As many watchers of British diplomatic efforts would agree, Prince Andrew isn’t exactly noted for his wisdom when it comes to foreign policy.
Nor – to the embarrassment of many who believe that the fourth in line to the throne is the wrong person to continue acting as a high-profile United Kingdom trade ambassador – is he any stranger to diplomatic gaffes. Previous slips have included a blunt statement that Washington should have listened more to London's advice on the Iraq War.
Even so, the prince was under the spotlight again today in the wake of revelations from the controversial website WikiLeaks that a US ambassador in Kyrgyzstan had found him to be “cocky” and verging on the rude. Leaked cables recounted how the prince criticized France and America and condemned "idiotic" British anticorruption investigators during one of his excursions abroad.
Dubbed by the press as "air-miles Andy" in honor of his tax-funded globe-trotting ways, the leaks have once again shed an unwelcome light on the prince, while fueling argument that royals such as Andrew and his brother, Prince Charles, should temper their apparent eagerness to go beyond their officially symbolic roles.
Although Mr. Arbiter insisted that the prince was regarded as a success in his ambassadorial role, which includes smoothing relations with royal counterparts in the Gulf states, he added that Andrew was “frustrated” by the job.
“He should not get politically involved, but the trouble is that the job he is doing is a political job. He is beating the drum for British industry,” said Arbiter.
'Idiocy' of British anticorruption investigators
WikiLeaks, which calls itself a "media organization" devoted to revealing secret documents, provided the unprecedented cache of 251,287 diplomatic cables weeks ago to Der Spiegel, El País, Le Monde, and the Guardian (which in turn passed it along to The New York Times). Only about 300 cables are viewable so far on WikiLeaks.org, which began posting the documents Sunday.
The WikiLeaks documents reveal how the US ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Tatiana Gfoeller, described Prince Andrew boasting "cockily" about British influence in central Asia in an expletive-laden discussion with British businessmen.
"He railed at British anti-corruption investigators, who had had the 'idiocy' of almost scuttling the Al-Yamama deal with Saudi Arabia,” she recalled, in reference to a decision by the UK Serious Fraud Office to launch an investigation into a major arms deal involving Britain’s BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia.
"His mother's subjects seated around the table roared their approval.”
"He then went on to 'these [expletive] journalists, especially from the National Guardian, who poke their noses everywhere' and [presumably] make it harder for British businessmen to do business. The crowd practically clapped."
Ms. Gfoeller also noted that, in "an astonishing display of candor," the British businessmen present alleged that nothing was done in Kyrgyzstan unless the son of the then-president received a cut, with Prince Andrew agreeing that he had heard the same name "over and over again" when discussing business in the country.
"At this point, the Duke of York laughed uproariously, saying that 'all of this sounds exactly like France,' " the ambassador recorded.
She added: “Prince Andrew reacted with almost neuralgic patriotism whenever any comparison between the United States and United Kingdom came up. For example, one British businessman noted that despite the ‘overwhelming might of the American economy compared to ours’ the amount of American and British investment in Kyrgyzstan was similar. Snapped the Duke: ‘No surprise there. The Americans don't understand geography. Never have. In the UK, we have the best geography teachers in the world!’ ”
'Bigger issues at stake'
Back in the United Kingdom, British foreign policy experts such as Christopher Hill, of the University of Cambridge, describe the royals as “part of the show” when it comes to the advancing British trade deals.
“I doubt they make much difference one way or another,” he says. “I think, though, that this is a distraction. It is natural that the press would seize on this aspect in the UK, but it would be sad if the usual show-business approach to celebrity overshadowed a whole range of serious matters that are coming out this time from WikiLeaks. There are bigger issues at stake.”
While coverage of the leaks concerning Prince Andrew continued Tuesday to vie with that of other globally important leaks on issues such as Iran and North Korea, the British government is closely monitoring what else may emerge in the coming days.
Rumor has it that WikiLeaks is preparing to release other cables, for example, suggesting that President Obama viewed David Cameron, now the British prime minister, as a “lightweight” politician following their first meeting in 2008.
According to Professor Hill: “When it comes to contemporary leaks, they have much more capacity for embarrassment. The individuals themselves may be quite thick-skinned, but their opponents may choose to use it against them, so in that sense it is something that they could do without.”