Blair Wooed Americans, Not Folks at Home

By DeGroot, Gerard | The Christian Science Monitor, July 19, 2004 | Go to article overview

Blair Wooed Americans, Not Folks at Home


DeGroot, Gerard, The Christian Science Monitor


Once upon a time the British had a prime minister named Tony Blair. He was an extraordinary man from the left of politics who somehow managed to forge a broad and durable consensus. Smart and personable, he possessed instincts that allowed him to rise above the political pygmies surrounding him. Unlike previous leaders of the Labour Party, he had an uncanny ability to win elections. But then he went to Washington and got chummy with George Bush.

Mr. Blair made British politics boring. For six years, he won every argument, in the process making his opponents look incompetent. The only excitement came in watching the opposition Conservatives struggle to find a leader to challenge him. But after he joined the Bush-sponsored effort to topple Saddam Hussein, Blair's dominance began to erode. His decision to go to war caused a few resignations from his government, the most prominent being Robin Cook, the former Foreign Secretary, who has since become an outspoken critic. For the first time in six years, opinion polls have actually given the Conservatives a slender lead. Suddenly, they seem a credible opposition, capable of winning the next election (which must take place before June 2006). Their support has risen entirely because of disappointment with Blair.

Americans might find this confusing, especially since Blair's decline coincides precisely with his astonishing rise in popularity in the US. His overt demonstrations of friendship after 9/11 made him a hit among Americans. Then, during the deliberations preceding the war in Iraq, his principled multilateralism appealed to those worried by Mr. Bush's recklessness. Many found it refreshing to find a politician who was young, handsome, brave, personable, and undeniably intelligent. One group of admirers even launched a "Blair for President" campaign.

Some Americans nevertheless found the Blair phenomenon confusing. Why, they wondered, had an unashamed British liberal, who was still good friends with the Clintons, hitched his wagon to the Bush locomotive?

American confusion was nothing compared to British bewilderment. For many Britons, it seemed that something funny had happened to their prime minister on his way to Washington. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan had been political soulmates, but Labour prime ministers were not supposed to be friendly with Republican presidents. Nor was Labour, traditionally the more pacific party, supposed to conduct such an aggressive foreign policy.

Despite appearances, there is method to Blair's madness. His policy can be understood if we appreciate that Iraq is not the central issue, but rather merely a means by which to achieve wider international goals.

Blair is far too ambitious a politician to be satisfied with running his small country well. He wants to be a statesman, but therein lies the problem. …

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