Monday, November 19, 2007


Do We Have to be America's 'client state'?

Watching 'The Blair Years' last night I was struck by how close he became to being a really good, if not great prime minister. His policies on public services- utilising the dynamism of the private sector- seemed sensible to this former frustrated manager in the public sector but the Exocet into his reputation was his grovelling to Bush over Iraq, and much else besides. Which brings me to the article by Geoffrey Wheatcroft today in which discusses the assumption in Washington's Neocon political class that Britain is a 'client state' of the USA.

I found this assumption hard to take. Especially irritating were the quoted views of Irwin Stelzer, an overweight US economist who has edited a book on Neoconservatism ands is dubbed by Andrew Neil as 'Rupert Murdoch's representative on earth' and thought to be the person who threatened Murdoch's withdrawal of support unless Blair promised a referendum on the EU constitution. He was recently on Radio 4 lambasting Brown for seeking to distance himself from the excessively close relationship Blair had with Washington. 'First prize for appalling' he had written earlier in his column, 'goes to Mark Balloch Brown.' He had other words of reprimand for the speech by Douglas Alexander in the US capital which was interpreted as critical of Bush.

My reaction is 'So what?'; why shouldn't Brown- whatever, the failings of MMB- appoint whoever he pleases to his government? How can the US Neo-cons dare to censure an internal government appointment? Wheatcroft commends Stelzer's 'candour':

Whenever he talks about the Anglo-American relationship there's never any namby-pamby pretence that the United Kingdom is in any useful sense of the words a sovereign country. You're a client state and don't you forget it, says the doctor.

Given that we have behaved like a client state for some time past, I wonder if we really have to or need to? Sure it's desirable to sing from the same hymn sheet as the world's strongest power as long as a) we get something out of it and b) we are not forced to support things of which we do not approve. Seems to me on a) we have received virtually nothing from the 'special relationship' under Bush and under b) we have been dragged into the awful morass of the Middle East and forced to support Ariel Sharon to boot.

If you make your support automatic, as Blair did, it ceases to be influential. If you with-hold support when you judge you should, your continuing support will be sought and worked for. Witness the recent success of Sarkozy, basking in the warmth of a US keen to win back a former ally. Bush's allies have not criticised any appointments made by France, nor Germany to my knowledge. These are independent countries which probably exert more pull in the US than our sycophantic efforts have delivered. I'm sure I'm not alone in wishing to see Gordon respond occasionally to the humiliating put-downs of Selzer and his ilk and show he is more independent on foreign policy than his predecessor.

I was foolish enough to hope that maybe, just maybe, there would be some sort of distancing from the US after Brown's accession, but sadly there's been none of it. You've hit the nail on the head with your comment about our influence becoming obsolete when support is unconditional. I still can't quite work out why the government is so incapable of separating itself from the US line even when it is clearly wrong (Lebanon anyone?). Any optimism I had for Brown's premiership is rapidly diminishing.
I fear I have to reluctantly agree with you. Everything I've read about Gordon makes me think he's the worst kind of driven, obsessive, small and mean minded kind of politico.
My son tells me your name is that of a Radiohead CD...
The Blair Years was on after my bed time so I had to watch it on tape yesterday at a more convivial hour. Fascinating (but not as fascinating as "Visions of the Future" on BBC4 (repeated on Wednesday at 8) - if you fret about the H bomb you'll never sleep after hearing about self-replicating nanobots which will exist solely to punch holes in blood arteries from the inside!).

A good reminder of how refreshing was TB's 'just do it' style of government. GB is clearly more cerebral and needs more detail before deciding on action - it'll be equally fascinating to see how his premiership develops.

As to Britain being America's poodle especially over the Iraq war, I suspect that next week's programme will be interesting. I think it'll show that TB and the other GB were equally convinced by the case for war (and both remain convinced it was the best (or least-worst) thing to do). Rather than being a feeble client-state dragged unwillingly to war, our leader put us in the vanguard. Whether we now have more or less influence over the world's only super-power than France is hard to judge - neither country has much...
Amaze your foes.

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