25 March 2024

Whether he’s right or not, Rudd likely can't continue as ambassador if Trump gets back in

| Andrew McLaughlin
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As Australia’s Ambassador to the US, Kevin Rudd has been instrumental in smoothing the way for many of the advances made under the AUKUS construct. Photo: ADF.

Dictionary.com defines an ‘ambassador’ as “An official … engaged in diplomacy”. It also defines ‘diplomatic’ as “Skilled in dealing with sensitive matters or people; tactful”.

It is generally accepted that a diplomat or ambassador should be diplomatic when they practise diplomacy in order to effectively represent their country’s interests right across their host country’s political spectrum, regardless of their own political affiliations.

So, whether you agree with him or not, former prime minister and current Australian Ambassador to the US Kevin Rudd’s comments about former and possibly future US president Donald Trump were far from diplomatic.

Before he was given his ambassadorial role in March 2023 – a posting which received bipartisan support – Rudd described Trump in a Twitter tirade as “The most destructive president in history.

“He drags America and democracy through the mud,” he said. “He thrives on fomenting, not healing, division. He abuses Christianity, church and bible to justify violence.”

In another post, he wrote, “Donald Trump is a traitor to the West. Murdoch was Trump’s biggest backer. And Murdoch’s Fox Television backs Putin too. What rancid treachery.”

It’s important to note Mr Rudd made these comments as part of a larger series of posts calling for a royal commission into what he called ‘Murdoch Media’ which had highlighted Trump’s perceived links to FOX News.

But his @MrKRudd Twitter/X handle was named ‘Office of Kevin Rudd, 26th PM of Australia’, and Trump was by then a declared presidential candidate.

READ ALSO US budget and industrial capacity woes threaten Australia’s AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine ambitions

It’s not known if Trump was aware of these posts before former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP)-turned-broadcaster Nigel Farage pointed them out in an interview on the conservative GB News last week.

In that interview, the sycophantic Farage told Trump that Rudd had “said the most horrible things” before repeating some of Rudd’s comments.

Trump quickly responded, “He won’t be there long if that’s the case. I don’t know much about him. I heard he was a little bit nasty.”

It’s unclear whether Trump meant those comments or if he was just shooting from the hip as he is known to do.

Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong defended Mr Rudd on Wednesday, 20 March, describing him as a very effective ambassador.

“He is recognised across this parliament as doing an excellent job in advancing Australia’s interests in the US, and I’d point you in particular to the phenomenal amount of work that has been done on AUKUS in the period that he has been ambassador,” she said.

When asked if Mr Rudd would remain as Australia’s ambassador should Trump be elected, she answered an emphatic, “Yes!”

“He has been extremely active in engaging with members of Congress on both sides of politics, he is a former prime minister and former foreign minister, and his experience and skills mean he can work closely with whomever is elected by the American people as the US President,” she said.

And despite the Federal Opposition supporting Mr Rudd’s appointment, they have sought to somewhat tactfully stir things up in the wake of Mr Trump’s response.

READ ALSO What’s really going on when a former PM trashes his own party’s policies?

Speaking on SKY News, Liberal Deputy Leader Sussan Ley tried to sidestep the issue while very subtly dropping the shoulder in.

“I’m going to follow my usual practice, which is not to comment on US domestic politics,” she said. “But I do want to say this, Kevin Rudd is our ambassador, so we want him to do well because he represents Australia’s national interest in the US.

“I think members of the Albanese Government might reflect, however, that commenting on another country’s domestic political situation is not a good idea,” she added. “So, I think they would be reflecting on that today.”

But it may not be as simple as “reflecting” on one’s comments when dealing with someone like Trump.

Professor of international law at ANU Donald Rothwell told The Guardian that Mr Rudd could conceivably be forcibly removed as ambassador by Trump.

“A Trump White House could only effectively dismiss Rudd as Australian Ambassador by declaring him persona non grata under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” he said.

“The result is that he would lose his diplomatic accreditation in Washington and effectively be forced out of the post and have to return to Australia.”

But even if he can’t send Rudd packing – assuming he wins office in November – Trump’s known penchant for petulance and petty revenge may see Rudd effectively frozen out of any official dealings with the US Government.

As Professor Rothwell said, what’s more likely is Australia would recall and replace Mr Rudd before that could happen.

Trump holds grudges, and has repeatedly demonstrated he will retaliate against anyone who goes against him.

It’s therefore difficult to see how Ambassador Rudd could possibly have any kind of working relationship with a Trump White House.

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