Thursday, April 26, 2007

 

Blair Might Know His Mind on Foreign Policy but Still Wrong to be Bush's Poodle

Another of my favourite columnists, Timothy Garton-Ash, chooses to disagree with Simon Jenkins today in that he argues that on foreign policy, Blair would offer 'liberal interventionism' as his distinctive contribution and, presumably, as a strand in something which could be called 'Blairism'. This would be fine if the record contained merely Kosovo and Sierra Leone- good examples of something which more or less worked, but Iraq, and arguably Afghanistan, make the policy seem potentially disastrous.

It would be an irresponsible shame to exclude any intervention- something desperately needs to be done right now in Darfur for example- but it should only be pursued as a last resort, after very careful planning and only if it seems absolutely certain that the action will be successful. None of these conditions applied in the case of Iraq. Military violence is a spectrum entered only at a nation's peril; it is so volatile and unpredictable that what emerges from it is rarely what was intended.

On the subject of his slavish obedience to Bush, Blair claims:

'Start distancing yourself from the US and see how your influence will be diminished.'

I beg to differ on this emphatically. Being identified as an ally is one thing, but to be seen as an automatic acolyte is another. The former might win one respect and attention; the latter only contempt. When Blair told Bush after 9-11 that his country would always support the USA, he engendered huge goodwill towards himself and the UK in general, but he made a profound diplomatic mistake. Nations tend not to write such blank cheques to each other. If one's support is taken for granted, that is how one's country will be treated: taken for granted. Nations which maintain a decent distance are far more likely to be wooed and given special treatment.

Blair claims the alliance itself has won us substantial benefits. It might have gilded his own sense of self importance- acting as Bush's unpaid deputy foreign affairs representative on a world-wide roller coaster- but I can only think: of the occasion when Rumsfeld said he didn't need our military assistance to invade Iraq; the refusal to alter tarrifs which discriminated against our steel exports; and the fact that the US refused to allow the UK essential access to the technology of the Joint Fighter Jet(yes, joint!) and rejected the £2.4 bn Rolls Royce bid to manufacture the engines. Sir Digby Jones for the CBI summed it up well:

We fought shoulder to shoulder with them. This is no way to treat your best friend.

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