Christopher Meyer was the British Ambassador to the United States from 1997 – 2003. His tenure as ambassador coincided with the period where Anglo-American relations were at its strongest due to 9/11, which led to the two nations combining efforts to fight the War on Terror and invade Iraq. In his memoir, Meyer recounts the run-up to the events of 9/11, often humorously recounting his first impressions of major political figures in both countries, such as Tony Blair, George W Bush, John Prescott and Condoleeza Rice.
I admire Meyer’s decision to incorporate a simple yet informative portrayal of the art and history of British diplomacy at the beginning of the book. The historical importance of the Anglo-American diplomatic relationship is detailed and thoroughly stressed in terms of the global significance and influence that the relationship has. Meyer presents an eloquent and emotional defense of the “special relationship” that many have lambasted, emphasising the benefits of the relationship attained for both nations from the relationship by listing some lesser known examples of mutual benefit such as in child abduction cases.
What fascinated me most about Meyer’s memoir is his account of the strained relationships between different departments of government in both nations during his tenure as ambassador. An enthralling power struggle between the Foreign Office and 10 Downing Street for dominance in foreign affairs, especially with the United States, is paralleled by the equivalent power struggle in the USA between the State Department and the Defense Department.
Meyer’s recount of his own unsavoury relationship with 10 Downing Street is riveting, including his description of how he had to fight his way into a crucial Camp David meeting between PM Blair and President Bush in the final preparation stages of invading Iraq, as Number 10 did not want him in that meeting. A strong sense that there was a deep, multi-faceted division between various departments of government in the run-up to the Iraq War is created. However, Meyer’s credibility as the narrator suffers as a result because of his personal involvement in the rifts between these departments.
I definitely recommend reading this book. It is relevant to the people of both USA and UK. For current politics students in the UK, with the recent controversy surrounding the Chilcot Inquiry and how only the “gists” of the communications between Blair and Bush in the run-up to the war will be published, instead of the full transcripts, Meyer’s memoirs can be especially useful. It can serve as a great introductory book into the matter if you are interested in the UKs involvement in Iraq.