Today, the new U.S. embassy in London opened its doors to the public. It is an impressive embassy — befitting the United States, a global leader, in the capital of its closest ally, Great Britain (also a global leader).
In the ordinary course of things, the U.S. president would have been there. But Donald Trump was absent, tweeting the following:
“Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for ‘peanuts,’ only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!”
Within hours, this statement was contradicted by the president’s ambassador in London, Robert “Woody” Johnson (the pharmaceutical heir and owner of the New York Jets). (The Jets had a miserable season in 2017. Diplomacy in London has had a better one, no matter what our problems.)
Our new embassy was ordered by the administration of George W. Bush, for we are in an age of terror, and we have the corpses to prove it. In August 1998 — three years before 9/11 — Islamists bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. They killed more than 200 people. And 9/11, of course, further concentrated our mind.
We got serious about regulations. For instance, embassies should not be so close to streets.
In London, our embassy was smack in the heart of things — Grosvenor Square, Mayfair — and it was almost impossible to secure. As Ambassador Johnson says, “We had to move to a location that could better protect American citizens and our British neighbors.”
He also points out that the new embassy — the most expensive one ever built — “did not cost the U.S. taxpayer a cent.” The money was raised by selling off other U.S.-government properties in London.
Why did the president cancel his trip to London? It seems that he feared large demonstrations against him (which is not exactly abnormal for the president of the United States). Also, he and the British prime minister, Theresa May, had a public dispute several weeks ago.
Trump retweeted an extremist group called “Britain First.” (It was founded in 2011, before Trump revived the old American slogan “America First.”) The British PM said that this was not a group worthy of promotion by the U.S. president. The president reacted sharply to this.
Was anything — anything at all — in his embassy tweet true? I don’t think you have to be a sufferer from “TDS” — Trump Derangement Syndrome — to conclude not. We are told, over and over, “This president is not normal.” It occurs to me that both sides agree: his admirers and his detractors.