Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Blair's shameful prostration to George Bush

I suppose it's sensible to regard resistance to terrorism as a long term thing. Since 2001 billions have been spent and thousands of lives lost and yet even sorting out Iraq properly seems several years away. So Rumsfeld's recently published plans for a 'Long War' against terrorism is at least in line with what has preceded so far. And creating a flexible, unconventional approach to accommodate the unpredictable nature of terrorism seems sensible too; our defence policy seeks something similar, though our defence budget is a fraction of the US 2007 budget of $513bn. What worries me is not this strategy so much as the UK-US alliance. We have long comforted ourselves with the thought that we have a 'special relationship' with the USA yet compared with a country like Israel our relationship with the world's single super-power is relatively a distant one.

Which is just one of the reasons why the British public was less than enchanted with Blair's policy on Iraq. It was quite nice to see our prime minister, like a latter day Churchill, spitting defiance at Bin Laden, standing shoulder to shoulder with George Bush and then being cheered to the echo by both houses of Congress. Blair must have felt he jointly bestrode the world that day, helping to determine the planet's future. And we sent in our 8500 troops and took a hundred casualities and face the same agonising dilemma's over what to do, what will happen and how to get out of this. And then there were the underground bombings last July.

Yet if we look for reciprocal advantages for our loyalty and our sacrifice, they are hard to find- very hard to find. We liked to think we were a valued ally who actually exercised some kind of a veto but Rumsfeld scotched that illusion when he said the US would go in with or without us. Then there were the foreign policy objectives which Blair, in his committed Christian way, felt he could extract from Bush, maybe as quid pro quos for his loyal support. There was healing the 'scar on our conscience' of Africa- few believe much has been achieved there. There was advancing along the 'road map' to peace in the Arab -Israeli conflict- again, Bush's willingness or maybe even his ability to deliver, proved a chimera. And if Blair ever expected to change George's mind about climate change, that change is gonna be a very long time a coming(though circumstances will probably succeed eventually where Blair, Straw and others failed).

So where does the advantage lie? Maybe it's technological. We want to upgrade Trident after all- though expect a battle over this as tough as any Blair has faced so far; so maybe it's collaboration over weapons where we receive our pay-off. What about our agreement over the Joint Strike Fighter(JFS)? Lots of money, contracts for Rolls Royce, a major new aircraft carrier defence asset, it looked like a very good piece of trans Atlantic co-operation. But, we read in the Economist a week back, RR have had the contract cancelled. In addition to this, and something which is infuriating MOD, the US will not allow us access to the high technology they have developed in connection with the new plane. This means they do not trust us with such delicate and sophistaicated state of the art computer technology. Digby Jones of the CBI was publically scathing in his description of how a so-called close ally was being treated. Senior officials in Whitehall apparently feel the same.

Maybe Blair will be proved right in his determination to 'hug them close' in the words of Petr Riddell's excellent book on the special relationship. Maybe, with only one super-power, this is the only sensible option- to seek to use its power by proxy. But so far no power has been deployed on our behalf; we would have received much more attention if we had shown the independence of a Chirac or a Schroeder; and even the bread and butter coin of shared defence agreements has not been forthcoming. But, for me, the keenest sense is that of shame, that we have prostrated ourselves, without stated limit, before an unfeeling and ungrateful ally and have scarcely been acknoweldged.

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