‘Who would want to be a diplomat now? Civil servants are judged as though they are reality TV contestants, while reality TV stars have inherited the Earth.’ So writes one of the Guardian’s sharpest columnists, Marina Hyde, in the wake of the resignation of Britain’s unfairly attacked EU Ambassador, Sir Ivan Rogers, and the characteristically mad, public suggestion by Donald Trump that his fellow know-nothing, Nigel Farage, would make a great British ambassador to the United States. And this before it was revealed that the next president had required the departure of all political appointees holding US ambassadorial posts by the date of his inauguration. Marina Hyde might nevertheless have mentioned – although probably took its significance to be too obvious – that Trump’s incontinent tweeting, emulated in varying degrees by some other political leaders, massively complicates the work of, and thereby further demoralises, professional diplomats. What is to be done? Jesuits faced by persecution, I learned recently, acted on the maxim: silence, exile, cunning. Distant foreign postings no longer give diplomats the degree of protection akin to that provided by political exile that was once the case, but they can still offer some – and are, indeed, still occasionally used for this purpose. They are also trained to speak and act with guile. They should be encouraged, too, by considering that the world has a way of turning, that diplomats will soon be seen to be needed more urgently than ever, and that Donald Trump – for all his juvenile grotesqueries – believes in ‘deal-making’ and rightly attaches high priority to improving relations with Russia.
G. R. Berridge is Emeritus Professor of International Politics, University of Leicester and Senior Fellow at DiploFoundation. His DiploFoundation course Diplomatic Theory and Practice starts next week.