Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Blair: Tony the Tank Engine heads for another Train Wreck in Iran

The famous 'Special Relationship' between Britain and America is now in its most grovellingly servile form since the dark days of World War II. As a result, there is every indication that, if Prime Minister Tony Blair has his way, British forces will be joining the Americans in some form of military action against Syria or Iran.

Even former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson had the sense and strength to refuse to follow the USA into Vietnam, despite some horrendous arm-twisting by President Lyndon Baines Johnson.It is past time for Britain to reconsider whether the alleged special relationship with the US makes sense any longer for the country or the world. In World War II and its aftermath there were indeed rational arguments for tying Britain's waning fortunes to America. It certainly made more sense than either joining the Axis or signing up for the Warsaw Pact! But since the fall of the Soviet Union, the basic premise of the American Alliance has changed. No longer was the issue the defence of the British Isles against an existential threat, it was a discretionary tie, a linkage to the one power that had the potential to make the world a safer place.

That excuse even made some sense when Bill Clinton was President, when Tony Blair was able occasionally and importantly to affect American policy. Notably, he was able to persuade Clinton to intervene in Kosovo at a time (it seems so long ago) when the only thing the Pentagon was aggressive about was its budget.

There are some on the alleged left who think that Milosevic should have been allowed to carry on murdering his neighbours, but thanks to the intervention in Kosovo, ill-executed though it was because of Clinton's primal fear of American casualties, Milosevic is now in the dock at the Hague and a lot of Kosovars are alive who would not have been if he had remained in power. The results are far from perfect, but much more so than they would have been otherwise.

Even at the UN, for many years Britain served a useful function in acting as a bridge between the US and the rest of the world. It was a position for which it gained some respect, albeit much as one respects sewer cleaners, an essential job but not necessarily a profession that one would aspire to oneself. Sadly, the world's only Superpower is almost as indispensable to the UN as it thinks it is, although it does no service to the UN or to its own diplomatic standing by behaving the way it does.

But when Tony Blair claimed that going along with Bush on his rush to war with Iraq gave him a hand on the steering wheel, it was clear, as I wrote in the time, that he was actually on a runaway train, with no hand on the brake and the complete absence of a steering wheel. From the still smouldering ruins of that train-wreck in Iraq, all the signs are that, despite Jack Straw's resistance, Tony the tank engine is building up steam for another high speed run at the buffers. Even more so than Iraq, in Iran the issues are not of British national interest. Indeed, it is difficult to see what rational American interest there is, either in the attack on Iraq or a putative one on Iran.

Blair's support is a case of slavish pandering to a President who shows clear signs of not being in full possession of his faculties. A real ally of the United States would join the increasing number of Americans, and the vast majority of foreigners, in saying no to the White House ideologues.

There were other signs of how this servile policy is having bad effects. For example, for decades both Tory and Labour governments held firm on some principles, one of which was the application of United Nations resolutions to the Middle East question. Right through Robin Cook's tenure at the Foreign Office, the British supported resolutions that called for their implementation, even in the face of American vetoes. Even Margaret Thatcher voted against her political paramour Ronald Reagan on Middle East issues, without disturbing what many of us thought was an unhealthily close personal relationship.

Former British governments did not see that the presence of a hugely powerful pro-Israeli lobby in Washington was sufficient cause to rewrite International Law, let alone to forget the plight of the Palestinians, for which, after all Britain has more than a little historical responsibility.However, since Robin Cook left, whenever the Americans veto a resolution on Israel and Palestinian issues – and that is pretty much every time one is moved - the British now abstain instead of voting with the rest of the world.

Of course, that may be that the conjoined influence of Blair and Levy as much as dancing to the American tune. But it plays havoc with the European positions. German diplomats complain that while they could hide behind a common European position, for fairly obvious historical reasons, they are not really in a position to appear more pro-Palestinian than the British.We have already seen some of the consequences of this especially spineless approach to Washington. The Palestinian electorate, or least a very substantial proportion of it, passed a vote of no-confidence in Oslo and the Road Map with its vote for Hamas.

It was understandable. Since Oslo, life in the territories, in terms of safety, living standards, and freedom of movement, has nosedived. Israel has broken every commitment it made in the Road Map. And the Europeans have gone along with it, in large part because Britain was acting exactly as De Gaulle feared it would when he vetoed British membership of the European Com, as an American Trojan Horse inside Europe.Even on issues like Kyoto, the Prime Minister shows signs of prevarication in the face of the essentially irrational faith based approach of President Bush.

No one who saw the pig's ear of a policy that the Europeans put up at the time of the Balkan Wars would want to put all of Britain's eggs immediately in the European basket. However, any rational British foreign policy has to move that way in the future. Certainly both the US and Israel, more of whose trade is with Europe than with the US, would be inclined to listen to a unified European position, and such a unified position would be possible if Britain's prime minister were not in some form of feudal bond to the American President.

On the Middle East, on Iraq, Iran, Kyoto, the International Criminal Court, and many other vital issues for Britain, the lesson is the same. In Washington, door mats do not get listened to. They get walked over. It is time that the word 'No' was put back into Britain's diplomatic vocabulary instead of 'Up to a point, President Bush.'

Based on Tribune column, 3 February 2006

In the interests of full disclosure for pseudo-media critics, Ian Williams was paid for many years by British Rail, but it did not influence his opinions of trainwrecks in the slightest.

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