The Foreign Service Journal - December 2013 - page 94

A Special Relationship’s
The Embassy in Grosvenor Square:
American Ambassadors to the
United Kingdom, 1938-2008
Alison R. Holmes and J. Simon Rofe,
et al., Palgrave Macmillan, 2012,
$95, hardcover, 392 pages.
Reviewed by Dennis Jett
This is a very useful book, and not just
for those who have an interest in Anglo-
American relations. The contributions
by J. Simon Rofe, Alison R. Holmes and
11 other academics, nearly all of them
historians, are extremely well researched,
enjoyable explorations of the role of
Washington’s envoy to the Court of St.
James’s. Collectively, they illuminate how
much has changed in American diplo-
macy over the past seven decades—and
how much has not.
In the earliest years of the U.S.-U.K.
relationship, many of the American
chiefs of mission in London went on to
the highest positions in government. Five
would become president, nine were later
Secretary of State, and four were both.
Today, London is still one of the most
prestigious U.S. diplomatic posts—but
it has lately become a prized destina-
tion for very rich, white, male political
appointees (international experience
hundreds of thousands more from their
Yet while ambassadors to the Court
of St. James’s are appointed by the
president, few have been close friends of
his. This has frequently led to a distant
relationship with the White House, if not
a prickly one. As Michael
Fullilove documented earlier
this year in
Rendezvous with
Destiny: How Franklin D.
Roosevelt and Five Extraor-
dinary Men Took America
into the War and into the
cession of special envoys
to bypass Joseph Kennedy
once the ambassador
decided Britain was going
to lose World War II.
In these less geopolitically fraught
times, the U.S. ambassador still has many
important duties, of course. For instance,
now that anyone can hop on a plane at
Dulles and be in London seven hours
later, the embassy gets about 20,000 offi-
cial visitors a year. Because of the wide
array of important contacts to be made
on their behalf, our man on the other
side of the pond must handle endless
social obligations and satisfy a constant
demand for public diplomacy.
Some political appointees in London
have performed that function very well.
Others, like John J. Lewis, the heir to the
Johnson Wax fortune, disliked such tasks
so much that it makes one wonder why
he wanted the position in the first place.
Another curious choice for the job
was Robert Tuttle, who inherited an
auto dealership and parlayed it into a
job in the personnel office of the Reagan
White House. There he
proposed an ideologue
for every ambassador-
ship and succeeded in
raising the percentage of
political appointees to a
level not seen since the
Hoover administration.
Why someone with such
obvious contempt for
the Foreign Service, and
government in general,
would later want to run
an embassy with a staff of
a thousand is a mystery,
but perhaps even used
car salesmen worry about
their resumés.
This book is also a good
reminder that even the
best of friends often have
profound differences. I
got a taste of that when, as
Argentine desk officer, I
had to explain in a BBC interview why we
were renewing military sales to Buenos
Aires little more than a year after the
Falklands (Malvinas) War.
Given the importance and complex-
ity of the Anglo-American relationship,
one might wonder why we so often send
ambassadors with little to recommend
them besides the size of their bank
accounts. Then again, perhaps I just
answered my own question.
Dennis Jett, an FSO from 1972 to 2000, was
ambassador to Mozambique and Peru, and
deputy chief of mission in Malawi and Libe-
ria, among many other assignments. Now
a professor of international affairs at Penn
State University, he is the author of
Peacekeeping Fails
(Palgrave Macmillan,
2001) and is writing a book on American
ambassadors that Palgrave Macmillan will
publish in 2014.
Given the importance and complexity of
the Anglo-American relationship, one might
wonder why we so often send ambassadors
to London with little to recommend them
besides the size of their bank accounts.
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