Byline: Fareed Zakaria
Every time I have visited Britain in recent years, things have seemed the same in at least one respect. Of the 20 major newspapers, 19 are loudly proclaiming that Tony Blair is a complete idiot and that his reign is on the verge of coming to an ignominious end. Think I'm exaggerating? Here's the headline on last week's column by Simon Jenkins of The Times: this parody of a banana republic led by a monkey. The day before, William Rees-Mogg's column was titled: blair simply hasn't the brains for it. Then comes the next poll, or by-election, or general election, and Blair strides on to greater success and power.
"This time it's different," people tell me. But I'm not sure it is. Certainly some of the froth and fury seems unlikely to last. The public might be tiring of Blair but, given his long tenure, he is remarkably secure, powerful and agile. And he has no serious opposition--except the press. Most of the current complaints--rushed constitutional reforms, a hasty reshuffle--are unlikely to stick. But the barrage of criticism that he misled the public on Iraq has hurt him. What gives this issue much greater potency in Britain than in America is that the vast majority of Britons were against the war. The postmortem allows them to vent their frustration about being (in their eyes) bullied into it. And the press is now delighting in pounding Blair on his credibility. All of a sudden columnists who had been panting for war against Iraq, detailing the horrors of Saddam Hussein, are declaring that the only reason they were for it was due to the eloquent presentations of Tony Blair--the monkey.
If Blair's credibility is tarnished, it will lessen his influence in Europe. Most Europeans were dismayed by his support of George W. Bush; Blair's standing in Europe, once sky-high, has fallen. In recent polls Jacques Chirac got much higher approval ratings than did Blair through much of the Continent. This will be Europe's loss. Blair's vision of the European Union is the best course for it; it is, in fact, the only practical one.
Blair is naturally European, comfortable with the idea of a close connection between Britain and the Continent. But he wants a Europe of nation-states, playing a role on the world stage in partnership with the United States. Chirac, by his own admission, wants a Europe that acts as a check on American power, helping to create a multipolar world.
Monsieur Chirac has a fantasy, not a strategy. He wants a multipolar world, and I want to be a billionaire. …