THE ACCIDENTAL AMERICAN: Tony Blair and the Presidency

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THE ACCIDENT ALAMERICAN Tony Blair and the Presidency James Naughtie New York: PublicAffairs, 2004. xx, 25opp, $36.95 cloth (ISBN 1-58648-257-2)

For many observers, one of the most puzzling things about the American-led invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003 was the extremely close relationship between its two principal advocates: George W. Bush, the president of the United States and a right-wing Republican from Texas; and Tony Blair, the British prime minister and the leader of a Labour Party still nominally attached to its socialist traditions. In TAe Accidental American, the British journalist and broadcaster James Naughtie tries to explain to American readers precisely why Blair and Bush ended up as close allies, what the consequences were for the two men (and the world), and what this all tells us about Anglo-American politics and the so-called special relationship in the early 21st century.

Naughtie's book, while clearly and crisply written, is nevertheless disappointingly short (just 250 pages, including index), and comes without a scholarly apparatus of any kind. This is hardly surprising since Naughtie is a journalist, not an academic, and is trying to reach an educated popular audience rather than a readership of a few hundred academic experts. That such an audience exists at all is something of a marvel: it is hard to imagine a similar book being published in the United States about, say, John Major or James Callaghan. Indeed, Blair is unquestionably far more popular with Americans than among his own countrymen; although the Labour Party has enjoyed a consistent lead in the British polls since the early 19905, his own ratings took a severe buffeting after the war in Iraq and have yet to recover. Yet as Naughtie notes, Blair remains a perpetual surprise and an enigma on both sides of the Atlantic. His self-appointed task, therefore, is to explain to American readers precisely how and why Blair became the "accidental American."

In other words, Blair's Americanism did not begin, as Naughtie suggests, when he took office in 1997. …