President Donald Trump's ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, last week ticked off a laundry list of bad acts for which he said Russia must be held accountable when Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet on July 16 in Helsinki.
"Election meddling; malign activities throughout Europe, including the Balkans, UK and Brexit, France and Italy, just to mention a few," Huntsman said on a call with reporters. He also cited hybrid warfare, a military strategy which combines conventional tactics with coordinated political interference and cyberattacks.
Less than 24 hours after Huntsman took a hard line, Trump did the opposite.
"Putin is fine. He's fine. We're all fine, we're all people," Trump said at a political rally in Great Falls, Mont., on Thursday night. "Getting along with Russia, and getting along with China and getting along with other countries is a good thing."
For any ambassador, the task of advancing U.S. interests in a foreign country is often a tricky balancing act. But for Huntsman and Kay Bailey Hutchison, the two ambassadors who will serve as Trump's right hands during high-stakes summits this week in Helsinki and Brussels, this challenge will be extraordinary.
"It really hangs the ambassadors out to dry when the president creates a completely unpredictable setting," said a former U.S. envoy who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive relationships.
"When this happens, the ambassador comes across as cut off from his or her capital, and they seem weak and ineffective. As a result, they have less leverage, and by extension the United States has less leverage, with the host country governments," the former diplomat said.