Diplomats shaken for now after Britain’s US ambassador quits

Kim Darroch is a well-known figure in Washington. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 July 2019
0

Diplomats shaken for now after Britain’s US ambassador quits

  • Darroch resigned on Wednesday, citing the environment at the moment made it “impossible” for him to work
  • He said the US administration policy towards Iran is “incoherent” in one of the leaked cables

WASHINGTON: The abrupt resignation of Britain’s ambassador to the United States over leaked cables critical of the Trump administration may have jolted official Washington, but it’s unlikely to have a lasting impact on the US-British relationship or diplomatic practice.
Current and former diplomats say the leak of Ambassador Kim Darroch’s sensitive reports is unfortunate and alarming, particularly given the apparent political motive behind it. Yet, they believe any complications will be temporary even as they create short-term turbulence in relations.
“It’s a problem, but I don’t know that it has a chilling affect over time because in the end people have jobs to do and they do their jobs,” said Ronald Neumann, a retired three-time US ambassador who is the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. “It’s wrong and it’s too bad. Still, you move on because there’s work to be done.”
Darroch, a well-known figure in Washington, resigned on Wednesday amid an uproar over the candid cables, saying “the current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like.” The resignation followed President Donald Trump’s furious caustic response to the leaked cables in which Darroch offered candid negative views of his administration.
In the cables, Darroch called the administration’s policy toward Iran “incoherent,” said the president might be indebted to “dodgy Russians” and raised doubts about whether the White House “will ever look competent.”
Trump’s lambasting of Darroch on Twitter — he called the ambassador “a pompous fool” and “a very stupid guy” and criticized outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May — drew condemnation from both sides of the Atlantic.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is in the running to replace May, replied: “Allies need to treat each other with respect.”
Others suggested that Trump’s reaction proved Darroch’s point.
“Trump’s petty and vindictive overreaction not only reinforces the accuracy of Darroch’s portrait of him in his leaked cables, but further erodes an already complicated bilateral relationship,” said William Burns, a highly respected retired career diplomat who served as deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration and is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The State Department downplayed the fracas, saying: “The United States and the United Kingdom share a bond that is bigger than any individual, and we look forward to continuing that partnership. We remain committed to the US-UK Special Relationship and our shared global agenda.”
But Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the House intelligence committee, said Trump’s comments make the work of American diplomats abroad harder than they already are.
“Diplomats the world over, including ours, are expected to provide candid assessments and advice to their home governments,” he said. “If a foreign leader treated an American ambassador as President Trump treated the British ambassador, we would be up in arms, and justifiably so. “
In fact, US diplomats have already felt the consequences of leaked cables that laid out unvarnished and often unflattering impressions of foreign leaders and governments.
The 2010 publication by WikiLeaks of tens of thousands of classified and sensitive documents had a direct impact on at least three US ambassadors, including one, Carlos Pascual, who resigned as envoy to Mexico over fallout from cables critical of then-Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Pascual was traveling Wednesday and not immediately available to comment on any similarities between his resignation and Darroch’s.
Carnegie’s Burns, who was serving as the third-ranking US diplomat at the time, recalled that the leaks had “negative practical implications” for the day-to-day conduct of embassies.
“The immediate impact was to make US diplomatic missions more careful, so there is, at least initially, a dampening effect,” he said. “But, we got over it in time.”
In the long run, though, few believe damage to the “special relationship” caused this week will be severe or lingering.
“The state-to-state relationship is much more than one person, particularly with Britain,” Neumann said. “This is probably one of the least ambassador-dependent relationships we have, which is why we are able to send whoever we want to London, including some who are not so able.”


Amazon tribe in Brazil patrols territory, braces for fight

Updated 2 min 18 sec ago

Amazon tribe in Brazil patrols territory, braces for fight

  • Tension over territory reached a new height after a surge in annual fires
  • Some indigenous people who live in the Amazon say deforestation is encroaching on their lands and way of life

ALTO RIO GUAMA INDIGENOUS RESERVE, Brazil: Deep in the Amazon rainforest, there is talk of a looming conflict over land. The men in the Tembe indigenous group sometimes daub themselves in traditional war paint and patrol the forest. They carry bows and arrows, but feel increasingly vulnerable as they brace for run-ins with illegal loggers.

Tension over territory reached a new height after a surge in annual fires, usually set to clear land, devastated large areas of the Brazil’s Amazon region in past weeks. Some indigenous people who live in the Amazon say deforestation is encroaching on their lands and way of life.

