DC Confidential: A shameful dose of gutter-mouthed spewage to add to Print E-mail
.... Dubya's crudely misogynist finger heading the self-ordained "Axis of Good"

Since the days of Nixon's Waterloo [read *Watergate*], we've long been familiar with "expletive deleted". Times have changed: During Bush Jnr's reign, there are numerous unadulterated reports of Dubya's rantings on "f-ing this, f-ing that, f-she and f-ing he", alongwith with a photograph of his crudely misogynic finger to a journalist earlier this year. Added to this, there are now examples of gutter language quotes attributed to Blair's political mates within Sir Christopher Meyer's memoirs "DC Confidential" [For interest and DISGUST see the below extracts, courtesy of the London Guardian].
Given this gutter-mouthed, crudest of crude fingered signs spewed via the self-ordained "Axis of Good" [and within the uppermost echelons of its leadership], we are already embedded in the greatest  chapter of political hypocrisy the world has ever witnessed! - Lynette
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
The Guardian -- London -- Monday November 7, 2005
DC Confidential
Tony Blair and the wooing of America

Sir Christopher Meyer, former ambassador to the US, was uniquely placed to track the PM's White House charm offensive. In this first extract from his memoirs, he reveals how Labour grew to admire the Republicans

"We want you to get up the arse of the White House and stay there." So spoke the prime minister's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, in the splendour of one of Downing Street's reception rooms.

I was, as the Americans would say, a 30-year veteran of the British diplomatic service. Now, after all that slog, I was about to reach the pinnacle of a diplomat's career and become Britain's ambassador to the United States. Trust the blokeishness of New Labour to reduce it to an anal metaphor.

Jonathan Powell's crisp instruction was the most important briefing I received on my new posting. Six months after New Labour's crushing election victory in May 1997, it was clear already that the prime minister's office would control relations with Washington. As in the days of another dominant prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, the Foreign Office was about to be relegated to second fiddle.

I had already spent several years in Washington as deputy ambassador, and had met Tony Blair while he was an opposition MP, visiting the US to make contacts with Bill Clinton's Democrats. But my first contact with him as prime minister had come during a short-lived spell as ambassador to Germany in 1997.

A month or so after the general election, Blair came to Bonn for an afternoon's talks with Chancellor Kohl. Of all the Blair visits I hosted in Bonn and Washington this was the most light hearted. Blair was accompanied by his closest advisers; they were still in the first flush of victory.

As we drove in my armoured Rolls-Royce to meet Kohl, the new prime minister asked me: "How are you getting on?"

"Really well," I replied. "But when I am in the Rolls, I have to pinch myself that this is really me."

"Tell me about it," said Blair, with his boyish smile. "How do you think I feel?"

It was an age of innocence, which would, of course, quickly pass. By the time I welcomed Blair on his first official visit to Washington, in February 1998, something had changed.

Blair performed brilliantly during the visit. He arrived with a large retinue, which included his wife, Cherie, and three ministers: Alan Milburn, Helen Liddle and Jack Straw, stars of the New Labour firmament. There were large numbers of minor courtiers and logistics people.

The Blairs and the VIPs were lodged at Blair House (pure coincidence), the grand American residence for state visits. The whole No 10 team, from the PM downwards, pulsed with ill-suppressed excitement. Washington. Bill Clinton. Third Way. World Stage. This was the Big One - this was what really mattered. The Foreign Office never stood a chance. America belonged to Downing Street.

Blair had several starring performances, notably his expression of personal loyalty and friendship towards an embattled Clinton, which defused a potentially awkward White House press conference; a moving toast at a state dinner, which had several Americans in tears, and a persuasive exposition of his Northern Ireland policy to senators and congressmen which had long-term benefits for Britain.

He faltered only at a dinner to discuss world economic trends. The guests included mega-stars like the chairman of the Federal Reserve and the president of the World Bank. Blair was under-briefed and out of his depth. He shared Margaret Thatcher's propensity to invest rhetoric with moral philosophy. But he seemed to have little of her appetite for detail.

"I don't expect that they are looking forward to this any more than we are," said Cherie Blair ominously, as she looked out of the helicopter window. The prime minister said nothing. A pained expression fleetingly crossed his face. Jesus Christ, I thought to myself as we prepared to get off the helicopter, this is going to be a disaster.

It was a crisp February morning in 2001. A couple of large, dark green Sikorsky helicopters of the presidential fleet had carried the Blairs, the No 10 team and me north from Washington to Camp David, the official presidential retreat in Maryland. Blair was about to meet George W Bush for the first time. Others have recorded that after visits to Washington in 2000, despite the embassy's cautions, both Jonathan Powell and David Miliband (then a Blair adviser and now a cabinet minister) had returned to London with confident predictions of victory for Clinton's deputy, Al Gore.

For some in London the realisation that there had been regime change in Washington took an unconscionable time to sink in. At the start of Blair's visit I had to endure the finger-wagging self-importance of one of No 10's minor functionaries, an odious species that seemed to infest the Blair entourage. She wanted me to know that Bush's victory had gone down very badly in Downing Street.

Cherie was so upset. After all, hadn't Al Gore really won? "Get over it," I said. "Bush is president and that's that."

I prayed that Blair himself had not been infected by this childishness. Whatever No 10 had wished for in private, it had been good at maintaining strict public neutrality during the election campaign. It would be rank folly to spoil it all now.

I need not have worried. Blair was too pragmatic and aware of the importance of the United States to let this happen. After all he had ringing in his ears Clinton's advice to "Hug them close".

In December 2000, on the eve of Bill Clinton's farewell visit to London, Karl Rove came round for a drink at the embassy. I took the bull by the horns: "Is Tony Blair's close relationship with Clinton going to be a problem for you? If so, the sooner we know the better." "Absolutely not," said Karl. Bush recognised the importance of close relationships. It was always good for Britain and America to be close. Bush hoped to establish a close relationship with the prime minister on "its own merits". I took a cross-bearing separately with Condi Rice. She gave an almost identical answer. I reported these conversations, and the reassurance they conveyed, to London.

But on the morning of February 22, just before we set off for Camp David, the confidence of the PM and his team took a knock from a meeting in Washington with Dick Cheney, Bush's vice-president. Cheney is not enormously demonstrative at the best of moments, especially when he meets someone for the first time. I thought that the meeting with Blair had been fine for a first outing; true it had a certain Soviet woodenness to it and some of the No 10 team were chagrined that, unlike so many others, Cheney did not seem to have been instantly felled by the prime minister's fabled charm.

On subsequent visits, Cheney would also put the fear of God into John Prescott and Jack Straw, who are not best equipped to deal with tough, rightwing Republicans.

As the helicopter dropped to the pad at Camp David, we looked out of the window to see George and Laura Bush waiting to greet us. It was this that had prompted Cherie's sour remark.

At Camp David, on that first meeting, matters were more businesslike. Laura Bush took Cherie off for lunch while the prime minister and the president sat down for a separate, working lunch with their main advisers.

Bush said: "Welcome to Camp David, Tony - may I call you Tony? - it's great to have you here."

Blair replied: "Thanks, George - may I call you George? - it's great to be here." And off they went.

I heard the rapid cracking of ice. Both were smiling, pretty laidback. I heaved a sigh of relief. You know immediately if the chemistry is going to work. This was going to work.

