trump criticised him via Twitter about security in the city in the wake of a deadly terrorist attack there.
Days later, the chargé d’affairs at the US embassy in Beijing resigned in response to the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.
“It’s an extraordinarily unusual situation for the Foreign Service,” R. Nicholas Burns, who was undersecretary of state for political affairs during the George W. Bush administration, told The New York Times in June.
“Americans and foreigners alike are trying to figure out what this new ideological strain consists of and where it’s headed,” Tom Malinowski, who was assistance secretary of state under President Obama, told the BBC in June. “You have to make adjustments. And you just batten down the hatches and hope things change sooner rather than later.”
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