The president’s decision not to come to open the new US embassy begs the question – in an age of terror, are diplomats still necessary?
The reason why President Trump called off his visit to London to open the new US embassy may never be clear. It might be wise not to overthink it; he probably didn’t. Perhaps it was the threat of hostile demonstrations, or maybe a sign of the low priority he gives to a working lunch with Theresa May. Or it could even have been, as the president himself tweeted late on Thursday night, because the real estate magnate in him reckoned it was a bad decision to replace the “best located and finest embassy in London” with an “off location” address – a decision he wrongly blamed on President Obama.
In fact, the move was decided in the Bush era, partly because Grosvenor Square had been outgrown, and partly because its swanky Mayfair location fell well short of the extreme security demanded of US embassies after a series of terror attacks. But, unwittingly, the president has drawn attention to a different question: whether embassies are still needed at all. When a Skype call can be set up in seconds, communication is instant and secure, and keeping up with social media reveals intelligence even the best-placed diplomat might miss, why spend billions of dollars setting up a target for terrorists?