The chemistry on the American side of the table was fascinating. From the outset there was no doubting the president's authority or grasp on the proceedings.

Without a note in front of him, he chaired the meeting and led the discussion with self-confidence and aplomb. There was no sign of the verbal stumbles that plagued his public speaking.

He had obviously done a lot of homework on foreign policy but, unlike several politicians I have known, he did not feel the need to dominate the conversation all the time. He was perfectly happy to let Colin Powell do the talking on the Middle East; but I could see that there was no question of his being overawed by his illustrious secretary of state.

The deference shown to the president by his most senior advisers was in some contrast to the free-and-easy style of Blair and his entourage.

Bush and Powell were a little stiff with one another. Bush and Rice had an obviously more familiar relationship but I sensed that Condi had a clear red line in her head which she knew she would cross at her peril. Bush was the boss.

From my first meetings with him in 1998 and 1999 I knew he was as smart as a whip and would view countries and people in black and white. This was not a message everyone at home wanted to hear. But Tony Blair, a politician's politician, got it in one.

Bush peppered Blair with questions on international issues, especially Russia, which Blair clearly found flattering. The White House had purposely allowed a lot of "face time" between Bush, Blair and their wives. Laura and Cherie spent most of the afternoon together.

After lunch, Blair and Bush had their walk in the woods followed by the press conference. Then all assembled for drinks before dinner. Good spirits abounded. Cherie looked happier. Laura Bush, unpretentious and humorous, is impossible to dislike.

One group of us sprawled on chairs with the president. Bush was drinking non-alcoholic beer from the bottle. Tony Blair and Condi were in animated conversation. The unspoken thought was that the first and crucial hurdle had been jumped successfully. Relief added to the levity of this completely casual occasion. In the evening the Blairs and the Bushes dined alone. The advisers from both sides ate together.

Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell were sniffing around the Bush people like wary dogs. They had got so used to dealing with Democrats. Here was a new and unfamiliar political animal.

Towards the end of dinner, word was brought that we were invited to see a film with the Bushes and Blairs. This was a true mark of hospitality. It was already known that Bush liked to go to bed early. The movie would take him way past his bedtime. The film was the comedy hit Meet the Parents with Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro. We watched it from the comfort of armchairs and sofas in the Camp David cinema. I found it very funny. So did Bush. When it was revealed that the character played by Stiller was called Gay Focker, the president split his sides.

Next day, the visit ended on a note of farce. The returning helicopters touched down at Andrews air force base in Washington, where the Blairs' Concorde awaited them. The VIPs and the red carpet were all in place for the brief farewell ceremony.

Suddenly, the cry went up: Cherie's hairdresser is missing! He had been left behind at Camp David. A helicopter brought him post-haste to Andrews as the rest of us kicked our heels.

Despite my early fears, the Camp David summit had been a great success - and within seven months, Blair's and Britain's reputation in America would rocket to stratospheric new heights.

The catalyst was the attack on the World Trade Centre.

Immediately after 9/11, Blair showed his true genius as a politician in expressing sympathy and support for the United States with an eloquence and emotion which could not have been better crafted to resonate with Americans.

The words had an almost magical potency: "This is not a battle between the United States of America and terrorism, but between the free and democratic world and terrorism. We, like them, will not rest until this evil is driven from our world."

As British ambassador, I was all over the American television networks in the slipstream of Blair's oratory. Later, in early October, Blair was to give a speech which in its sweep, ambition and neo-Churchillian oratory would be without rival in his career.

There was one line in it that touched Americans at their core: "We were with you at the first. We will stay with you to the last." I repeatedly quoted it in my own speeches. The reaction was invariably a thunderous standing ovation, suffused with emotion. It is a great line. But Americans tend to hear these things literally. It became a line with consequences.

Then something else happened that seized the American imagination like nothing else. On Thursday October 13 at the ceremony of changing the guard at Buckingham Palace, the band of the Coldstream Guards played The Star-Spangled Banner. This was something without precedent. At the Washington embassy, we were inundated with phone calls, faxes, letters and emails of gratitude.

Amid this fevered atmosphere, it was arranged for Blair to fly to America. He would attend a memorial service for the 9/11 victims in New York and then meet Bush for talks at the White House.

In addition, that same evening, Bush wanted him to be his guest of honour when the president made an address to a joint session of Congress. I smelled a logistics nightmare but the emotional power of the moment swept all before it. I wondered about Blair's endurance. He would arrive in New York having just visited Chancellor Schr? of Germany and President Chirac of France in quick succession. I need not have worried. This was what Tony Blair liked doing. He was on a high.

Some of those around the prime minister were initially more cautious. On September 17, three days before his visit, I took a call from Alastair Campbell. I always liked talking to Campbell: to the point, no nonsense, exceptionally perceptive, with a good grasp of foreign policy. My eternal memory of him will always be his standing over Blair, on some flight or other, gesticulating forcefully while the prime minister sat meekly in his seat like a schoolboy under instruction. On the phone, Campbell was candid. He was worried about Blair attending Bush's speech to Congress. Some Labour backbenchers were getting restless about Blair aligning himself so unreservedly with a Republican president.

"Chris, does he have to do it? Couldn't he slip away before the speech?"

I said: "Look, Alastair, this is going to be a huge occasion. He's going to be guest of honour and he'll sit next to the first lady. It won't go down at all well if he says no. It's a moment in history."

It was an extraordinary occasion. The speech was delivered in the grand chamber of the House of Representatives. Not only were several hundred senators and congressmen in the audience, but also the diplomatic corps, the justices of the supreme court and the entire military leadership of the United States.

Bush rose to the occasion beyond all expectation. He was given a roaring, stomping reception. The atmosphere was one of intoxicating, intense patriotism.

At dinner beforehand, the president had told us that he would have something nice to say about Blair, and so he did. At the outset of his speech he paid lavish tribute to him as "our truest friend" - a compliment that was received with thunderous applause.

What a climax to Blair's extraordinary 24 hours. His relationship with Bush had been transported to a new and higher level of trust and friendship. Blair had become an American hero. More than any other European politician he seemed to have understood the shocking impact on the United States of 9/11. Two centuries of invulnerability had been shattered.

When I saw Blair off on his flight back to Britain, he and his entourage were euphoric. I staggered home after one of the longest days of my life.
^^^^^^^^
The Guardian -- London -- Monday November 7, 2005
DC Confidential
How Britain failed to check Bush in the run up to war

Tony Blair's full throated support of the US led to the PM failing to exert any leverage on the White House - UK support was simply taken for granted

Hindsight usually follows failure. As I write, things looked bad in Iraq. At regular intervals over the last two years I have asked the same question of former colleagues in the British and American governments: in Iraq, is the glass half-empty or is it half-full? With one exception the answer has been "half-full". The exception was a trusted American friend and government official, who, after paying a recent visit to Iraq, returned to tell the White House: "We're fucked."

Even if the most optimistic predictions are finally realised for Iraq, the question will still be asked: why did the Americans and British make it so hard for themselves and even harder for Iraqis?

Iraq ran like a toxic stream through my time in Washington. When I arrived in 1997, Saddam was already playing cat and mouse with the first generation of UN weapons inspectors. It was hugely embarrassing to President Bush, and more so to Tony Blair, because he had rested his case for war exclusively on the Iraqi leader's failure to disarm.

