This is a short 200 plus page book and it is a one evening read. Once you start it is hard to put the book down. I just read until I was finished. The cast of characters include Blair (mainly), his son Leo Blair and Cherie Blair (only briefly), his staff Campbell, Morgan and Powell, fellow politicians Jack Straw, Clare Short, Robin Cook, John Reid of the Labour Party and other British politicians and civil servants, George Bush, Colin Powel, and Condoleezza Rice. Chirac, Aznar, and Schroeder are at meetings or involved. Miller the Polish Prime Minister and Arafat make telephone appearances. The press is lurking in the background.
My quick view of the book is that the author and former Times editor Peter Stothard acts like he is not in the room but rather he is a quiet observer just recording the events without comments and editorial comments. A "fly on the wall" so to speak for 30 days. The book starts on Monday March 10 and ends Wednesday April 9. The war starts March 20 2003.
At the beginning or near the beginning of the book Blair acknowledges that Bush will proceed with or without Britain. The war seems set and there will be no consensus at the UN.
What I found odd about the book is that there is very little mention of the WMD's, or the other reasons for going to war. There is no mention of intelligence briefings, or satellite pictures or similar. By March 10 his mind has been made up. It is more about damage control, politics, speeches, and not having ministers resigning and similar. His image in the press and on TV share a high priority along with with diplomacy. By March 10 the decision has been made.
The question on everyone's mind is why does Blair back George Bush - the "poodle principle". Blair is almost alone, and the other leaders in the "coalition" do so with great reluctance. They make a minimal contribution to the Iraqi war effort and they seem poised to not want to cooperate or back out at any moment. So why does Blair do it? The only strong point we learn or hear is that by that date (March 10) Blair is determined to proceed seemingly at any cost to maintain US ties with Europe. He has decided to let "history" judge him for how the situation ends rather than trying to further explain his actions privately. He thinks that the UN should be involved, but barring no UN consensus his main point (among his 6 talking points to parliament) is that he does not want the US to become more isolated than it already is through complete 100% unilateral action. So at least Britain will help.
We get a feel for his compressed and overstressed life, a political juggling act, his lack of sleep, his battle to survive as the Labour leader in a parliamentary system where he must face his opposition daily in question period and his caucus weekly. They all seem to be after his job and Iraq is as good as an excuse as any to oppose Blair. Unlike Bush he can be voted out by his own party on a whim - like Thatcher - so he is not secure for the term elected in parliament (5 years).
One thing that comes out is that Blair acts like a lightening rod for many parties that no longer have access to Bush. This includes various Muslim messengers and diplomats visiting him and his talks with Arafat and others by telephone.
Since we already knew most of that - the book seems a bit anti-climatic and deals a lot with the logistics of his day-to-day life, the trivial details, his meals, his assistants, and travel. It gives us an intimate feel for the life of the PM in the confined space of 10 Downing. It covers his meetings with other leaders, and various other dignitaries, his telephone calls to Bush etc. The logistics do not tell us a lot new, although there are some details on Robin Cook's resignation and similar tidbits. He comes across as an energetic and very focused man, with a strong inner compass and lots of self confidence, and a strong determined leader with an ability to take and absorb a lot of domestic criticism.
So the book is all very very interesting but short on any new insights. But still a great book.
Jack in Toronto.