I leave Washington today after over four years as the British Ambassador.
It's been a fascinating and rewarding time to represent Britain in this country. The first requirement is, of course, to be Ambassador not just to Washington, but to the whole United States. In addition to a substantial Embassy in DC, we have nine Consulates General throughout the country. Julia and I have greatly enjoyed the experience of getting out and about and promoting British political, economic, commercial and cultural interests, because that's the only way to understand the country's diversity and complexity.Among the many highlights of our four years in the United States:
- Being here for the 2008 election, observing the campaigning in New Hampshire and the other primary states and attending the conventions in Denver and St Paul;
- Watching oral arguments in the US Supreme Court;
- Flying in the June midnight sun over and through Alaska's mountains and glaciers;
- Meeting Governors and Mayors, and contrasting the politics at the state and local level with the process in Washington;
- Climbing up into the dome of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, suspended high above the dish below - even there we found British scientists working alongside their American counterparts, a reminder of the depth of our scientific and academic collaboration;
- Getting together with expat British rock stars and music impresarios in Los Angeles;
- The buzz and confidence of Silicon Valley (yes, I realise it's a cliché ...), and experiencing the pools of talent at campuses such as Apple and Google;
- Seeing start up British companies operating here such as Blade Dynamics in New Orleans, which manufacture giant blades for wind turbines;
- Meeting faculty and students at universities throughout the country, giving lectures and classes to today's students of international relations and comparing views of the world with them;
- Revisiting Gettysburg, Antietam and other Civil War battlefields; and
- Participating in President Obama's State Visit to the UK in May 2011, which celebrated the diversity and depth of the modern relationship between Britain and America.
In Washington I've enjoyed working with successive Administrations, and helping to steer the UK-US relationship through political change in both London and Washington. As British Ambassador, I've had remarkable access to decision makers and opinion formers in Washington, and have participated actively in the public policy debates among the world class think tanks and universities in the nation's capital. I admire the seriousness of public debate here, and the depth of expertise on a broad range of topics - from the politics of happiness, to the Chinese economy, to the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. There is nowhere in the world which so relishes serious policy discussion across so wide a spectrum.
My time as Ambassador has coincided with a period of unprecedented turbulence and significant change in the global order, both political and economic. The UK, like the US, is spending a lot of time reflecting on the shift of economic power to the Asia-Pacific region and to the Southern Hemisphere. Profound social and political change is taking place in the Middle East. Both our countries remain heavily involved in Afghanistan. We are working closely together on the threats we face in Pakistan, Iran, East Africa and elsewhere.
In all this uncertainty, one port in the storm has been the solidity and relevance of the UK-US relationship. Like the United States, the UK has to cut its cloth in international relations according to our economic means. But we remain the United States' most capable global ally. Like the US, we have assets and relationships throughout the world. Britain remains the top overseas investor in the United States with 140 times the investment stock that China has here. The defence, intelligence and foreign policy core of our relationship remains strong. All our government interactions are underpinned by longstanding human and cultural links. I'm confident that the relationship will continue to evolve and thrive. My successor, Peter Westmacott, another career diplomat, will take over later this month.
When I get back to the UK I will retire from the British Diplomatic Service after over 35 years. I hope to put my international experience to good use in business and other fields. I'm encouraged by what American colleagues in diplomacy and national security have done with their lives after public service.
But before Julia and I return to London, we are going to take a few weeks off travelling in the Pacific, starting in Hawaii, the only state in the Union with a Union Jack still on its flag. The legacy is actually a bit mixed - Captain Cook, who was the first European to visit Hawaii, died there after outstaying his welcome. Learning from history, we will be staying less than a week! We look forward to seeing one of the few states we have not visited and having some time to reflect on four very happy years here. For that, I am grateful of course to my British colleagues in the Embassy and Consulates General, and to a huge number of Americans in all walks of life who have enriched our time here. Thank you to all.
Follow Nigel Sheinwald on Twitter: www.twitter.com/UKinUSA