But Saddam's real threat was his ambition and intent, and his long-term corrosion of the UN's credibility. To his credit, Blair spotted this as early as 1998. You can agree or disagree with the prime minister on Iraq, but you cannot fault him on consistency. He was a true believer in the menace of Saddam. In Washington, seeking Saddam's overthrow - or "regime change" - became official policy under Bill Clinton as long ago as 1998.

After 9/11, everything changed. The "neocon" hawks such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle saw Iraq as the anvil on which they could forge a realignment of the Middle East, favourable to the United States and Israel, would be struck. The new Iraq, they argued, would inject stable democracy into a region of tyrants.

Colin Powell may have thought the standard bearers of this strategy were "f***ing crazies", and history's verdict looks likely to be that it was terminally flawed both in conception and execution.

At the time, the "realists" of American foreign policy were unable to withstand the intellectual elan and polemical skill of the strategy's protagonists.

Looking back at the 18 months between 9/11 and the Iraq invasion in March 2003, one question dominates all others. It is about the inevitability of war. The integrity and reputation of Bush and Blair depend upon it. The timing of the Iraq campaign, the wisdom or otherwise of the way in which the war was executed and its aftermath managed, the controversy in Britain over the September and dodgy dossiers shape history's judgment on Bush and Blair. But they are qualitatively different from that of inevitability.

If, as many allege, they decided come hell or high water to go to war at their White House meeting on September 20 2001, or at the Crawford summit in April 2002, or at their Camp David summit in September 2002, each can be justifiably charged with duplicity on a grand scale: with deceiving his public and using the UN both as smokescreen and facilitator for a conflict that was the first option, not the last. Those who believe Bush and Blair guilty as charged see a straight linear progression from, say, the start of military planning in early 2002 to the outbreak of war on March 20 2003. Sitting in Washington, working at the coalface, talking to contacts, the road to war looked to me at that time anything but straight or the destination preordained.

I had a handful of especially important contacts in the higher echelons of the US administration - people at the heart of planning for the Iraq campaign. I was told things that were highly sensitive. Absolute trust was the indispensable ingredient in our relationship. After each conversation, one of them would always say: "Don't get me burned." Sensitive information was not given to me because my friends liked the colour of my eyes. I had to give something in return.

From a very early stage they assumed - rightly - that whatever Bush chose to do, Blair wanted to be with him. But these contacts knew the political difficulties this would cause in Westminster and inside the cabinet. They saw the tension between No 10 and the Foreign Office.

I found myself repeatedly answering the question: did something said by Jack Straw or Geoff Hoon represent the prime minister's views? Sometimes it did not. Indeed, throughout this period, the Foreign Office impinged little on my life. Between 9/11 and the day I retired at the end of February 2003, on the eve of war, I had not a single substantive policy discussion on the secure phone with the FO.

I had picked up from our military staff in the embassy the beginning of contingency planning in the Pentagon for an attack on Iraq. By the first few months of 2002 it was clear that Bush was determined to implement the official American policy of regime change, but debate inside the administration was fuelled by a growing awareness of the political risks and practical difficulties: the how and when of it was were uncertain. It made war probable but not inevitable.

It was time to put Britain's fix into American thinking before it coagulated and Blair arrived at Crawford, and I arranged to have lunch with Paul Wolfowitz. My report of this encounter was leaked.

By this stage, Tony Blair had already taken the decision to support regime change, though he was discreet about saying so in public. Blair was also firmly wedded to the Clinton proposition that, to have influence in Washington, it was necessary to hug the Americans close and that the world would inevitably be a better place without Saddam Hussein.

Support for regime change caused deep concern inside the Foreign Office. The King Charles Street legal experts' advice was that regime change, however desirable, could not alone justify going to war.

The central task was to demonstrate to the Bush administration that it was both possible and desirable to reconcile its mission with the concerns of America's friends. I knew this would call for some very plain speaking in private, but the leverage was there. For all their brave talk, the Americans always preferred to act with allies rather than without.

To reinforce my credentials with Wolfowitz, I emphasised the prime minister's commitment to regime change. I wanted him to know that we were starting from the same premise - but that, in Britain, this was not without political cost. It was the diplomacy of 'Yes, but ... '

I told him there had to be a strategy for building international support. What was needed was a clever plan that convinced people there was a legal basis for toppling Saddam. The UN had to be at the heart of such a strategy. One way was to demand the readmission of UN weapons inspectors into Iraq. If he refused, this would not only put him in the wrong but also turn the searchlight onto the security council resolutions of which he remained in breach. I also stressed the critical importance of making progress in defusing the violence between Israel and the Palestinians, to help carry Muslim opinion. Wolfowitz listened carefully, but he was noncommittal.

A similar list of conditions appears in another leaked document, drawn up following Tony Blair's summit with Bush at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, a few weeks later in April 2002.

This Cabinet Office note recorded that Blair had told Bush that Britain would support military action "provided that certain conditions were met". These conditions were that efforts were made to construct a coalition, that the Israel-Palestine crisis was "quiescent", and that "options for action to eliminate Iraq's WMD through UN weapons inspectors" were exhausted.

When this document was drafted none of those conditions was anywhere near to being met. Nor, at the time the leaked cabinet note was drafted, had we left the starting gate in pursuit of the UN or building an international coalition.

Since the Crawford meeting, a question began growing in my mind. When is a condition not a condition? Had Blair said at Crawford that he would be unable to support a war unless British wishes were met? I doubted it.

I was not present for the two leaders' exchanges at the ranch. For long periods they were alone together. And on the Sunday morning, Blair had given a significant speech on the subject of pre-emption.

The lesson of 9/11, Blair said, was that you did not wait to be hit if you saw a threat coming. You dealt with it before it materialised. Saddam Hussein was such a threat. Doing nothing about him was not an option.

For the first time in my hearing, Blair had publicly embraced regime change. But it was another passage in the speech that made me sit up. In a reference to democratic values, Blair said that when "America is fighting for those values, then, however tough, we fight with her - no grandstanding, no offering implausible and impractical advice from the touchline." To an American audience it was another unconditional statement of solidarity among several that Blair had uttered since 9/11. His words were heard, as they were meant to be, as a commitment to stand by America, however the cards fell but the commitment was not the same thing as an operational decision to go to war in the spring of 2003 even if it was the probable outcome.

Preconditions do not mix easily, if at all, with a commitment like that. They become instead what you would like to have, if possible, rather than what you insist on. There comes a point where, if you hug too close, it becomes an end in itself.

As the outcome of the Crawford summit began to percolate through the American administration, this became rapidly apparent. In the middle of May I had a conversation with a senior contact at the heart of contingency planning for Iraq, who warned me that the "buts" in our "yes, but" position were being forgotten. People were hearing what they wanted to hear. By early July I told London that the UK risked being taken for granted. We were getting too little in return for our public support.

This was a lousy backdrop to taking part in any military action against Iraq. There needed to be a plain-speaking conversation between prime minister and president. Blair sent a message to Washington - one of a pithy series in his characteristic short-sentence, short-paragraph style.

At the beginning of September 2002, just before Blair arrived for new talks at Camp David, Bush announced what London desperately wanted to hear. He would go to the UN to seek support for tackling Saddam.

