Tuesday, September 12, 2006
The Bush-Blair Alliance Mystery
It seemed like the ultimate strategic alliance, but future generations of Britons might wonder what, if any, benefits came out of the Bush-Blair relationship. The Prime Minister’s friendship with President George W. Bush is regarded as “one of the great political riddles of our time,” as former Labour insider Mark Seddon puts it, a riddle that seemingly no one can solve: is it a marriage of convenience or star-crossed hubris? Blair may simply have applied the long-held diplomatic advice to “hug them close” in a bid to maintain the so-called “special relationship” with the US begun by Churchill. As former UK Ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer puts it, “Look at the balance sheet. Britain and the U.S. have been for years each other’s largest foreign investor.” Despite this history, however, Meyer argues that the current situation is due to “a failure in London at the highest level to have a clear vision of the national interest and to negotiate accordingly.”
The unsettling fact is that Blair’s alliance with Bush may have been based more on personal convictions rather than sheer pragmatism. Not only did he believe in Saddam’s WMD in the run-up to invasion, he was obsessed with the threat posed by such weapons since 1997 – three years before Dubya was even elected. Certainly he did not need a hand to hold on the road to war, having taken his country into five conflicts in his first six years in office, an unprecedented record. As the late Liberal Democrat peer, Roy Jenkins put it: “My view is that the prime minister, far from lacking conviction, has almost too much, particularly when dealing with the world beyond Britain. He is a little too Manichean for my perhaps now-jaded taste seeing matters in stark terms of good and evil, black and white.”
Blair foreshadowed Bush’s nation-building aspirations as well: in a 1999 US speech he announced a “doctrine of international community,” arguing that military intervention could be warranted to create more democratic and “secure” societies. Blair’s failure to consult with career diplomats and lawyers in his own foreign office before making the speech was also telling. “Not good on details,” one foreign office employee muttered darkly, “and worryingly simple minded.” Or as the IRA’s codename put it, Naïve Idiot.
Perhaps it was this very naivety and lack of attention to detail that led to Iraq. Buoyed by a personal conviction that the threat was real and with the best of intentions that he could mesh Bush’s Freudian post 9/11 foreign policies with those of the progressive left, Blair simply failed to work into his marriage of convenience the incompatibility of liberal interventionism with US threats of pre-emption and overwhelming force.
As George Galloway noted in a recent telephone interview the riddle may never be solved, just as an error made on the international stage, even with the best of intentions, cannot always be forgiven. “I wish I knew . . . why did Tony Blair join it?” he said. “Certainly, it’s been utterly ruinous to his political reputation. He will be followed into the history books and the grave with this mark of Cain on his forehead. He will be remembered for nothing other than that he followed George W. Bush over a cliff; took the rest of us with them, and we haven’t yet reached the bottom. All I can say from my own conversations with him are that I think both he and Bush are possessed of a kind of messianic belief that somebody, God perhaps, gave them the job of shouldering the white man’s burden, which is the world. Someone gave them the right to step outside of international law; go anywhere, do anything, pay any price in other people’s blood, to reshape the world in their image; in the image they want to see. And I think that both men will be damned in history. Both men have made their respective countries the two most hated countries in the world.”