Gérard Araud, the charmingly blunt French ambassador to the United States, is famous for two things: the lavish parties he hosts at his Kalorama mansion, and his willingness to say (and tweet) things that other ambassadors might not even think, much less state in public.
Araud ends his nearly five-year tenure in Washington today, and when I spoke with him last week, he was, even by his usual standards, direct to the point of discomfort. He told me his view of the U.S. (“The role of the United States as a policeman of the world, it’s over”) and Donald Trump (“brutal, a bit primitive, but in a sense he’s right” on free trade), and he shared his opinions of John Bolton (he’s a “real professional,” even though “he hates international organizations”) and Jared Kushner (“extremely smart, but he has no guts”).
He also had a warning to anyone who assumes it will be “business as usual” once America’s Trump fever breaks. The idea that the Trump presidency is some sort of accident, he says, is a fantasy.
Trump’s presidency complicated Araud’s diplomatic work in several ways. Like everyone else in Washington, he scrambled to respond to the abrupt withdrawal of American troops from Syria, the demise of the Iran nuclear deal, and the U.S. pullout from the Paris climate accords. But the most difficult moment of his career, he told me, came in the early hours of November 9, 2016, just after Trump was elected, when Araud tweeted: “After Brexit, after Trump, a world is collapsing.”