Brit ambassador’s hilarious, grim, revealing memoir of the Bush regime’s pre-war daze
Displaying his typical arrogance of ignorance, George W. Bush got it all wrong back in September 2002 when he paid Tony Blair the highest of all manly compliments — the president said the prime minister had “cojones” — during their crucial pre-war summit at Camp David.
Maddeningly, Blair believed what Bush thought of him.
Here we are, three years and thousands of deaths of later, and we now know that the Iraq debacle was in substantial measure spurred on by just a guy thing.
That’s confirmed by a fascinating memoir penned by Sir Christopher Meyer, former British ambassador to Washington, heavily excerpted in this morning’s Guardian (U.K.).
Recalling the pre-invasion huddle at Camp David, Meyer writes:
Just before Blair arrived at Camp David, I received a phone call from one of the most experienced and prominent foreign policy practitioners of the Clinton administration.
The familiar voice warned me that [Dick] Cheney, Bush’s sometimes intimidating vice-president, would be present throughout Blair’s discussions with the president. “How the hell do you know?” I asked. “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” was the enigmatic reply. “But Blair had better watch out.”
The voice was right. Cheney attended all the meetings, including those where Blair and Bush were alone with their closest aides. After one of these conclaves Bush emerged to announce that Blair had “cojones”, I may have been the only member of the waiting British team who understood this meant balls. It was a tribute to Blair’s unequivocal reaffirmation to Bush of his earlier commitment to stand by the Americans, including in a war. This was what the Americans wanted from the Camp David summit.
What’s frustrating is that if Blair really did have cojones, he could have put a stop to the unilateral invasion, or at least slowed down the giddy neocons.
But Blair showed that he lacked the courage to follow his common sense and that of most of his advisers. To stand up to Bush — and to de facto president Cheney — would have taken real balls. Like the ones that Anwar Sadat showed at the very same Camp David almost exactly 25 years earlier by reaching out to Israel.
That made Sadat a marked man in the Arab world, and he paid for his courage with his life.
Blair and Bush, on the other hand, committed folly, and they’re paying for it with other people’s lives.
Meyer notes the consequences of Blair’s failure of courage:
There were … many other policy gaps that still needed filling. Biggest of all, post-war Iraq was a blind spot in Washington.
The White House appeared to have bought fully into the neocon idea that with the overthrow of Saddam, all would be sweetness and light, with automatic benefits elsewhere in the Middle East.
This failure to grasp the political nature of the Iraqi enterprise, and the need to think about the peace as well as the war, led to many of the difficulties later experienced by the US and its allies.
The blitzkrieg of stories from Meyer’s forthcoming book shows that the former ambassador doesn’t spare himself. Knowing during that key Camp David meeting that the speed at which the U.S. was dragging along the U.K. to help invade Iraq was foolish, Meyer recalls, “I cursed myself afterwards for not piping up.”
All the stories in this immense Guardian package (most of them by Meyer himself) are worth reading. Meyer’s recollections dovetail nicely with what we know from the Downing Street Memo and other documents.
Start with the main piece, by Julian Glover and Ewen MacAskill, which links to the other stories and nicely lays out the theme:
Tony Blair repeatedly passed up opportunities to put a brake on the rush to war in Iraq, a failure that may have contributed to the country’s present anarchy, according to Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain’s ambassador to Washington at the time, in his book DC Confidential, serialised in the Guardian from today.
Sir Christopher, highly critical of Mr Blair’s performance in the run-up to the war, argues the prime minister and his team were “seduced” by the proximity and glamour of US power and reluctant to negotiate conditions with George Bush for Britain’s support for the war.
The next time Congress calls a hearing to investigate the damage caused by excessive testosterone, it needs to forget about those baseball sluggers’s big bats and instead haul in Bush and his big Dick for some interrogation.
Or maybe those old white guys on Capitol Hill can find an excuse to investigate that they can get jiggy with. Bush Beat reader Mike Silverman writes from Israel that he swears the following question about Bush is currently plastered on a Washington, D.C., billboard:
“Would someone please give him a blowjob so we can impeach him?”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 7, 2005