Back in 2001, while I was still on active duty in the Air Force, I served as a military adviser to the ambassador at the U.S. State Department charged with overseeing investments and other activities in the former Soviet Union.
My job was to ensure to the best of my ability that work done in the former Soviet states (FSS), such as Kazakhstan, Moldova, and don’t forget Kyrgyzstan, did not provide any “inappropriate” technology to the leaders of these countries. It was a pretty complex job, with lots of work in areas that would not necessarily come to mind. Diplomacy, as it turns out, is hard work. Then President Bush and Secretary Powell understood and appreciated such efforts.
This last week I was reminded of one factor that was always considered in decisions about the FSS: the cables from the various ambassadors with boots on the ground in those new nations. These cables, always classified, contained frank, direct, and highly informative information about a wide variety of issues related to the particular country. Much of the cable traffic was dry and full of numbers on exports, imports, GDP estimates and more. But some of the cables were glimpses into the personalities of the leaders in question. These reports might contain thoughts about the U.S. ambassador’s gut feelings about an issue or a person, and it could be filled with detailed information that would be, let’s say, “awkward” should the info become public. I bet you already know why this came to mind, right?
It seems that the United Kingdom is in need of a new ambassador to the United States. The person who held that job for quite a while resigned the post when some of his cables home were leaked in the British press, including much of the “frank and direct” type of talk I mentioned before. Let’s just say the former ambassador does not hold Donald Trump’s intellect and acumen in high regard.
I’m not sure Mr. Trump actually knows that usually diplomacy is carried out in confidential cables rather than by Twitter, and for some reason, being called “wacky” and “a pompous fool” by the ambassador caused Trump’s notoriously thin skin to be deeply wounded, it seems. Rather than take the comments from the representative of what is usually called the U.S.’s most important partnership, with a “special relationship,” Trump assumed his usual petty position on Twitter, to include calling the ambassador — a man with a long and distinguished diplomatic career — “whacky” and a “very stupid guy” and then decided to also declare that he had told Prime Minister May how to “fix” the Brexit problem (you know, “art of the deal” and other deep insights), but she ignored him for some reason. You should read the president’s full tweet storm; it’s highly informative, though not in the way Mr. Trump hopes.
But do you know what also popped out at me in all this misbehavior? Yup, Gov. Polis and Sen. Bennet. Bet you didn’t see that one coming, eh?
A front page story on ColoradoPolitics.com told of the governor’s decision to speak to the Western Conservative Summit. That group is, to say it mildly, not too liberal? Calling it far right feels about right, and Polis will be the first Democratic governor to speak to the group. And good for Polis, I assert, in that it is both fitting and proper for political groups to hear from people with opposing views, with respect, which appears to be the Polis game plan.
And back when I was the chair of the El Paso County Dems, and Senator Bennet was running in his first election, I observed his car stop outside the venue, and instead of coming over to me and a group of supporters, Bennet made a beeline to the small group of anti-Bennet protesters, to introduce himself and to hear their thoughts. I was impressed.
So, where does that leave us? Sadly, with a national leader who would rather engage in petty spats on the internet than to look deeply into the British cables in hopes of getting a better sense of how he is coming across to our vital allies. Nope, better to call someone stupid, I guess.
I’m so happy that in Colorado, we have leaders such as Polis and Bennet, and in the same way former Gov. Owens, who seem to feel that opposition is not being un-American but rather is something to learn from. I doubt Mr. Trump will ever learn that lesson, and that’s a pity for all of us.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.