Ben Roback is a Senior Account Executive at Cicero Group and a member of the US Embassy’s Young Leader’s UK programme.
At face value alone, the aftermath from the London terror attacks looked like a momentary lapse in UK-US relations.
In a response that would not have been expected of previous presidents – and reflecting his own unique approach to the White House job and communication – President Trump tweeted his reflections on the incident to over 31 million Twitter followers.
Failing to acknowledge the incident and stand in solidarity with the UK, the President instead used the chance to double down on his own political positions, criticising Mayor Sadiq Khan and later linking the attack to his proposed travel ban.
The response from President Trump was curious, in treating Mayor Khan like one of the celebrity opponents he likes to bait after a red carpet rant or awards show monologue. With nothing obvious to gain and only the risk of creating distance between himself and a city with whom he already has a chequered past, the rationale for the response remains unclear. This was a city in mourning, not an enraged Meryl Streep.
Politically, the response may have done more short-term harm than good. Though appeasing the President’s core support by reiterating his calls for a travel ban, the online clash only served to distract from the White House’s core message for this week around the launch of a new infrastructure plan.
Taking to President Trump’s preferred platform for mass communication, the US State Department and Embassy in London tweeted messages of support with London from Chargé d’Affaires ad interim Lew Lukens. There were over 11,000 re-tweets and 29,000 likes in the message commending the “strong leadership” of Mayor Sadiq Khan. It was, in many respects, the real response from our closest ally.
President Trump’s Twitter outburst and subsequent doubling down against Sadiq Khan proved the ongoing importance of the diplomatic relations that underwrite political relationships held between Westminster and Washington.
Whereas new administrations often result in a shift of political priorities and with that a change in the importance of relationships, diplomacy runs far deeper, and are better measured in generations rather than governments. Based on years of engagement, it forms the basis of relationships required at a political level by the government of the day.
In London, that relationship is fulfilled by the US Embassy and Foreign Office; they have built and continue the build the foundation on which the ‘Special Relationship’ is based. Investing in relationships at an early stage, the US Embassy has prioritised future engagement by rolling out programs like Young Leaders UK, the brainchild and project of former US Ambassador Matthew Barzun.
Those relationships and programs should remain a source of optimism as the US and UK press ahead with what is set to be a period of even closer integration post-Brexit. We will need our most important ally just as they will need us. For that relationship to flourish, diplomacy will be continue to be paramount.