Kim Darroch Had to Go
Like many fellow Americans, I was shocked when our President was able to bully the UK’s ambassador to the United States, Sir Kim Darroch out of his ambassadorship. By all accounts, he is a well-respected and eminent diplomat and it is common practice for ambassadors to make frank appraisals of the countries in which they are serving. However, given America’s comparatively powerful executive branch, the integral nature of the Anglo-American partnership to global security, and the risk Darroch’s continued posting as ambassador places on that partnership, Kim Darroch had to go.
Article II of the United States Constitution states that, unlike Britain, America has an independent and unitary executive branch. That is its officials are independently elected or appointed instead of being necessarily drawn from, or simultaneously serving as members of the legislature. Its powers are largely independent of the legislative branch. While Congress can impeach executive officials, they could only do so on account of treason, bribery or high crimes and misdemeanours. In other words, it could only happen in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Furthermore, the executive is unitary. That is to say that it functions as a singular body and is ultimately accountable and subservient to the president. The Trump presidency has practiced what is considered the “strong” unitary executive theory -- that the president is the sole arbiter of the executive and can fire officials at will, evidenced by the firings of Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson. With at least one newly-appointed Supreme Court justice, Brett Kavanaugh, and dozens of new federal judges being adherents to this theory, it is likely that President Trump will continue to commandeer the executive branch as he pleases.
This places Britain in an unfortunate situation. Given President Trump’s personal attitude towards policy and his evident offence at Darroch’s private comments, Trump can utilise his powers over the unitary executive to effectively shut Britain out of key intelligence-sharing and defence operations. For example, the Five Eyes alliance, allowing for intelligence sharing and joint intelligence gathering between Anglophone countries operates under the UKUSA agreement, which was agreed upon by the American president, not by Congress. Hence, unlike laws that compel the executive branch to undertake an action, the executive branch can choose to operate or not operate under the agreement. Therefore, if President Trump wanted, he could stop sharing and gathering key intelligence with the United Kingdom and other Anglophone countries. If any civil servant or executive official chose to not comply with President Trump’s orders, they would be fired and replaced with someone who would follow President Trump’s directive. Indeed, he already indicated non-cooperation with Darroch, who would be a key point of contact between any joint efforts. This is a dangerous proposition. If Darroch was allowed to stay for even five more months, Trump could have limited joint intelligence gathering and sharing for those five months. In those five months, Russia could have intensified their ongoing disruption campaigns against western democracies, China could have used their sizeable influence over western information services to gain an upper-hand in intelligence gathering, Iran could be more effective in disrupting trade in the Strait of Hormuz and radical Islamic terrorists may have been less effectively monitored, opening the door for additional attacks and violence.
The potential damage does not stop there. President Trump has a peculiar ability to transfer blame and anger. While Darroch made less-than-positive comments about the president, he went on to criticise Prime Minister Theresa May for her handling of Brexit. If Darroch remained, there is no doubt that President Trump’s anger would expand to the British government, and indeed whoever becomes Prime Minister following Theresa May. This animosity may lead Trump to limit indefinitely or cease cooperation with Britain. Even worse, Britain could be put into a poor position post-Brexit, unable to negotiate a free trade agreement with the United States that could be the saving grace of the British economy if Britain leaves without a deal on the 31st of October. More fundamentally is the loss of mutual trust -- if the British government will face punitive measures for undertaking a routine measure, other allies would no longer feel as closely allied to the United States as they once did. From NATO to the UNDP, a wide range of key international projects would be put at additional risk if Trump continued to lash out against America’s closest ally--implying other allies can also face the same punitive measures and lack the president’s trust, reducing their willingness to cooperate with the U.S. While there is no doubt the removal of Darroch is deleterious to the Anglo-American relationship, the alternative, of Darroch staying would result in a further deterioration of relations, an additional loss of trust, one that the rest of the world would be watching and reacting to. Even if a more amenable candidate wins in 2020 or 2024, the years of feeble and fickle cooperation would mean rebuilding that trust, rebuilding cooperative mechanisms in trade, defence and more would be a difficult task.
The Anglo-American relationship has been one of the world’s most successful in history. Together, we eliminated the menaces of Fascism and Communism and built a rules-based world order that largely, but perhaps imperfectly kept the peace. If Kim Darroch remained, there is no doubt President Trump would have been increasingly punitive, destroying years of assiduously-built trust and cooperative mechanisms and opening a pandora’s box of diplomatic furore. Darroch’s resignation was the least worst option.
Spencer Shia is President of The Conservatives Association at University College, London