Trump’s forbidden city

David Rennie in The Economist:

HI-RES-AKG3805602It says a lot about the Qing emperors’ worldview that, for much of the time their dynasty lasted, relations with foreign powers were handled by an Office of Barbarian Control. Jump to late 2016 and the dawn of the Trump era in America, and life for the nearly 180 ambassadors resident in Washington, DC is almost as humiliating. Before the election, modern-day envoys spent months talking to foreign-policy experts signed up with Hillary Clinton’s campaign – a veritable administration-in-waiting, housed in think-tanks, universities and consulting firms, comprising several hundred advisers organised into working groups and sub-groups and busy holding conference calls and sending one another memos. Even the farthest-flung country had friends within this system: a former National Security Council director with a passion for the Caucasus, say, who might soon serve as a principal deputy assistant secretary of state (an actual job title). In contrast, embassies anxious to know what Republican foreign-policy grandees were telling Trump faced an unusual hurdle. During 2016 dozens of conservative thinkers and bigwigs from both Bush presidencies signed “Never Trump” letters declaring the businessman a terrifying menace to global security – though since his win, Washington being what it is, some are now pondering whether they might work for him anyway.

For foreign envoys, Trump’s victory was as disruptive and confusing as a coup behind imperial palace walls. Diplomats and news outlets found themselves tracking down anyone with a sense of the new ruler’s thinking, from business partners to old friends to anyone in the small band of advisers who accompanied him on his journey from insurgent to president-elect. Even arranging phone calls of congratulation to Trump from heads of state and government was a source of angst. Foreign diplomats have spent days swapping wry tales of repeat-dialling the Trump Tower in Manhattan, the brass and pink-marble temple to 1980s style that has become the hard-to-access centre of American power, like a vertical Forbidden City. Some heads of government were offered calls with the president-elect at such short notice that they ended up talking to Trump on their mobile phones.

More here.