It is hard to gauge Britain's influence on his decision. A private meeting between Bush and Colin Powell on August 5 looks to have been decisive.

A note of this meeting later found its way into my hands; it recorded Powell's compelling description of the likely damage to American interests around the world if the US chose to go it alone against Saddam.

Something then occurred to me: Britain was acquiring the status of indispensable ally. I had depressed myself by the thought that Blair's unconditional support for Bush had destroyed British leverage; but it dawned on me that the Americans really needed us by their side if it came to war. "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, said to me later that we were the only ally that mattered. That was a powerful lever. Bush's decision to take the UN route was welcome, as far as it went, but it left a host of questions unanswered.

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 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.

Bush, in return would go to the UN to give Saddam one last chance to meet his international obligations.

There were also 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.

Diplomatic arm-twisting at the UN continued with tortured slowness. Bush's patience was being tested by the slowness of negotiations, and I warned No 10 to prepare for everything going wrong.

In early October, I visited the great US naval base at Norfolk, Virginia, and spent the day on the massive nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Harry S Truman. The captain told me they were ready to sail for the Gulf at any time. This raised the most crucial question of all. Had US mobilisation reached such a point that there was already an insoluble contradiction between the planned timing of military action and the timetable for weapons inspections, if and when the inspectors got back into Iraq? When I put this last point to a White House contact, I was told that the president had not yet signed off on going to war. Nothing was yet irrevocable.

I knew that I was in a tiny minority in thinking at the time that if it all went wrong at the UN negotiations, and the US was faced with going to war alone, it seemed to me that Bush might blink. Or, to put it another way: what Britain decided to do in such circumstances could be the decisive factor in the White House.

Then, in November 2002, came a breakthrough - the passage of UN Resolution 1441, demanding a full and final disclosure of all Saddam's weapons. Saddam agreed to comply and the weapons inspectors went back in. There was a brief period of hope that Saddam could be disarmed peacefully.

Against a backdrop of intensifying military preparations, anxiety gripped the Bush administration. It feared a prolonged inspection process that failed to reveal Saddam's WMD; troops going stale as they kicked their heels; allies going off the boil; and a once-and-for-all opportunity to be rid of Saddam slipping through American fingers. The issue of the moment became how to find the "smoking gun" that would justify action against Saddam - the irrefutable proof that he had weapons of mass destruction.

The risk was that, through impatience and excessive pressure on the weapons inspectors, America would shatter any international coalition for war before it had even got started. I no longer thought that, in the event of opposition to war from most of the UN security council, Bush would blink. Yet he would still have an agonising decision to take early in 2003. And if it was agonising for him, it would be doubly so for Blair.

The advice the British prime minister then gave the US president would never have been more important in my time in Washington. It could even be the swing vote for war or peace. The pendulum never swung back again. If the president had left himself any space to step back from war, he closed it down early with his state of the union speech on January 29 2003.

Even by Bush's standards the speech was unusually messianic in tone. The destruction of Saddam was a crusade against evil to be undertaken by God's chosen nation: "This call of history has come to the right people."

Blair now paid one more visit to Washington. The meeting with Bush on January 31 2003 took place against a deeply unpromising background. Transatlantic relations were in a trough. British attempts to overcome France and Germany's vocal opposition to war were sinking beneath the waves. The prime minister's best hope seemed to be to ensure that we and the US went to war in the best possible company. To do this, he needed to secure Bush's solid support for a second UN resolution, explicitly sanctioning military action.

When just before their press conference president and prime minister came down from the tete-a-tete meeting upstairs in the White House it looked at first as if Blair had secured Bush's solid support for a second resolution. We were all milling around the state dining room, advisers from both sides, as Bush and Blair put the final touches to what they were going to say to the media at the usual press conference in the main lobby of the White House. Bush had a note pad on which he had written a form of words which sounded to me pretty forward leaning. He read it out. Ari Fleischer, Bush's press secretary said that Bush had never said this before and it would be a big story. Condoleezza Rice said that she and others in the administration had already said something very similar in public. That, said Fleischer, is not the same thing as the president saying it. There was a silence. I waited for Blair to say that he needed something as supportive as possible. He said nothing. I waited for somebody on the No 10 team to say something.

Nothing was said. I cursed myself afterwards for not piping up. At the press conference Bush gave only perfunctory and lukewarm support for a second resolution. It was neither his nor Blair's finest performance.

I left Washington and retired from the diplomatic service a month later. We went to war without benefit of a further resolution and in the company of a motley, ad hoc coalition of allies.
^^^^^^
The Guardian -- London -- Monday November 7, 2005
DC Confidential

Seduced by the glamour of American power
Sir Christopher Meyer

History will doubtless charge Blair and Bush with a number of sins of omission and commission in Iraq; and its judgment may be harsh.

But on the central accusation - that they conspired together from early 2002 deliberately to mislead their publics as to their true, bellicose intentions - they are, in my view, innocent. I believe them to have been sincere when they said that a peaceful outcome was possible and war the last option.

Equally, I had little doubt that Bush and Blair thought that it would come to war. Neither had any confidence in Saddam's doing the right thing. Who did?

Other questions remain. Throughout 2002, the British embassy in Washington warned that that the linkage between the political and the military components in planning for Iraq was defective; that the political could not be left to the Pentagon; that planning in Washington for the administration of Iraq after Saddam's demise was rudimentary; and that the timetables of the military and the UN inspectors could not be reconciled. The role of coercive diplomacy is a neglected element in the polemic about the Iraq war: without the US military threat, the inspectors would never have been readmitted.

The embassy also said that Britain had the leverage to do something about all this. What leverage? When I have made this point to former colleagues in the British government, they have disagreed vehemently.

They cite Bush's offer to Blair that Britain stay out of the war if it was going to be too difficult politically, or Rumsfeld's apparent dismissal of the British military contribution. But these things were said at two minutes to midnight when war was inevitable.

Even in the autumn and early winter of 2002, my contacts were regularly confirming that Bush had not yet taken an irrevocable decision to go to war. War was, of course, by far and away the most likely outcome. But that was not the same thing.

London was not fertile ground for the notion of leverage or the tough negotiating position that must sometimes be taken even with the closest allies - as Churchill did with Roosevelt and Thatcher did with Reagan. By the early autumn of 2002, despite Blair's earlier expressions of unconditional support, Britain should have made its participation in any war dependent on a fully worked-out plan, agreed by both sides, for the rehabilitation of Iraq after Saddam's demise.

This would have been the appropriate quid pro quo for Blair's display of "cojones". We may have been the junior partner in the enterprise, but the ace up our sleeves was that America did not want to go it alone. Had Britain so insisted, Iraq after Saddam might have avoided the violence that may yet prove fatal to the entire enterprise. Unfortunately, and unavoidably, at precisely this moment, political energy in London had become consumed by a titanic struggle to keep public opinion, parliament and the Labour party onside for war. There was little energy left in No 10 to think about the aftermath. Since Downing Street drove Iraq policy, efforts made by the Foreign Office to engage with the Americans on the subject came to nothing.

A notorious Downing Street memorandum, recording a meeting between Blair and close advisers in July, 2002, suggests that the head of the intelligence service, Sir Richard Dearlove, had already concluded that war was inevitable.

