Friday, December 23, 2005

Book Review: DC Confidential by Sir Christopher Meyer

Christopher Meyer is certainly a colourful character, some would say rather unsuited to the world of diplomacy. But this is an entertaining, if at times infuriating, account of his career in the Foreign Office. Should he have been allowed to write such a book? My view on this vexed issue is quite simple. A government which has revelled in politicising the civil service can hardly complain about civil servants who seek to defend themselves and their reputation. The simple truth is that Meyer handed in the manuscript to the Foreign Office and they cleared it. End of story. The same cannot be said of Sir Jeremy Greenstock's book, which the FO altered so much that the publishers cancelled its publication. One wonders what he has said that Chris Meyer left out. I'm not sure how much more we learned about the run up to the Iraq war that we didn't know already. Meyer confirms what Bob Woodward says in the excellent Plan of Attack, that both Blair and Bush were both set on war from a very early stage and that little post-war planning was undertaken. Bush comes out of it as a much more sympathetic figure than most Ameri-sceptic Europeans would imagine. I have always believed that Bush's major strength is that he is constantly underestimated by European politicians who continue to believe he is verging on stupid. He isn't. This book is full of little snippets of human observation and gossip, which in many ways are its redemption. Some fairly turgid prose is often broken up by an acid aside, for which the reader is too often rather thankful. Meyer attributes much of his success in Washington to his wife Catherine, whose trials and tribulations over the custody of her German born children are both heart wrenching and irritating at the same time. Irritating, because Meyer doesn't really go into enough detail to enable the reader to judge either whether Lady Meyer entirely had right on her side or whether she was using her position inappropriately. Perhaps her own book is more illuminating. As you can tell, I'm in two minds about whether I enjoyed this book. Perhaps the fact that it took me three weeks to finish says it all. But then again...

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