The problem is old — and escalating. On Aug. 27, Tembe people who had repeatedly warned loggers to stay out of their reserve took action. On a forest trek, men from the Tekohaw village spotted loggers using chain saws, trucks and tractors to cut down and haul trees. The indigenous warriors recorded video. Then they intervened, letting the loggers flee before burning their machinery.

“We destroyed their machinery because they have been destroying our lives for a long time. Our life is the forest,” said Ronilson Tembé. On a recent jungle patrol, he was camouflaged from head to foot with leaves and carried a large red horn to summon companions.

The Tembe are proud of their triumph, but worry about retaliation. Police are monitoring makeshift sawmills around their land after the Tekohaw village chieftain filed reports of death threats. “Every day that passes, the invasion comes closer to our village,” said the chieftain, Sergio Muxi Tembé. He wore a colorful headdress of macaw and other feathers and a traditional bone bracelet on his wrist, next to a Casio digital watch.

“We don’t want to be killed by bullets,” he said. “We want the federal government to assume its responsibility and guarantee the right that we have to live in our lands, to live in peace.” Their 1,080-square-mile (2,766-square-kilometer) Alto Rio Guama homeland is officially protected. But in reality, it’s under siege by loggers who try to extract prized hardwood in a Brazilian state that is one of the Amazon’s largest producers and exporters of timber.

Like other Amazon states, Para has also been hit by thousands of fires that have intensified international concern about the world’s largest rainforest, considered a vital bulwark against climate change. An Associated Press team traveled for days in the Amazon to document the fires and deforestation on the remote indigenous reserve, which can only be reached by river or on rough roads.

On a recent day, a boa constrictor slithered in the sun on a red dirt road leading to Tekohaw, where about 600 members of the tribe live on the banks of the Gurupí River. Their life mixes tradition and modernity. Villagers fish for piranhas, hunt for birds, and pick fruits and take materials for traditional medicine from jungle trees, while some watch television or log on to the Internet on phones inside thatched-roof huts.

Like elsewhere in Brazil, stricter enforcement of environmental laws between 2004 and 2014 sharply curbed deforestation in the Amazon. The rate began climbing after that, and ramped up further as the fires escalated in early August, according to Brazilian state monitors.

Amid an international outcry, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro sent the military to help battle some fires and banned most legal fires for land-clearing in the Amazon for 60 days. However, he had previously promised to loosen protections for indigenous lands as a way to develop Brazil’s economy, a pledge that critics say has stoked clashes.

Bolsonaro believes past allocations of land to indigenous people were excessive. About 14 percent of Brazil is indigenous territory, a huge area for a relatively small population, according to the president. Brazil’s foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, said in Washington last week that the opening of the Amazon to development is “the only way to protect the forest.”

One expert on Brazil said the plight of the Tembe people is the direct outcome of government policy. “This leads to a situation where the lawlessness of the Amazon region ... becomes such that the livelihood of the indigenous people is under a real threat. And they don’t have a lot of capacity to defend themselves,” said Monica de Bolle, a Brazil expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“These are the people who live off the land, who do substance farming. They are very much aware of the environment around it and how to maintain it because that’s how they sustain their livelihood,” said de Bolle, who recently testified before US Congress about the Amazon.

Human Rights Watch said in a report released this week that deforestation in the Amazon “is driven largely by criminal networks that use violence and intimidation against those who try to stop them.” It blamed Brazil’s government for failing to protect the rainforest and people trying to protect it.

Those networks can “coordinate large-scale extraction, processing, and sale of timber, while deploying armed men to intimidate and, in some cases, kill those who seek to defend the forest,” Human Rights Watch said. It based its report on interviews with indigenous people and others in the Brazilian states of Para, Maranhao and Rondonia.

In Brazil’s Congress, lawmaker Edmilson Rodrigo from Para state made a call to defend the Amazon’s indigenous people, including the Tembe. “Land grabbers, miners, loggers have taken their lands and they’ve reacted by trying to protect it,” he said.
Women of the Tembe tribe said their men will suffer casualties if they get into a fight with loggers likely to have firearms. They hope an international donor can provide the men with bulletproof vests.

“Our husbands go to look out after our lands, and this is our only weapon,” said Anailde Tembe, the chieftain’s wife. She lifted a bow and a sheaf of feathered arrows.