These days, the whole world is keenly looking at the situation in the United States. Since mid-September, when news of the controversial phone call recording between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky first broke, the most celebrated democracy in the world has been going through major political turmoil. During a diplomatic phone call, Trump was allegedly heard asking for a “favour,” talking about “Biden’s son” and calling the former US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch “bad news.”
It is widely perceived that this ploy was a quid pro quo in order to get Ukrainian prosecutors to investigate Vice President Biden’s son and testify about alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 general elections and in return for a $400 million (€361.5 million) military package. Now, an impeachment inquiry has begun and on 15 November, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch testified in the public hearing.
Trump’s tweet and what does the US constitution mentions
One of the most unexpected incidents of the inquiry so far was the tweet about the former ambassador posted by Donald Trump during the live public hearing, stating that “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.” He also asserted that it is his ‘absolute right to appoint ambassadors.’ The irony is president is forgetting the provisions mentioned in the constitution of the country.
Indeed, it is his right to appoint ambassadors and can recall them whenever he thinks the time has come but this right is not ‘absolute.’ The charter of Article II of the U.S constitution grants the president the power to appoint ambassadors ‘with the advice and consent of the Senate.’ Surely, in a democratic country, this cannot - and shall not - be perceived as an “absolute power”? The US constitution is one of the finest examples of a ‘checks and balances’system between different organs of the government. As such, the constitution doesn’t grant any kind of absolute rights over foreign policy to any one part of the government but vests a balance of power mainly between Congress and the Executive branch.
The timing of the tweet intimates that the president is trying to attack his political opponent for the purpose of an election campaign. This is not a good sign of a healthy democracy.
How does this affect the equilibrium of the US’ international relations
One thing is for sure that the present situation will have consequences on the status quo of the US current relations overseas. There may be some strain in US – Ukraine relations because of the public impeachment hearing, although these strains will not be visible publicly but at a diplomatic level. The reason for this is quite obvious given, per the alleged content of their phone call, President Zelensky agreed to ‘co-operate’ with Mr Trump to some extent. This might not affect the already tainted image of Trump among international observers and various international bodies, but surely it will have dire consequences on the international image of recently-elected Zelensky.
Also, the direct attack on Ambassador Yovanovitch, a witness who was testifying during the public hearing, sends an inappropriate signal to all US Foreign Service officers and attachés as well. This could all have been avoided by a wiser leader.
Gordon Sondland, the US’ Ambassador to European Union, has also come into the picture while the public hearing was going on. The net effect of his involvement, at least at a diplomatic level, will surely be the undermining of the US at upcoming meetings between Sondland and other European diplomats.
Moscow, of course, will be the one most amused by this peculiar crisis. This incident is a gift landing in the lap of Mr. Putin, who now has some validation to say that Russia, while it may not have a ‘healthy democracy,’ doesn’t go through the level of crisis which is gripping the world’s most venerated democracy.
The Kremlin, too, will have an edge over Ukraine. Amid any potential diplomatic strain in US– Ukraine relations, it becomes easier for Moscow to increase its strategy of manipulating publich opinion in Ukraine.
Trump is no stranger to diplomatic blunders
People who follow international relations closely might not be too surprised by the alleged talk between the two leaders in question during the phone call.
In September, Trump publicly committed another diplomatic blunder when he announced that he was ‘ready to be an arbitrator’ in the highly conflicted Kashmir region between India and Pakistan. What’s more, he said, the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi had asked him to play a role. In the subsequent few days following this announcement, officials at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs openly denied any request of mediation. Furthermore, the White house itself remained silent on Trump's remarks.The incident serves to chalk up yet another point in the overall score of Mr Trump’s hitherto diplomatic blunders with his counterparts.
Spare the diplomats. They aren’t politicians (at least most of them aren’t)
If the Trump-Zelensky phone call is perceived as a gambit to gain “foreign assistance” in the next presidential elections in 2020, then why is it that Ambassador Yovanovitch unfortunately paid the price for speaking out?. Many other diplomats might work as a ‘political puppets’ in their career but surely not all.
At least in the world’s vanguard democracy, diplomats should be spared from the political game-playing and avoid scorn being poured on them. They are diplomats and not politicians for a reason.
- Jaimin Parikh is a diplomatic researcher and currently engaged with European Institute of Policy Research and Human Rights.
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