To a degree, this is hardly surprising. Those sitting inside the military and intelligence machines, tasked to prepare for the contingency of war, and absorbed in their preparations, were always likely to conclude that war was the irrevocable intention.

The more interesting question is whether No 10, relying heavily - maybe too heavily - on the views of these military and intelligence advisers, as a consequence underestimated its political leverage and ability to affect the course of events. I believe the US and the UK would have stood a better chance of going to war in good order had they planned the campaign not for the spring of 2003, but the autumn - the next spell of cool weather in Iraq.

Besides giving more time to prepare for the aftermath of war, a more deliberate timetable might have made it possible to reach agreement on a second UN resolution. Once that happened, Saddam would have known the game was up. It might have sufficiently ratcheted up the pressure to lead to a coup against him or his flight into exile.

I never interpreted the French refusal to accept the draft of a second resolution as a refusal for ever and a day. In diplomacy, you never say never. Talking to me in private, French officials accuse America and Britain of deliberately exaggerating France's position to justify going to war without further UN cover. We will know the full truth only when the archives are opened.

Crucially, a slower timetable for war would have avoided that frantic search for a "smoking gun" between December 2002 and the outbreak of war. By going down that road, the Americans and British shifted the burden of proof from Saddam to themselves. We had to show that he was guilty. This turned out to be a strategic error, which to this day, in the absence of WMD, continues cruelly to torment Blair and Bush.

It was precisely these pressures which led to the mistakes and misjudgments of the two British dossiers on Saddam's WMD.

Enormous controversy surrounds the intelligence on which Blair and Bush relied. I saw a great deal of intelligence material in 2002, and I was myself persuaded that Iraq had WMD.

There is nothing of which I am aware that Blair said publicly about the intelligence for which he did not have cover either from the joint intelligence committee (JIC) or from its chairman, John Scarlett. If either succumbed to political pressure, that is another story.

Had I been in Alastair Campbell's place, I too would have wanted as categorical a public depiction of Saddam's threat as possible. Equally I would have expected the JIC to be rigorous in telling me how far I could go.

Tony Blair chose to take his stand against Saddam and alongside Bush from the highest of high moral ground. It is the definitive riposte to the idea that Blair was merely the president's poodle, seduced though he and his team always appeared to be by the proximity and glamour of American power.But the high moral ground, and the pure white flame of unconditional support to an ally in service of an idea, have their disadvantages.

They place your destiny in the hands of the ally. They fly above the tangled history of Sunni, Shia and Kurd. They discourage descent into the dull detail of tough and necessary bargaining: meat and drink to Margaret Thatcher, but, so it seemed, uncongenial to Tony Blair.

As the French commander Marshal Bosquet said in 1854 during the Crimean war, on observing the Charge of the Light Brigade towards the Russian cannon at Balaclava: "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre."
^^^^^^^
Equally, I had little doubt that Bush and Blair thought that it would come to war. Neither had any confidence in Saddam's doing the right thing. Who did?Other questions remain. Throughout 2002, the British embassy in Washington warned that that the linkage between the political and the military components in planning for Iraq was defective; that the political could not be left to the Pentagon; that planning in Washington for the administration of Iraq after Saddam's demise was rudimentary; and that the timetables of the military and the UN inspectors could not be reconciled. The role of coercive diplomacy is a neglected element in the polemic about the Iraq war: without the US military threat, the inspectors would never have been readmitted.The embassy also said that Britain had the leverage to do something about all this. What leverage? When I have made this point to former colleagues in the British government, they have disagreed vehemently.They cite Bush's offer to Blair that Britain stay out of the war if it was going to be too difficult politically, or Rumsfeld's apparent dismissal of the British military contribution. But these things were said at two minutes to midnight when war was inevitable.Even in the autumn and early winter of 2002, my contacts were regularly confirming that Bush had not yet taken an irrevocable decision to go to war. War was, of course, by far and away the most likely outcome. But that was not the same thing.London was not fertile ground for the notion of leverage or the tough negotiating position that must sometimes be taken even with the closest allies - as Churchill did with Roosevelt and Thatcher did with Reagan. By the early autumn of 2002, despite Blair's earlier expressions of unconditional support, Britain should have made its participation in any war dependent on a fully worked-out plan, agreed by both sides, for the rehabilitation of Iraq after Saddam's demise.This would have been the appropriate quid pro quo for Blair's display of "cojones". We may have been the junior partner in the enterprise, but the ace up our sleeves was that America did not want to go it alone. Had Britain so insisted, Iraq after Saddam might have avoided the violence that may yet prove fatal to the entire enterprise. Unfortunately, and unavoidably, at precisely this moment, political energy in London had become consumed by a titanic struggle to keep public opinion, parliament and the Labour party onside for war. There was little energy left in No 10 to think about the aftermath. Since Downing Street drove Iraq policy, efforts made by the Foreign Office to engage with the Americans on the subject came to nothing.A notorious Downing Street memorandum, recording a meeting between Blair and close advisers in July, 2002, suggests that the head of the intelligence service, Sir Richard Dearlove, had already concluded that war was inevitable.To a degree, this is hardly surprising. Those sitting inside the military and intelligence machines, tasked to prepare for the contingency of war, and absorbed in their preparations, were always likely to conclude that war was the irrevocable intention.The more interesting question is whether No 10, relying heavily - maybe too heavily - on the views of these military and intelligence advisers, as a consequence underestimated its political leverage and ability to affect the course of events. I believe the US and the UK would have stood a better chance of going to war in good order had they planned the campaign not for the spring of 2003, but the autumn - the next spell of cool weather in Iraq.Besides giving more time to prepare for the aftermath of war, a more deliberate timetable might have made it possible to reach agreement on a second UN resolution. Once that happened, Saddam would have known the game was up. It might have sufficiently ratcheted up the pressure to lead to a coup against him or his flight into exile.I never interpreted the French refusal to accept the draft of a second resolution as a refusal for ever and a day. In diplomacy, you never say never. Talking to me in private, French officials accuse America and Britain of deliberately exaggerating France's position to justify going to war without further UN cover. We will know the full truth only when the archives are opened.Crucially, a slower timetable for war would have avoided that frantic search for a "smoking gun" between December 2002 and the outbreak of war. By going down that road, the Americans and British shifted the burden of proof from Saddam to themselves. We had to show that he was guilty. This turned out to be a strategic error, which to this day, in the absence of WMD, continues cruelly to torment Blair and Bush.It was precisely these pressures which led to the mistakes and misjudgments of the two British dossiers on Saddam's WMD.Enormous controversy surrounds the intelligence on which Blair and Bush relied. I saw a great deal of intelligence material in 2002, and I was myself persuaded that Iraq had WMD.There is nothing of which I am aware that Blair said publicly about the intelligence for which he did not have cover either from the joint intelligence committee (JIC) or from its chairman, John Scarlett. If either succumbed to political pressure, that is another story.Had I been in Alastair Campbell's place, I too would have wanted as categorical a public depiction of Saddam's threat as possible. Equally I would have expected the JIC to be rigorous in telling me how far I could go.Tony Blair chose to take his stand against Saddam and alongside Bush from the highest of high moral ground. It is the definitive riposte to the idea that Blair was merely the president's poodle, seduced though he and his team always appeared to be by the proximity and glamour of American power.But the high moral ground, and the pure white flame of unconditional support to an ally in service of an idea, have their disadvantages.They place your destiny in the hands of the ally. They fly above the tangled history of Sunni, Shia and Kurd. They discourage descent into the dull detail of tough and necessary bargaining: meat and drink to Margaret Thatcher, but, so it seemed, uncongenial to Tony Blair.As the French commander Marshal Bosquet said in 1854 during the Crimean war, on observing the Charge of the Light Brigade towards the Russian cannon at Balaclava: "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre.
"^^^^^^^
The Guardian -- London -- Monday November 7, 2005
DC Confidential
Playing to the crowd - Rock star politicians
Sir Christopher Meyer

The Clintons pulled out all the stops. The state dinner at the White House was a grand and glittering affair. A marquee had been pitched in the White House grounds for after-dinner musical entertainment by Elton John and Stevie Wonder. Wonder's virtuosity made Elton John sound like a pub pianist, and he wrapped up the evening singing My Cherie Amour. Cherie herself looked star-struck, almost overwhelmed by the glamour of the occasion.

