While Donald Trump is busily cuddling up to the Putins and Erdogans of this world, he shows great determination to show the real diplomatic foe of his United States the depth of his courage and his principles when it comes to the forceful conduct of U.S. foreign policy à la Trump.
Case in point? The European Union mission in Washington, officially the Delegation of the European Union to the United States. The ambassador, David O’Sullivan, should have had a hunch of what was to come when he had not been invited along with his colleagues, the ambassadors of the 28 EU member states, to a couple of briefings at the State Department, as is customary.
A short while later came the revelation that this was not an administrative oversight, but an intended move to underscore Trump’s disdain for the EU and its Brussels-based bureaucracy.
On the very day of the funeral of George H.W. Bush — a committed transatlanticist if there ever was one who occupied the Oval Office — at the National Cathedral in Washington, Ambassador O’Sullivan discovered he had been downgraded on the list of the diplomatic corps.
The understanding of the situation necessitates, unfortunately, a little dive in the fine points of diplomatic protocol. Ambassadors to the United States are ranked according to their seniority, i.e., the date when they presented their credentials to the White House.
However, until 2016, the EU ambassador was part of a second, less prestigious list, made of representatives of so-called plurilateral organizations such as the Organization of the American States (OAS) or the African Union.
In order to reflect the new diplomatic competences given to the EU and in view of the creation of its EEAS diplomatic service, which is headed by Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Obama administration had decided to “upgrade” the status of the representative of the Union to that of a “regular” ambassador.
This allowed Mr. O’Sullivan, who had taken up his post in the U.S. capital in November 2014 to move up the queue and reach the enviable 27th or so position on the list, albeit far away from the dean of the diplomatic corps, the ambassador of the Republic of Palau, wherever that is.
But hey, no so fast. Here comes the new U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. He claims to head the Department of Global Swagger (DGS), but really seems to be to U.S. Secretary for Pettiness and Small-Mindedness and. In a very courageous and principled act underscoring the superiority of the Trump Administration over all things European, Pompeo kicks the EU ambassador down the list, without any notification, and sends him in effect to the back of the queue.
Tempest in a diplomatic teapot?
Is this just a tempest in a diplomatic teapot? A case of over-excited or excitable Europeans? Not really. It smells much more like a fully intended move to translate the deep hostility of the Trump administration toward Europe into diplomatic protocol.
Lest we forget, the U.S. President himself has called the EU a “foe,” on a par with Russia and China in a CBS interview in July last year. And he told his official news network, Fox News, in October that the EU is possibly as bad as China.
The current Secretary of State, His Master’s Voice Mike Pompeo, has made this hostility clear in a speech he delivered in Brussels to the German Marshall Fund, a think tank the establishment of which is itself a testimony to the strong links between Europe and the United States. But that now seems like ancient history.
In that speech, Pompeo warmed himself up by taking various swings at the United Nations. He chastised the UN for the fact that its “peace keeping missions drag on for decades” (not unlike the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, mind you).
Pompeo then turned his guns at the Paris Agreement “which would’ve siphoned money from American paychecks and enriched polluters like China” (fake news).
Then, he turned himself into a democracy defender of sorts, asking: “Is the EU ensuring that the interests of countries and their citizens are placed before those of bureaucrats here in Brussels?”
This is a traditional populist anthem directed against the Commission’s bureaucrats. The fact that Pompeo obviously did not mention is that the entire staff of the European Commission — the presumed European super-government that oppresses the peoples of all member countries — amounts to a mere fourth of the bureaucrats of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The latter, according to a standing joke in Washington, D.C., now exceed the total number of active farmers across the United States.
Not to be outgunned
Although Secretary Pompeo’s pompous speech had set the bar very high, the Secretary of State was surpassed a few days later by his own ambassador in Brussels. The man in question, Mr. Gordon Sondland, comes to the job with impeccable professional credentials. He used to run Provenance hotels – a chain of boutique hotels – and gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee.
Now that he is a top diplomat, he has apparently forgotten all the skills one typically picks up in the hotel business. Sondland, apparently eager to get closer to Trump beyond the money trail he established requisitioning the job in Brussels, mistakes his role for that of proconsul or Viceroy of Europe.
A few days after Pompeo’s speech, in a long interview with Politico, the “ambassador” sounded pretty much like a mob hitman. He threatened to “do what we have to do” to “fundamentally fix the (trade) imbalance” (hint: starting with the right economic policy mix in the United States would be the best, and only, way to do it).
Hardball Sondland then hit various targets: Germany over Nord Stream 2 — as if his colleague in Berlin was not intense enough in barking orders at German companies. Next up was France — over its military procurement policy and defense industry (funny when the United States imposed trade restrictions on imports of steel and aluminum under the phony guise of “national security”).
And, of course, taking on the military budgets of NATO members could not be far behind, although the ambassador to the EU might want to learn on the job that he has a U.S. Ambassador colleague in the same town who is in charge of NATO.
Words, but also deeds
Adding insult to injury, and to slap Europe in the face for its support of the JCPOA (the nuclear agreement with Iran), His Pomposity is organizing an anti-Iran conference in Warsaw in mid-February.
The Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz is eager to please his American master. Perhaps he believes that his submissiveness will advance the Polish cause of build a permanent US military base on Polish soil.
He faces just one little problem: Many of his European colleagues will not attend the Pompeo European Summit on Iran.
The conference is a very transparent attempt at reviving the old Donald Rumsfeld strategy of opposing Old vs. New Europe. It also plays on Poland’s longstanding desire to suck up to Republicans in Washington.
While the Democrats in Washington and the Mueller investigation seek the legal proof for collusion between the Trump campaign and Putin’s Russia, the political evidence for that collusion is already in: Putin and Trump have the same objective of weakening the EU and hurting its member states.
What should the EU do?
As far as the matter of the ranking of the EU in Washington’s diplomatic protocol book is concerned, there is an easy answer for the EU.
The key motto of the Trump administration should apply here: tit-for-tat transactionalism.
Let Brussels kick Mr. Sondland to the end of the ambassadorial queue. After all, is he anything but the representative of a failing state – if not already failed state — the Disunited States of America