A series of scandals involving at least three British diplomats in the Middle East is cause for concern. Do these individuals really have their loyalties to their own country as their priority or is there something else afoot? And are the French catching on?
When Tom Fletcher took residence of the British Ambassador’s house outside of Beirut in 2011, the daughter of the former Ambassador likes to tell the story, that he patted a servant’s child on the head and said “now go and tell your father that Tom Fletcher is the new British Ambassador”. Fletcher was the new breed of ultra vain diplomat which the Foreign Office were delighted to introduce into the system, simply because they broke the mould of the old guard – phlegmatic unassuming grey men in grey suits who spoke with measured tones and managed to not have an opinion on anything; and could, wait for it, blog.
Fletcher was to stun us all with his addiction to tweeting and not letting one day pass without being photographed with a Lebanese doll on his arm – or an opportunity to be photographed and promoted, even going as far as posing as James Bond in front of Jaguar cars in a Beirut showroom for a local magazine. His level of personal vanity and narcissism was only matched by his extraordinary contempt for freedom of speech and the role of media in general, given his remarkable ability to hide behind a diplomatic veneer and dodge scrutiny from international journalists. Unless of course it was him who had masterminded the media event. Who could, after all, forget the hilarious gaffe of arranging for a Telegraph stringer to get taken on a Lebanese army HUEY to the Syrian border where there were British army-made ‘pill boxes’ (miniature military citadels) which Fletcher was delighted to stand in front of, face the camera and to shamelessly use to promote himself, albeit in the guise of talking about how the British Army was helping the Lebanese in the war against Syrian extremist groups. Or Assad army. Or whatever.
Oops. All hell broke out in the Foreign Office and Fletcher was forced to manipulate the media once again with a massive climb down by distancing himself from the media fiasco and issuing a firm “correction,” that of course, the British army were not actually part of a military campaign with the Lebanese army, etc etc.
It’s a dinner party anecdote which is still making hacks chuckle in Beirut today. But what really happened to the half a billion pounds of British aid which was destined towards Syrian refugees, which he continued to oversee, given now what we know about Lebanese political groups consider it their right to plunder international aid – in a country which is one of the most corrupt in the world? Does someone need to tell the foreign office that the Lebanese banking meltdown is all about an elite milking the country for every dime it has – and that this same elite was supported by the West?
Are we to assume that half of that money went to their bank accounts in Paris? Or more?
The new, all time low of British diplomacy, is doing more harm than good, both for London and for its host nations which accommodate it.
The new social media-friendly diplomat who is cool, simply because he writes a blog and does twitter, is actually becoming a liability, in an era where diplomats themselves are starting to panic, realising that they are entirely redundant in these times anyway.
The French always copy Le Rossbeef
What was the French ambassador in Tokyo Laurent Pic thinking to “warn” Lebanese business supremo Carlos Ghosn that Nissan bosses were planning a bloody ending for him as its chief boss – prompting him to break Japanese laws, let alone international ones, by flying to Istanbul and then on to Lebanon in private jets? Is that the correct role for ambassadors to play – to aid and abet international criminals revel in their contempt for international law?
When you can stop chuckling over the irony of Ghosn choosing Lebanon of all places to seek sanctuary, when he chose the words “corrupt” and “unscrupulous” when talking of Japanese government officials, there is a serious point to be made here about diplomacy.
Surely it is not for diplomats to assist – or give their tacit approval to – industry moguls like Ghosn to choose one group of corrupt and morally bankrupt money-grabbing thugs for another one, which, presumably are more receptive to the suitcases of cash which he arrives with at Beirut International airport? For the French ambassador to play such a role, one has to ask the obvious question: what’s in it for him?
Shouldn’t ambassadors, after all, if they are to take taxpayers money, be above any wrongdoing or personal benefit, by hook or by crook? I don’t know the details of Monsieur Pic, but I would bet that his next career move will be to a fat cat job in big industry which pays ten times his ambassador’s salary.
Naked in Rabat and Abu Dhabi
It’s a similar story in Morocco unfortunately. An ambassador, who is delusional, pompous and indulges himself with fits of rage and tantrums who is prone to thinking that he and his opinion is way above the importance of anything else, is leaving his post early due to the quirks of his personality finally blowing a fuse at the Foreign Office in London. Thomas Reilly’s narcissistic foibles have led him to indulge himself in talking about bigger issues above his pay grade, like the future relations between Gibraltar and Morocco, which managed to piss off, in perfect synchronicity, Spain, the UK, Gibraltar and Morocco in one single ejaculation. He had to go. But where will the self obsessed buffoon go to, many will ask?
“He will go for the money, in the private sector” I was told by an insider.
And so the only naked thing about the “Naked Diplomat” is in fact his shameful lust. Diplomacy now is being hijacked by greedy charlatans who see it as a perfect way to accelerate their careers into the super salaried jobs in, say, the energy sector or consultancy, that is if you’re any good. For those not quite up to scratch, academia provides the status as a compensation for the cash and it comes as no surprise to me that Fletcher, holed up in Abu Dhabi since 2015 as a visiting fellow of the NYU will finally take up a post this year as an Oxford colleague dean. Fletch’ just wasn’t that good. If he had the clout and the respect in the region, he would have been offered a high-flying job in the region, either by the royal family in the UAE, or the energy giants. Or even Erik Prince. In fact, if he was any good as a diplomat, he wouldn’t need to bad mouth a journalist to a group of visiting MEPs who came to Beirut in 2014 and were surprised by his skulduggery.
But others might make the dizzy heights of half million dollar salaries that oil money brings without the dirty tricks.
Oil giants running spooks?
Dutch-UK energy giant Shell may well have to offer Britain’s diplomat in Iran a fat cat job after his arrest for taking part in demonstrations in Tehran. Rob Macaire, worked for the foreign office most of his career before moving over to a Shell-owned firm – before jumping back. It seems to be a pattern by the energy sector to pluck diplomats out of service and then, like spies being turned as double agents, send them back to the world of diplomacy. And heaven forbid anyone suggest that Shell might profit by the downfall of the Tehran regime and that our man there is doing his best to assist that. Or that he may well end up running any new Shell-owned ventures in the event of regime change. Surely not.
Is Macaire really not part of a nefarious scheme by Shell? The same question will no doubt be answered by Reilly in Morocco if he goes back to Shell.
Unlike Fletcher, Reilly has the language skills and will probably surface soon, either back with Shell where he was before or with any of the French energy giants, if he can convince them that he has net worth. But three years in office as Ambassador in Rabat, which culminated in a scandal involving him putting his foot in his mouth, and which ended in his term being cut short, will be a hard sell – not made any easier by not one single big arms deal being nailed on behalf of UK firms and an international trade minister practically begging on the Embassy’s balcony recently in Rabat in a YouTube video clip for Morocco to invest in the UK. Perhaps Reilly will end up working for a UK royal charity as it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination that he didn’t cut the mustard at Shell – diplomacy therefore rescuing him. Certainly, his obsequious performance during a UK royal visit here still leaves many fighting the urge to projectile vomit when they remember him in full swing, practically on his knees and working the royals.
Was it Churchill who said that “diplomacy was the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way, that they would ask for directions”? He probably didn’t say that but nonetheless would be turning in his grave now when seeing the type of people London takes in as diplomats and how they use their posting as disgraceful career gentrification and commercial profiteering. Boris Johnson might want to take to task the revolving doors at the foreign office. Or is that revolving bores?