On this first visit, Clinton took the prime minister to Blair high school in Maryland. Thousands were gathered in the sports hall. The noise was thunderous. Clinton and Blair waited in the wings to address the students: two trim, tall, youngish figures in blue suits. I remembered a remark of Peter Mandelson's: "When you see them together, they are like brothers."

They went out on stage. It was president and prime minister as rock stars. Give them black pork-pie hats and shades and it would have been the Blues Brothers. The screaming was deafening, the adulation total. "How," I thought to myself, "how can you do this and not let it turn your head?"

The following year, 1999, Blair had another ego-boosting insight into his enormous pulling power in the US when he delivered a speech on foreign affairs to the Chicago Economic Club.

Against the background of the Kosovo crisis, Blair promulgated a doctrine of international community and humanitarian intervention, almost pre-emption. This was not a million miles from one of the main arguments that would be used to justify the attack on Iraq in 2003.

Eloquently delivered in Blair's evangelical style, it was greeted with a thunderous ovation. Around the auditorium, the cry went up: "Blair for President." What a superb American politician he would have made, I thought. His gifts worked even better in the US than they did in the UK.
^^^^^*

The Guardian -- London -- Monday November 8, 2005
DC Confidential
The case of the wrong trousers
Dress sense
Sir Christopher Meyer

With a minimum of ceremony we were whisked away in a fleet of golf buggies to our cabins, where we changed out of our suits for lunch. White House instructions were to be informal, but not too informal: chinos, but no jeans.

Blair put on a pair of ball-crushingly tight dark-blue corduroys. I was later told that his wardrobe for the weekend had been the result of intensive debate within No 10.

If true, it was not wholly successful. Bush and Blair had a photo call later in the day, as they went for a walk in the woods. Bush looked pretty relaxed in what one assumed were his usual weekend clothes.

By contrast, Blair looked uncomfortable, his efforts to appear similarly insouciant undermined by the inability to get his hands fully into pockets that appeared glued to the groin.

In my experience, prime ministers have an unhappy relationship with clothes. For Blair there was to be another awkward trouser moment a year later at the president's ranch at Crawford, Texas.

On that occasion, the dress code was once again "smart casual". As we were called to dinner I saw Tony and Cherie talking to each other in consternation. "I am the only one wearing jeans. I have to change," I heard him say. He raced back to the guesthouse. The president, at another table, rose to his feet to give a toast of welcome to the prime minister and his wife. To my horror I saw that Blair had not returned from changing his trousers. As her husband began to speak, Laura Bush whispered to me: "Where's the prime minister?"

"Bushie," Laura called out, "you'll have to sit down. The ambassador says that the prime minister has gone to adjust his dress."

A few moments later, a slightly breathless and embarrassed prime minister made his entrance and the president rose once more to give his toast.With a minimum of ceremony we were whisked away in a fleet of golf buggies to our cabins, where we changed out of our suits for lunch. White House instructions were to be informal, but not too informal: chinos, but no jeans. Blair put on a pair of ball-crushingly tight dark-blue corduroys. I was later told that his wardrobe for the weekend had been the result of intensive debate within No 10.If true, it was not wholly successful. Bush and Blair had a photo call later in the day, as they went for a walk in the woods. Bush looked pretty relaxed in what one assumed were his usual weekend clothes. By contrast, Blair looked uncomfortable, his efforts to appear similarly insouciant undermined by the inability to get his hands fully into pockets that appeared glued to the groin. In my experience, prime ministers have an unhappy relationship with clothes. For Blair there was to be another awkward trouser moment a year later at the president's ranch at Crawford, Texas. On that occasion, the dress code was once again "smart casual". As we were called to dinner I saw Tony and Cherie talking to each other in consternation. "I am the only one wearing jeans. I have to change," I heard him say. He raced back to the guesthouse. The president, at another table, rose to his feet to give a toast of welcome to the prime minister and his wife. To my horror I saw that Blair had not returned from changing his trousers. As her husband began to speak, Laura Bush whispered to me: "Where's the prime minister?" "Bushie," Laura called out, "you'll have to sit down. The ambassador says that the prime minister has gone to adjust his dress." A few moments later, a slightly breathless and embarrassed prime minister made his entrance and the president rose once more to give his toast.
With a minimum of ceremony we were whisked away in a fleet of golf buggies to our cabins, where we changed out of our suits for lunch. White House instructions were to be informal, but not too informal: chinos, but no jeans. Blair put on a pair of ball-crushingly tight dark-blue corduroys. I was later told that his wardrobe for the weekend had been the result of intensive debate within No 10.If true, it was not wholly successful. Bush and Blair had a photo call later in the day, as they went for a walk in the woods. Bush looked pretty relaxed in what one assumed were his usual weekend clothes. By contrast, Blair looked uncomfortable, his efforts to appear similarly insouciant undermined by the inability to get his hands fully into pockets that appeared glued to the groin. In my experience, prime ministers have an unhappy relationship with clothes. For Blair there was to be another awkward trouser moment a year later at the president's ranch at Crawford, Texas. On that occasion, the dress code was once again "smart casual". As we were called to dinner I saw Tony and Cherie talking to each other in consternation. "I am the only one wearing jeans. I have to change," I heard him say. He raced back to the guesthouse. The president, at another table, rose to his feet to give a toast of welcome to the prime minister and his wife. To my horror I saw that Blair had not returned from changing his trousers. As her husband began to speak, Laura Bush whispered to me: "Where's the prime minister?" "Bushie," Laura called out, "you'll have to sit down. The ambassador says that the prime minister has gone to adjust his dress." A few moments later, a slightly breathless and embarrassed prime minister made his entrance and the president rose once more to give his toast.
^^^^^^
The Guardian -- London -- Tuesday November 8, 2005
The pygmies in Tony Blair's cabinet

In the second extract from his memoirs Sir Christopher Meyer, former ambassador to the US, is scathing about some Labour ministers - among them Jack Straw, John Prescott and Geoff Hoon

Visits by New Labour ministers and the occasional Tory opposition figure offered endless variety and stimulation during my time at the embassy in Washington. There was a minority of capable ministers, who stood out like Masai warriors in a crowd of pygmies.

Several women were among them. The late Mo Mowlam and Clare Short - whose political careers later came to grief - were, at the height of their powers, formidable operators who enjoyed the respect of their American counterparts.

