Selin Nasi

Ankara Policy Center London Representative

Peter Westmacott (L) and his wife, Susie Namazee, are seen with Joe Biden, then-vice president of the U.S. (Photo: Twitter/Westmacott)

Diplomacy is the promotion of the national interest by peaceful means, contends, Hans J. Morgenthau, the father of classical realism in international relations. If the foreign office is the brain where foreign policy is formulated, diplomatic representatives are its eyes, ears and mouth – and even its fingertips. Tasked with representing their countries in foreign lands, diplomats execute foreign policy in the field, carefully weaving ties between states and repairing withered connections. Their personal successes are generally chalked up as wins for the countries they serve. In the main, the memoirs of diplomats, who are entrusted with correctly explaining developments in their host countries to those back home, are invaluable for researchers, given that they shine a light on what goes on behind the scenes.

For a cogent example, look no further than Peter Westmacott’s new book, “They Call It Diplomacy: Forty Years of Representing Britain Abroad” from Head of Zeus, which details the former British ambassador to Ankara’s observations, experiences and anecdotes from a 40-year career at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

“They Call It Diplomacy: Forty Years of Representing Britain Abroad” by Peter Westmacott includes three chapters on Turkey.

Beyond the glittering life, lies hard work and dedication

Westmacott shows that, far from the caricatured images of glittering halls and silver platters at exclusive soirées, the diplomatic profession is far more arduous than most think and that diplomats shoulder some pretty heavy responsibilities. In a world in which communication is instantaneous, world leaders trade messages over social media and the prospect of a breakdown in communication is always nigh, Westmacott questions the importance and function of diplomacy. 

The memoirs from Westmacott, who did tours of duty in important places like Tehran, Ankara, Brussels, Paris and Washington during his career, features a close examination of the profiles of a variety of leaders, including Tony Blair, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Barack Obama. Written in a smooth style, the book takes readers on a journey through time to cast a critical eye on pre-revolutionary Iran, Europe’s political integration, the post-9/11 political setting, the historical competition between Britain and France, the special ties between London and Washington, as well as Britain’s Brexit adventure. And there’s something for royal watchers too, as Westmacott, who was the deputy private secretary to Prince Charles’ from 1990 to 1993, includes plenty of palace memories and anecdotes.

Perception on Turkey’s transformation

Turkey, meanwhile, takes up a good share of the book – a product of the former ambassador’s interest in the country and the eight years he spent in it on duty. Westmacott, who still visits Turkey for part of the year, is quick to point out that he enjoys visiting the country and that his children have fond memories of the place. What’s more, he notes, he did his utmost to learn Turkish. 

Westmacott was first appointed to Ankara in 1987 by Britain’s Foreign Ministry as Head of Chancery before he returned in 2002, this time as ambassador. The book’s three chapters on Turkey are valuable for showing how Turkey’s internal political, economic and cultural transformation in recent years has been perceived on the outside. In “They Call It Diplomacy,” Westmacott – who happened to be ambassador during the United Kingdom’s term as president of the European Union – provides great detail about his country’s efforts to affect a solution to the Cyprus issue, as well as its support for Turkey’s EU membership. In fact, he names the EU’s opening of the accession negotiations with Turkey in 2005 as one of his career highlights.

Though he left Turkey in 2006, Westmacott has continued to closely follow the domestic and foreign political events that affect the country. As such, his book is full of details about the government’s waning appetite for reform, the closure case against the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the debates on the presidency and the constitution, the Ergenekon and “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) cases, the Gezi protests, as well as the battle between the AKP and the Gülenists. Against the backdrop of the Arab Spring, Syria’s civil war, the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Westmacott’s emphasis on Turkey’s anti-terrorism fight against both the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and ISIL stands out.

The night of coup attempt

However, one of the most interesting sections is undoubtedly the one on the failed coup of July 15. In the section, which reveals previously little-known details, Westmacott notes that, long before the failed putsch in 2016, he tried to warn the Americans that Gülenist plots were damaging the United States’ image. Still, Westmacott rejects any allegations that Washington was behind the coup attempt, citing the fact that a friend at the White House called him on the night of the coup to learn what was happening in Turkey. The former ambassador, who has sought answers to outstanding questions regarding the putsch, also does his best to present the immediate aftermath of July 15 in the most objective way possible.

Westmacott’s memoirs, in the end, are a must-read for their comprehensive evaluations of how British diplomacy functions and the general direction of Turkish politics and global policy. Make sure to clear a spot for it on your bookshelf. 

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