Thursday, January 15, 2004

Has it come to this?
Shock and Awe at the prospect of Number 10 hoping for a Republican victory come November. Like Davos Newbies, I’m sure that it’s the institution of the US presidency which Blair feels called upon to serve rather than individual presidents.

But it’s worth looking at the question the other way round. What use is Blair to the United States? He’s obviously a loyal ditto at the UN, but the current administration is not exactly enamoured of that institution. We’re a source of around a division of sound but underequipped troops for whatever military jaunt the US might have in mind, but they are at America’s disposal anyway. In fact the British and US armies are operationally integrated to the point that a fair proportion of the British defense budget is effectively a subsidy to the US defense budget.

The US gets these things automatically from its alliance with the UK, whoever’s in charge over here. But they are also supposed to get some utility above and beyond that, specifically from the presence of Tony Blair in power. It’s a partnership, says Tony: we are a bridge between the US and Europe. Well, middleman is a dubious occupation, but neither side seemed to mind Tony hopping about in the middle, increasing his personal leverage by playing his relationship with each side off against the other. And because, unlike the Tories, Blair is pro-European he is supposed to be better able to influence European policy in a pro-American direction.

Here’s where the problem starts. In the run up to war, Blair acted as an unofficial foreign minister for the US. He was supposed to get the Euros on board and generate wider international consensus through UN approval for the invasion of Iraq. He wqas the Republican’s go to guy for international stuff. In practice, he failed to persuade the French and Germans to get on board and could not see that they were unpersuadable until it was too late. And his wise counsels ensured that the US suffered what must have been its greatest ever diplomatic humiliation over the second UN resolution.

Naturally, the French get most of the stick for that. But all the above can’t have gone unnoticed either by the US administration or its Democratic challengers. It can hardly have raised the status of British diplomacy generally, either. As a subordinate partner in the Anglo-American alliance, Britain’s own interests are to some extent dependant on how well it serves US interests. Blair’s incompetence has made it apparent that Britain isn’t so much an ally as an appendage of the US, lessening the credibility it can bring to its support of American foreign policy initiatives.

I bet this is going to be a feature of Michael Howard’s election campaign. Vote Tory, for a better class of cultural cringe.