Saturday, March 12, 2011

Choose Your Weapons: The British Foreign Secretary – 200 Years of Argument, Success and Failure, by Douglas Hurd and Edward Young (Phoenix)

British Foreign Secretary William Hague
This unexpectedly enjoyable book begins with Lord Castlereagh and George Canning choosing pistols for a duel on Putney Heath in 1809. Both men survived and went on to become foreign secretaries, but according to Hurd and Young, Castlereagh and Canning represent two competing approaches to British foreign policy. Castlereagh was cautious and favoured compromise, Canning was more progressive and interventionist. Should British foreign secretaries try to change the world? Yes, one might argue, if it means abolishing slavery; no, if it means, say, colluding in the overthrow of the elected government of Iran – and, of course, Blair used “humanitarian intervention” to justify invading Iraq (disaster generally follows when PMs assume the foreign secretary’s responsibilities, says Hurd). The book explores the private lives and public careers of 11 foreign secretaries from 1807 to 1956; Lord Salisbury and Ernest Bevin shine, but others in the post went about appeasing dictators, alienating allies and losing influence abroad. It’s a spry account with some vivid vignettes.

from the Guardian 05.02.11

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