Mo's talents were intuitive and political; Clare had some of the same qualities, married to a firm grasp of her brief. Both were admirably blunt and direct. They were also good company and liked a tipple at the end of a full working day.

Margaret Beckett (Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs - agriculture to you and me), in her understated, underestimated way, quietly impressed well beyond her reputation and was a vast improvement on her hesitant and almost inaudible predecessor, Nick Brown.

Another formidable figure was Blair's first foreign secretary, Robin Cook. I had already encountered him during my brief incarnation as ambassador to Germany before taking up my post in America. A man more to be admired than liked, Cook put in a bravura performance during a lightning visit to Bonn to see his German opposite number, Klaus Kinkel.

Kinkel was surrounded by advisers and a mountain of briefs, while Cook had with him no briefs that I could detect, just a notepad with a few jottings. If you had not known, you would have thought Kinkel the novice and Cook the man with years of experience. It was admirable.

People in the Foreign Office told me later that Cook was idle about reading his briefs. If that was so, he managed to conceal it through a natural intelligence and a lucid, forensic style of exposition.

One problem that became immediately clear in the rest of Tony Blair's team was lack of government experience. It does the British democratic system no favours when the main opposition party is out of office for nearly 20 years. It is hardly surprising that Labour in power has found it so difficult to change habits formed in opposition. It explains why, to the detriment of the cabinet's authority, Tony Blair relied for so long on the coterie of personal advisers who had accompanied him in the storming of the Labour party heights.

It may also explain the hesitancy and nervousness of some ministers on business in Washington. It took Jack Straw, someone more to be liked than admired, a long time to find his feet. On a visit in 1999, as home secretary, he was mystifyingly tongue-tied in the unthreatening presence of Janet Reno, the attorney general, and Louis Freeh, the director of the FBI. He was not much better in his early days as foreign secretary, though, as he himself was the first to admit, his appointment after the 2001 election had come as a complete surprise.

With the acquisition of experience, Straw was to develop into a solid and competent foreign secretary, though, as the French say, he did not invent gunpowder.

Straw's uncertain touch was as nothing compared with poor old John Prescott. I really liked Prescott, though I know that the feeling was never mutual. The only time when Prescott and I seemed to find real common ground was when I helped him choose eight recordings for the New Zealand equivalent of Desert Island Discs, over which he was much exercised.

It was a shame. Somebody said to me that he thought me a pinstriped toff, determined to belittle him. Each time Prescott arrived at the embassy he was like a mastiff with his hackles up, just waiting to be "dissed". In fact, I thought he had a sharp political brain and that it would be folly to underestimate him; but, somehow or other, we got off on the wrong foot from the beginning. I learned later that he had complained in London about my reading the morning's telegraphic reports from the Foreign Office while he held forth to his staff over breakfast.

We were about to call on Vice-president Al Gore. It was indispensable for Prescott and me to be fully briefed beforehand as I knew Gore and his staff would be.

'Balklands' war

Prescott took his status as deputy prime minister very seriously, insisting always on seeing the vice-president and on discussing the full range of foreign policy issues of the moment. The problem with this was that he never appeared to be sufficiently up on these issues and he always seemed nervous. I would will him on as he sank lower in his chair and talked faster and faster. During the Kosovo campaign he got into a terrible tangle with a senator, to whom he talked about war in the "Balklands" and "Kovosa". The senator, who knew something about military matters, was surprised to hear from the deputy prime minister that British Harriers were bombing from 15ft.

On another occasion, with Vice-president Gore, the two subjects for discussion - transatlantic air services and the environment - melded indistinguishably into each other under the pressure of Prescott's syntax and verbal velocity. A member of Gore's staff called afterwards to "clarify" the discussion.

Though Prescott raised a few eyebrows - Vice-president Dick Cheney and his staff were a study in poker faces and twitching eyebrows when he saw them in 2002 - Americans on the whole took to him and he had good friends on Capitol Hill.

There were others who assumed their ministerial roles as to the manner born: Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson, John Reid, Paul Murphy, Denis MacShane, the late Donald Dewar. They handled themselves with skill and self-confidence in a city which can intimidate. The performance of Dewar, Scotland's first first minister after devolution, was a tour de force of intellectual brilliance, incisive negotiation and humour.

His amiably uncharismatic successor, Henry McLeish, was struck nearly dumb with shock when to his astonishment (and mine, to be frank) a chance remark that I had made to the White House about his visiting Washington led to an invitation to meet President Bush. As poor Henry twitched and stuttered in the Oval Office, George Bush, accompanied by the then national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, genially recounted stories of his time in Scotland as a boy.

After McLeish's coup the sound of spitting from envious Westminster politicians became audible. It caused me all kinds of problems. There are few things harder to handle than a minister who expects access way above his or her pay grade. One threw a tantrum and cancelled her visit, because her demands for access could not be met.

Then there was the case of Michael Levy - Lord Levy - New Labour's fund-raiser, Blair's special envoy to the Middle East, and, as he was described by those close to him, the intimate friend and tennis partner of the prime minister.

At some point in 2001 he announced his intention to come to Washington. This was news that chilled to the marrow even the hardiest ambassador. Levy, I was told, wanted to be seen as a latter-day Kissinger of the Middle East peace process. He shuttled around Israel and the Arab countries, giving birth to voluminous reports to London in which he played a prominent role. But as I reported to Jack Straw, I was warned by members of the Saudi and Jordanian royal families that Levy was not terribly welcome in their countries, and that he was received only out of friendship for Tony Blair.

I had been hearing for some time from the Foreign Office that Levy was keen to extend his activities to the US. We had already had to advise against his coming during the Bush/Gore campaign of 2000 for fear this would translate into a signal of support from Blair for Gore. But there was no stopping his visit the next year.

At first his ambitions were reasonable. He had got to know Rich Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, somewhere in the private sector and quite understandably wanted to see him. He had others on his list, who were senior, influential people appropriate to his status. It was too good to last. Not long before he was due to arrive Levy called me to say that he now wanted to see Condi Rice, Colin Powell and others of cabinet rank; and that this had Blair's backing.

Unrealistic ambitions

I told Levy that this was unrealistically ambitious, if only for protocol reasons. I phoned Jonathan Powell, who confirmed that I was not to waste capital in trying to secure access for Levy at this level. I implored Powell to tell Levy this.

Levy duly arrived at the residence. He immediately asked to speak to me in private. I deduced that Powell had not spoken to him. I told Levy that the top echelon was out of his reach. If Colin Powell were in his office when we went to see Armitage, it was possible that we would be taken in to see him. For the rest, he had a very good programme. Levy was not to be consoled. He told me that humiliation awaited him in London if these meetings did not materialise.

The programme went ahead as originally planned. Levy had good meetings. To be fair, he was quite interesting and informative on Israeli politics. Before he departed, he said what a good job I was doing and how much the prime minister appreciated me. But a little bird later told me that he had complained in No 10 about the way I organised his visit.

There was some fortuitous extra needle in the visit, for reasons that had nothing to do with foreign affairs. By chance, the record producer Mickie Most and his wife Chrissie were staying with us. Mickie had discovered and recorded some of the biggest pop acts of the 60s and 70s: the Animals, Herman's Hermits, Donovan, Hot Chocolate, Lulu, Mud and Suzi Quatro, among others.

