Trumpest in a Teapot: On the new U.S. Embassy in London


In typical “presidential” fashion, that man in the White House tweeted that he would not go to London to open the U.S. Embassy, because we got a bad deal on the Embassy.

Maybe if it had more gold? New U.S. Embassy in London

Now this does little for State Department morale or Anglo-American relations. It is entirely possible that the “bad deal” is a convenient excuse for skipping a trip in which the president would be greeted by large, loud, unhappy crowds and unpleasant meetings with frosty British counterparts. Although he does fawn over royalty, this trip would probably not feature golden orbs and the queen would not be gauche and let him fondle the royal sceptre.

But let’s take the president at his word, he thinks we got a bad deal on the Embassy. That does not mean that we did (the details are not public.) It is also an open question as to whether or not the president’s judgment on what constitutes a good deal — even in real estate, where he is supposedly an expert — is very good. Consider this snippet from a profile of Trump confidant Tom Barrack:

But let’s pretend the U.S. got a bad deal on selling its old Embassy and building the new one. Does it matter? Is it an issue worth the president’s time and energy?
I chided candidate Barack Obama for promising to go over the budget line-by-line. It is a waste of time. Spending a day to kill some minor initiative and save a little money is not a terrific use of the president’s most valuable and limited resource – time.
Of course the president could delegate this to the Secretary of State, that just eats up the Secretary of State’s time and energy – which is also in short supply.
(No doubt at this point readers – should I have any – are asking why this is in TerrorWonk about national security rather than VeepCritique, where I talk about presidents and stuff. We’re coming to that.)

But there is something else going on. If Embassy construction issues are raised at the presidential or even secretarial level that will engage their counterparts in the other country – who will not appreciate having this relatively minor issue on their desk. But, if the U.S. insists, they will consider it, but now it becomes another card in their hand. If they help the United States on this issue, they will expect certain things in return. 
Most importantly, however, U.S. relationships with other countries exist in time and space. Our relationship with any given country is not a one-off, it continues. A thing done in the past affects what happens in the future. At the same time, what the U.S. does in its relations with one country shapes how other countries see the U.S. So if the U.S. is seen as nickel and diming its closest ally over an embassy, to save maybe a few hundred million dollars (which in the context of a multi-trillion dollar budget is chump change) that will have a cost. The U.K. will see us differently (we have a special relationship, but we dare not take that for granted – it can fray.) Other countries too will see us differently, and change their behaviors accordingly.
On the other hand, given this president’s penchant for impulsive actions in highly volatile situations that could have disastrous consequences – maybe it would be for the best if he focused real estate deals.

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