Trump not the first to face diplomatic criticism: U.K. ambassador called Clinton White House ‘chaotic’ in 1994

Trump not the first to face diplomatic criticism: U.K. ambassador called Clinton White House ‘chaotic’ in 1994
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Bill Clinton’s White House was “chaotic” and having “fits” over a series of scandals involving the president, Britain’s U.S. ambassador said in a 1994 memo.

Robin Renwick, Britain’s man in Washington between 1991 and 1995, set out what he described as “Clinton’s roller-coaster ride” in a frank diplomatic cable to London.

His briefing, sent to the Foreign Office and Downing Street in May 1994, suggested the president was “weak on foreign policy” and overly “preoccupied” with the views of the media.

The blunt assessment of Britain’s closest ally has echoes of the remarks by Sir Kim Darroch which this month inflamed tensions between the two countries. Sir Kim resigned as ambassador to the U.S. after leaked diplomatic cables revealed he called the Trump administration “inept” and “insecure”.

However, newly declassified documents reveal that similarly unflattering accounts were being given a quarter of a century earlier. Renwick observed of Clinton, who entered office in January 1993: “This administration is the obverse of that of (President George HW) Bush — strong on economic and domestic issues, and weak on foreign policy.”

At the time of the ambassador’s memo, Clinton was facing accusations of sexual harassment relating to his time as governor of Arkansas, from state employee Paula Jones. The cable said: “The personal stories have taken their toll on Clinton’s popularity. No one believes the full Paula Jones story, but the thought that the president might have to testify in court against her gives the White House fits.

“They are having to claim immunity against personal accusations while he is in office.”

It suggests the impending resignation of key advisers, Lloyd Cutler and David Gergen, could cause the administration further uncertainty. “White House organization remains chaotic, with Cutler and Gergen both likely to leave by the end of the year, and the political team still trying to operate as if they were in a campaign,” Renwick claimed. “The president enjoys thinking about, discussing and talking issues to death. He tries not to make up his mind until the last possible moment … there is an excessive preoccupation throughout the White House with the media, which, of itself, tends to result in negative media coverage.” His wife Hillary was described by Renwick as “indisputably the single most powerful influence on the president”.

Downing Street memos suggested the U.S. president and John Major, the prime minister, enjoyed a warm relationship, with Clinton pulling out “all the stops” for his visit to Washington in February to March 1994.

Encounters with other key figures were remembered less fondly, however. Sir Roderic Lyne, Major’s silver-tongued private secretary, said of one meeting with Richard Holbrooke, then the U.S. assistant secretary of state: “As forecast, we were treated to heavy dollops of bombast, name-dropping and soft soap by Holbrooke. As we parted, he gave me a tear-jerking homily on how he wanted to put the ‘special’ back into special relationship.”

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