Craig cheerfully writes:
Much enjoyed your commentary on the Kristina episode.
But at some stage you have to face the real question. Nobody now doubts the CIA’s use of torture, by proxy as in Uzbekistan or even direct. And as you know very well, the UK government gets the CIA reports which are a result of torture. There is an argument – advanced by many around Bush – that torture is justifiable in the War on Terror. I did not invent what I was complaining about in Uzbekistan, and there are issues here other than the beauty of my secretary …
By the time you finish making fun of the more amusing bits of the book, I hope you’ll have faced some of the deeper questions.
I have replied that indeed I will do that. Debate is joined.
I proceed for now by taking the book as Craig wrote it. So, having dealt with the cover I move to the Preface.
Craig begins the book by saying that to the best of his knowledge and memory it is a true story, albeit told largely from memory:
But most importantly it is the truth as I perceived it … Different people can thus experience the same events and have a different take on what happened. I am not saying that mine is uniquely correct. This is what seemed (sic) to me to be happening, and how it felt to be me, experiencing it.
As a fellow ex-FCO professional I do not like that passage. It comes across as somehow equivocal, maybe even a bit shifty.
Is there a sense here that Craig knows that his own actions and attitudes are open to severe criticism, and that the best way to head that off is to steer the book away from Facts and Judgements towards a much more slippery territory of Experience and Feelings?
Let me digress.
Promotion in the FCO as in much of the real world turns these days on ‘competences’ – those qualities the organisation in question looks for in its people at each level and especially the higher levels.
In the FCO as elsewhere Competences change according to fashion and latest management theory. Thus in my own very final appraisal of 2007/08 I was assessed on:
- Getting the best from staff
- Delivering results
- Strategic thinking
- Personal impact
- Learning and development
There used (as recently as 2002) to be a longer and better list covering such issues as Adaptability and Creativity, Communication (Written and Oral), Relating to Others and above all Analysis and Judgement.
And the greatest of these is Analysis and Judgement. (Memo to next government: bring that back on Day One.)
Because in foreign policy things are complicated. Long-term v short-term. Big v Small. Certainty v uncertainty. Principle v Politics v Practical v Possible.
Thus in a democracy what Ministers need is a team of skilled people able to help them steer through these operational and philosophical complexities for a few years.
People who simplify complexity but in a subtle, nuanced way. Who are good at bringing people of rival opinions together and explaining convincingly what might best be done. People who can juggle numerous balls but keep their eye on the Big Picture. People of unerring accuracy.
And ‘Judgement’ is the word for all that. Without Judgement a civil servant (like a Minister) is fairly useless.
So what? The point – a serious one – is this.
Judgement is not about looking at the world from the point of view of one’s feelings and ‘experiences’. It is the exact opposite of that.
It is about keeping one’s feelings/experiences in the picture but not letting them detract unduly from a hard-headed or even ruthless objective focus on the wider issues.
See eg this well-known example of Structural Judgement Failure in this sense.
So in presenting his whole book as essentially ‘the truth as he perceives it’ Craig turns his back on the World of Judgement and wanders off somewhere else. As we shall see, that question of Judgement (and Lack Of) is at the heart of the whole story.
Craig says that he never expected to have to confront extreme moral dilemmas of the sort he had debated at school.
But my brilliant career, resulting in my appointment as Ambassador at the age of 43, ended with me writing in an official telegram to Jack Straw, British Foreign Secretary: ‘I will not attempt to hide … my shame that I work in an organisation where colleagues would resort to [casuistry] to justify torture.’
Reading that for the first time I thought that Craig was being ironic in describing his career as ‘brilliant’. But on second thoughts I think he meant it!
What is a brilliant FCO career?
Not Craig’s. Nor indeed mine.
A brilliant FCO career is one involving not merely serious jobs but also jobs at the heart of the policy machine as a whole. Thus it is almost impossible to get to the Very Top without one or more Private Secretary positions in the FCO or No 10. It is those jobs which give you both a vast range of operational insight plus knowledge of how Ministers and Parliament work – the very heart of our democracy.
Craig (like me) had none of those jobs. Nor did he work in eg the FCO Planners, another ‘core’ job. Nor did he work in a single Big Embassy.
It took him thirteen years to move from Second Secretary to Deputy Head of Department. It took me rather less, eleven years, and I did it younger. The brilliant ones would have done it notably faster
He was indeed a young Ambassador when appointed to go to Uzbekistan at 43, but then others have been much younger.
And in any case as everyone in the FCO knows, Embassies are in clear hierarchical categories: Champions League, Premiership, Championship, Leagues One and Two and even Non-League.
Uzbekistan was definitely not a top posting, although Craig’s book brings out well the fact that it was a much more policy-important place than the FCO seemed to think.
So Craig’s career was not at all ‘brilliant’. He was doing reasonably well, but (my guess) towards the back of the pack of his joining generation.
And in case you are wondering what a Brilliant FCO Career looks like, try this for size.
Finally, the Preface talks about ‘authoritarian forces’ in HM Government and says that:
It will surprise readers in many countries to know that the British Government has the power to censor books by former civil servants and even to ban them completely. In the current shift towards authoritarianism, Jack Straw has announced to Parliament that the government intends to tighten these rules still further to make such suppression even easier. There has been no proposal for the public burning of books yet, but give it time.
As every civil servant knows, in our system civil servants are given years of (if not professional lifetime) access to many significant decisions and intelligence reports. It is obviously reasonable that the government (like any other employer) lay down rules on how people leaving public service might profit from the knowledge and insight they acquired working for the taxpayer. This is common sense, not ‘authoritarianism’ or ‘suppression’.
See also the related question of when (if at all) and how civil servants might honourably ‘leak’ material for a supposed greater good. Such as this:
A weighty part of the liberal values of this country is a respect for process and professional trust. Many thousands of civil servants honestly accept that discipline every day, even when they have some doubts about what is proposed, and Ministers (and the public) rely on them to do just that. Their self-restraint is what makes practical democracy tick.
These questions are (again) all about Judgement. To suggest even rhetorically that we are heading down the road to public book-burning shows Lack Thereof.
So that’s Craig’s Preface.
Professional Judgement Rating: 2/10. Picks up a number of significant issues clearly and pertinently, but shows worrying signs of lack of self-awareness, avoiding responsibility and lapsing into hyperbole and unconvincing tendentiousness.
Next: Craig’s first chapter.