Mickie had known Michael Levy when the latter had been a humble and, according to Mickie, unloved accountant in the music industry. Levy's main claim to fame was to have managed the 70s glam rocker Alvin Stardust. There was no love lost between Mickie Most and Levy.

Intimidating presence

Donald Rumsfeld, Bush's defence secretary, can be an intimidating presence. He is a former wrestler and navy pilot, and is blunt and to the point. He liked and respected George Robertson, Blair's first defence secretary. It proved harder to find a common wavelength between Rumsfeld and Robertson's successor, the affable Geoff Hoon. In fact it was like getting pandas to mate. Hoon got nervous in Rumsfeld's presence.

One Sunday in March 2002 Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld's deputy, came to lunch at my residence. There were just the two of us. We discussed what could be done to get Hoon and Rumsfeld closer. After all, by that time, Britain and the US were fighting together in Afghanistan. Neither of us had an instant solution. I believe that as a result of this conversation Rumsfeld invited Hoon to travel with him on his aircraft to a Nato meeting in Brussels.

British officials in London are attracted to dealing directly with their counterparts in Washington like moths to a flame. But this has its dangers. In particular, American officials are not slow to try to inveigle their British counterparts into a supporting role in the interdepartmental battles which are a permanent feature of Washington's bureaucratic life.

Jack Straw used to pride himself on the intimacy and frequency of his contacts on the phone with Bush's secretary of state, Colin Powell. They were, indeed, a valuable line of communication. But Tony Blair was right to be irritated by what he saw as Powell's attempts through Straw to make use of the British government in his battles with Cheney and Rumsfeld for the president's ear.

Other memories from my time in Washington are more personal.

Michael Douglas courting Catherine Zeta-Jones after a dinner in 1999 at which Hillary Clinton had fallen asleep during a narcoleptic speech from Chris Smith, the then culture secretary.

A group of women from Northern Ireland, all of whom had lost menfolk to terrorism, recounting how they had refused to tell the White House who was Protestant, who Catholic.

Robin Cook in earnest pursuit over the phone of his bride-to-be, Gaynor.

And last, but not least, a drunken Scottish MP I shall forbear to name, looking at me and asking loudly, "Who's that fucking prick?"

Gordon Brown - Quiet at first, then charm itself

When I first encountered Tony Blair and Gordon Brown they struck me as an odd couple: Blair effervescent and talkative, with a flashing smile and almost unnaturally youthful; Brown taciturn and brooding, with nails bitten to the quick. This gave the impression that Blair was the senior partner. But after a while, as you observed them, you began to ask the question that has bedevilled British politics for almost 10 years: who is the organ grinder and who the monkey?

In those early days, they were both still opposition MPs, visiting Washington to make contacts with Bill Clinton's Democrats. I was the deputy ambassador, and my duties included helping to arrange these meetings.

Among those around Blair, I thought only Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell and, later, Jonathan Powell, matched Clinton's advisers for intellectual firepower and political imagination. Gordon Brown was hard to read because he said so little. So was Blair, perhaps because he talked so much. Eric Anderson, Blair's headmaster at his public school, Fettes, once said to me that all I had to know about Tony Blair was that he was a great actor.

After I became ambassador, I saw another side to Brown. Unlike other cabinet ministers, he never stayed at our embassy. He would plant himself in a hotel, frequently the Watergate, surrounded by a small band of advisers. I think he regarded ambassadors as the eyes and ears of Tony Blair. I can understand why this bothered him.

Brown did not confine his American contacts to his economic opposite numbers. He built his own political network with the Democratic party.

From time to time, I was admitted to Brown's magic circle. I found him terrific company - friendliness and charm personified. I was also surprised at his voluble interest in American politics, on which he was a fair expert.

Terror attacks - how Charles missed a chance to win over New Yorkers

September 11 struck horribly close to home for me and my staff. The Pentagon is only three or four miles from the British embassy, and the explosion as it was hit by one of the hijacked aircraft was clearly audible.

My wife Catherine went up to the roof of the residence and saw the Pentagon in flames. The smell of blazing kerosene drifted on the light breeze. Later, staff at our consulate general in New York would tell us extraordinary stories of the events that were unfolding there. Stories of schoolchildren watching the bodies fall from the World Trade Centre and thinking they were birds. Stories of people pursued by dust storms as they ran for their lives. Stories of friends, and friends of friends, who were missing presumed dead.

News of the first plane hitting the Trade Centre had reached Washington as I was finishing my morning coffee on the terrace with John Major, the former prime minister, who happened to be staying with us. My first reaction was to assume this had been some private plane that had wandered off course or got into difficulties.

Then Catherine suddenly called out and urged me to come in and watch the television. "Something terrible has happened," she cried. That was the second aircraft hitting the south tower.

Forty minutes later came the attack on the Pentagon. There were rumours of other aircraft in the hands of terrorists flying towards Washington. I snapped out of my horrified reverie and summoned a council of war of core staff. I sent everyone else home. I had no idea if they would be safer, but my instinct was that families should be together.

Catherine noticed that an almost complete silence had fallen on Washington. Cars and people had vanished from the streets. The familiar and often irritating sound of Washington's Reagan airport had ceased. There was a sense of foreboding and menace in the air.

John Major was due to head off to a meeting of the Carlyle Group, one of the most powerful private equity firms in the US, whose European arm he chaired.

Catherine urged him not to go downtown, but he did. He returned at lunch to say there had been a brief meeting of the Carlyle Group people, who had then gone their separate ways. "I met Mr Bin Laden this morning," he reported. This was, it transpired, one of Osama's many siblings, a major Carlyle investor.

Major was stuck at the embassy until the end of the week, because the Americans had closed their airspace. At one stage, we thought the Duchess of York would also seek refuge with us, but she managed to get out through Canada.

After several days of frantic activity, Catherine and I went to New York to give moral support to the staff at the consulate general and to review the arrangements to receive British relatives of the dead. Our first port of call was a centre set up so relatives could leave DNA samples to be matched with whatever remains were retrieved. On the fence outside were scores of pitiful photographs of the missing, with plaintive appeals for help in tracing them. Desperate people wandered in and out.

We decided not to add to the burdens on an overstretched city administration by asking to visit Ground Zero. We got to see it the following month with Prince Andrew and New York's mayor, Rudolph Giuliani. The prince had come to New York to discharge duties intended for his elder brother. The Prince of Wales was patron of an event called UK in New York, which had been planned long before 9/11 as a fortnight in October to promote British business.

Prince Charles had been unable to come to New York for the event, much to the chagrin of the organisers. I was told by a deep throat not a million miles from the prince's household that shooting at Balmoral had taken precedence.

Prince Andrew stepped into the breach. By the time he arrived in New York the event had changed its name to UK with New York, to underline Britain's solidarity with the city.

Andrew did a fine job representing Britain. He bathed in the warm appreciation of New Yorkers. It would have been a golden opportunity for the Prince of Wales to escape the shadow of Princess Diana and make a fresh start with America - something, so I was told by a courtier, he and his advisers earnestly wanted.

During his visit, Giuliani took Prince Andrew and the rest of us onto the roof of a tall building overlooking Ground Zero. More than a month after the atrocity, the fires were still burning. It was a vision of hell, with workers crawling over the site like small figures in an Hieronymus Bosch painting.