The following is the opinion and analysis if the writer:
A number of people have asked me about the new Netflix series, “The Diplomat.” Perhaps surprisingly I find it difficult to respond to their questions: “How authentic is it?”; “Is that how diplomatic business is conducted?”; “Is that how you lived?”; and “Are you enjoying it?” Their questions are usually prefaced by remarks indicating they like the series, with its stunning aerial clips of London and lavish photography of storied places and palaces.
Actually it’s pretty easy to answer the latter question, but I try to avoid doing so. I don’t want to spoil their enjoyment. The plot is factual only in the broadest terms, e.g., the U.S. does have an Ambassador at the Court of St. James; the United Kingdom’s chief of state is the King (currently) or a Queen (previously); the head of government is the Prime Minister; Parliament is sovereign; and the new U.S. Embassy is located in Nine Elms, south of the Thames.
People are also reading…
Beyond that the story line becomes fictional and then, briskly, it creates events, actions and descriptions that can only be defined as pure fantasy. They make for interesting and exciting viewing, but it is strikingly misleading as regards law, protocol, practice and real world. And these misrepresentations continue throughout the parts that I’ve watched.
The initial scenes have the president assigning a career Foreign Service officer, who has just been confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Ambassador the Afghanistan, to be Ambassador to the United Kingdom instead. No, that is nonsense. When John or Jane Doe is confirmed by the Senate, they are legally empowered to serve ONLY in that position in the country specified. No ifs, ands or buts.
Moreover, international protocol and practice require that before sending an Ambassador overseas the host country must be advised of the person proposed and he/she approved by the host country. This process in called agrement (FR. in ital.) (acceptance). If the host government declines to accept the person proposed, another will be named. Did the writers think the nonsense depicted would make the story riveting or compelling?
Once in London, the heroine, before presenting credentials (being legally recognized by the host country) meets with the Foreign Minister (uncommon, but not unheard of) and is later taken to what appears to be a Cabinet meeting in the Foreign Office headquarters (Whitehall) to meet the Prime Minister: no. An early meeting with the PM would be quite extraordinary, barely plausible. But if it was to take place, it would be at 10 Downing Street, the PM/s office and where the Cabinet meets. The PM does not go to Whitehall for meetings, the Foreign Offices goes to No. 10.
In the real world much of the early story line activity would be redundant. Existing lines of urgent communications — president to PM; State Department/British Embassy; State/London Embassy; Defense Department/Defence Ministry; CIA/MI6; NSA/GHQ — would be humming. Thus the redundancy.
In London, the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) who, per the story line, is having an affair with the CIA Station Chief (an “eye roller” for me), would be overseeing all of this while keeping the newly arrived Ambassador up to speed. And then there’s also the sub-plot involving the Vice Presidency. Egad.
My quibble with “The Diplomat” plot may seem like picking at nits, but in terms of the real world. these fantasy nits simplify, mislead and misinform the public about the conduct of our international relations, and public servants. In the current happy era of unrestrained “social media,” we don’t need the entertainment medium spreading more nonsense.
If you enjoy “The Diplomat,” fine. As I’ve indicated much of the photography is stunning. Just keep in mind that the story is a 21st Century version of Alice in Wonderland (ital), not just fiction.
Retired career Foreign Service officer and Ambassador. Served five years in our London Embassy as Counselor for Political Affairs (head of Political Section).