And Then What? by Catherine Ashton review – colourful insider account of European diplomacy | Autobiography and memoir | The Guardian

The first and presumably last Briton ever to lead European foreign policy gives us a glimpse of a collaborative approach now sadly lost
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This book review was written by luke harding one of the best.

In Ashton’s memoir of her time as a diplomat, And Then What?, she captures the moment vividly. “In Kyiv I was aware of a particular atmosphere that I had experienced before in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. It was as if the wind had changed direction and you had to brace yourself against it as it whipped your breath away. A sense of excitement, mixed with fear and apprehension… Revolution, freedom, chaos – I could almost taste it.”

Putin, of course, had other ideas. He sent special forces to grab Crimea and kickstarted a bitter war in the east of the country. In February 2022, he launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It is Europe’s biggest conflict since 1945. The west’s collective failure to confront Russia sooner, including during Ashton’s five-year tenure as EU foreign policy chief, was a strategic mistake – arguably the biggest in what is proving to be a tumultuous and darkly twisting century.

Ashton makes the case for what she calls “deep democracy”. In her visits to refugee camps and to failing states such as Haiti she discovers that luckless citizens “wanted what we have”. That is, an independent press, proper courts and free elections, as well as a flourishing civil society. It is a modest manifesto. And yet, in an age when Putin is seeking to turn the clock back with a blatant neo-imperial land-grab, it is a radical one as well.

Ashton acknowledges the EU – a motley club of 28 nations at the time – made mistakes. Most of her successes unravelled. Egypt reverted to military dictatorship; Libya descended into civil war; and Iran resumed its nuclear activities after President Donald Trump kiboshed Obama’s deal, co-guaranteed by China and Russia. Serbia and Kosovo are once more at loggerheads; the deep-seated issues Ashton tried to fix came back, like so much bad history. Ukraine is a rolling tragedy, the scene of Kremlin mass murder and rapacity.

it’s clear our politics would have turned out better if we had had more Cathy Ashtons and fewer Boris Johnsons, more constructive collaboration and less alpha male showboating

(Note: the world would have turned out better if we had less alpha male showboating.)

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