How Trump's Rhetoric Complicates Foreign Diplomacy

Apr 6, 2020

It's been two months since President Donald Trump's impeachment trial concluded in the U.S. Senate. The president was charged with obstructing Congress and abuse of power, which hinged on Trump’s conversations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The case involved many U.S. diplomats, highlighting their often unseen work.

Diplomats are the source of so-called soft power around the world, building relationships with foreign governments and working in the interest of the United States. Although diplomats serve at the pleasure of the president, they often maintain their positions under multiple changes in leadership.

But things have changed. The Trump administration has left many diplomatic positions unfilled and accused some of being disloyal, either to him or to the United States, which he sometimes uses interchangeably.

"The impeachment process brought to the forefront this disparity, or sometimes even difficulty, of politicians to understand the difference between their own political interests and the national interest," says Nicholas Kralev. He's the executive director of the Washington International Diplomatic Academy, an education center that trains people in the art of diplomacy. 

"In many of the statements we heard from the White House, from the president, from his lawyers, it became clear to me — and I think many other people — that he believes his own interests came before or above the national interest," says Kralev.

"In many of the statements we heard from the White House, from the president, from his lawyers, it became clear to me ... that he believes his own interests came before or above the national interest."

Kralev emphasizes that diplomats are generally uninterested in domestic politics, and instead focus on pushing the objectives of the United States internationally. Unfortunately, Trump's ephemeral approach to politics has led to cascading problems, domestically and internationally. 

"The most important things for a diplomat are credibility, consistency, and predictability, right? None of those words really have anything to do with Donald Trump. He's the opposite of all these three words," says Kralev.

He continues, "So when you go to a foreign government and you give them your word, what are they going to say right now? They're going to say ... 'You cannot give me your word because there is not guarantee you can keep your word, because who knows? [Trump] will wake tomorrow morning and send out a tweet that's exactly the opposite of what you just told me.'"