10 Questions: Iran, Iraq, Britain And Us

As you'll notice, this week's 10 Questions post is a bit unusual, because it's actually eight questions. The subject is United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom Robert Tuttle, and we interviewed him while Iran still held those British troops captive. We wanted to ask him about that, but he felt he couldn't comment on the situation at that time -- hence two fewer questions.

The "special relationship" between the US and Britain is incredibly close, but the war in Iraq is clearly testing that bond. Nobody is more attuned to the crosscurrents of the trans-Atlantic partnership than Ambassador Tuttle, whose father was one of the original supporters of Ronald Reagan. Tuttle served for seven years as a senior official at the Reagan White House, most of that time as Director of Presidential Personnel—helping the president select American ambassadors.

1. Is there any possibility that Iran [was] trying to goad the US and UK into an attack—because protecting the country from an invasion is the only thing the Iranian leadership has to sell to its people?

It is neither possible nor appropriate for me to comment on Iran's motives. This is what I do know: the United Kingdom has incontrovertible proof that its military forces were in Iraqi waters at the time of their capture, making the Iranian actions illegal.

2. Turning to Iraq, Prime Minister Blair announced that Britain will reduce its force there from 7,100 to 5,500 in the coming months—a decision the White House says it supports. And yet Democratic plans to reduce American troop strength are called defeatist. Isn't that a contradiction?

The UK military, mainly stationed in southern Iraq, have done an excellent job of helping to restore order and stability to that part of the country. Eighty percent of their force will be remaining in Basra to work with Iraqi forces to maintain that stability. Their decision to withdraw a percentage of their forces was based on their military commanders' assessment of the situation there. The situation in the Baghdad area, where U.S. troops are primarily located, calls for reinforcement. That is why the President increased the force by 21,500 – and they will act in coordination with Iraqi troops.

3. Is it really accurate to say the British are beginning to leave because they've succeeded in Iraq? Or is it more accurate to say they're following some old Vietnam era advice: declare victory and go home?

Again, the UK decision to reduce the number of troops has been made based on their assessment that Iraqi forces in southern Iraq are now able to take on an increasing share of security responsibilities.

4. Do you spend the majority of your time dealing with issues related to Iraq?

No, although there have been many questions and a great deal of interest in the war in Iraq. My time is spent on a very broad range of issues related to the United Kingdom.

5. Are you seen as representing the United States in Britain—or representing President Bush, who as you know is extraordinarily unpopular there? And does that hurt your credibility?

I represent the President and the policies of the Administration, as I am the President's personal representative in the United Kingdom. But I also represent the people of the United States and am seen as their representative by the British people. In my almost two years in the United Kingdom, however, I have found that the people of the United Kingdom, both those who support us and those who do not, are focused on policy issues, not the popularity of the President.

6. To what extent are you involved in foreign policy making? Or is it more about executing the policy?

All ambassadors' roles are a combination of executing foreign policy and participating in the making of foreign policy.

7. What is a typical day in the life of Ambassador Tuttle—if any day can be described as typical?

You are right that no day is "typical." Approximately 18,000 American government officials – federal, state and local – visit the Embassy annually; many come through my office. In addition, I meet frequently with British government officials. To date we have entertained more than 10,000 guests at our residence, Winfield House. My wife and I have averaged two trips per month throughout the UK since our arrival in July 2005, and I have speaking engagements on those trips. Here in the Embassy, I have addressed audiences ranging from a group of British Boy Scouts to the British Defence Academy Higher Command, and I have given speeches in many venues and before business, religious, social and government groups and conducted numerous TV, radio and print interviews.

8. What do you hope your legacy as ambassador will be?

As Ambassador, I hope to be remembered as contributing to the strengthening of the deep and abiding friendship and staunch alliance between our two countries – "the Special Relationship," aptly named by Winston Churchill. Through my public diplomacy efforts and those of Embassy personnel, it is also my hope that I am remembered as having touched the lives of the British people throughout the United Kingdom, listened to them, and answered their questions.