On his final visit to the UK as POTUS, George W. Bush sat down for a dinner in No. 10 Downing Street with PM Gordon Brown and a gaggle of historians.
Bush, of course, is obsessed with how historians will view his presidency, usually pushing a point that it will take decades before his war-making White House can be accurately assessed by those who write the history.
Bizarrely, claims at least one historian, there was little or no talk of war in the 21st century. Bush's era of war. They instead focused on the past.
The dinner saw Bush being introduced to and debated past wars with the following historians :
Simon Schama A History of Britain
Alistair Horne A Savage War of Peace
Valmai Holt Major & Mrs Holt’s Battlefield Guide
Max Arthur Forgotten Voices series
Piers Brendan The Decline and Fall of the British Empire
Linda Colley Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837
David Cannadine The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy
Martin Gilbert Official biographer of Sir Winston Churchill
Andrew Roberts A History of the English Speaking Peoples since 1900
The Rupert Murdoch owned London Times didn't see any need to mention another guest at the dinner : Rupert Murdoch. The ex-Australian media mogul and war profiteer is believed to have had a private chat with Gordon Brown, with President Bush by his side.
In one corner was Simon Schama, who labelled Mr Bush as an “absolute f***ing catastrophe” in 2006. In another was Andrew Roberts, who is close to Mr Bush and his inner circle and was displaying a pair of presidential cufflinks he was given the last time they met.
He told The Times that it was “a completely wonderful and fabulous occasion — I sat next to the President. We talked about the interaction between history, politics, and personalities. That is about as far as I can go because it was a private dinner.”
Alistair Horne, another of the guests, had also met Mr Bush before and has discussed with him in the White House the parallels between Iraq and the “savage war of peace” in Algeria half a century ago.
He said: “You think about prime ministers and presidents being surrounded by cabinet officials, aides and so forth but at the end of the day, they are alone. They’re lonely.”
Downing Street aides said that Mr Bush changed seats several times over the evening, as Mr Brown strove to introduce his guest to as many people as possible.
The evening allowed both President and Prime Minister to wallow in their favourite subject of British history, with many of the guests, including Alistair Horne, David Cannadine and Valmai Holt, experts in military history and the rise and fall of Empire.
The topic of conversation appeared to avoid any direct judgment on Mr Bush’s presidency.
According to Roberts, they talked about “the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, but not the 21st” — when Mr Bush took much of the world to war.
Mr Bush ended his dinner by posing for a group photograph underneath a portrait of Elizabeth I in the Downing Street drawing room.
As they lined up for the shot, he was heard to remark: “This is going to be my White House Christmas card” — his last before he leaves office in January and is himself consigned to history.
Murdoch played historian himself in the days before the start of the Iraq War, when he said :
"He will either go down in history as a very great president or he'll crash and burn."