Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Cowper-Coles book offers fascinating diplomatic insights

I've started to read Cables from Kabul: the Inside story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign, by Britain's former ambassador, Sherard Cowper-Coles, who was in post from 2007-2010. I will write a fuller assessment of the book when I have finished it, but already it is clear that it is stuffed with fascinating material. He discusses the frustration of the British system for diplomatic staff of 'six weeks on, followed by a two-week breather', saying "Sometimes, in despair, learning that some member of the team had just disappeared 'on breather', I would feel I was running a railway station rather than an embassy".
Describing running the British embassy, he says: "Mostly, however, it was more like being the headmaster of a run-down but generally happy and successful prep school, or the governor of an open prison whose inmates were repaying their debt to society handsomely and many times over. None of us doubted that, compared with our rivals - the overlarge and persistently unhappy American Embassy, the Canadians, the French, the Germans, the Danes and the Dutch, plus a UN mission almost always at war with itself - we were by far the most effective diplomatic operation in town. We knew more, did more, worked harder and had more fun than any of the other Embassies."
Rivals? I thought we were all in it together! More of this fascinating book anon.

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