Tony Blair, Iraq and the Special Relationship: Poodle or Partner?

Article excerpt

SINCE 1945, IN A VAIN ATTEMPT to retain great power status, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London has encouraged British prime ministers, of whatever party, to nurture a "special relationship" with the United States. Some, like Tony Blair, also claim to serve as a bridge between the United States and Europe.(1) An effective bridging policy implies that Britain should never have to choose between the United States and Europe. In 2002-2003, however, by supporting George Bush's campaign against Iraq, Tony Blair chose allegiance to Washington at the expense of relations with Britain's major European allies, a decision that was deeply unpopular in Britain as Blair made the case for war and became more so as conditions in Iraq deteriorated throughout 2003.(2)

Part 1 of this article traces Blair's relations with Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush since he became prime minister in May 1997, with a particular focus on policy toward Iraq and the decision to go to war in March 2003. Part 2 examines Blair's case for war--the imminent threat to Britain from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction--which most Britons, including several members of Blair's own Cabinet, found unconvincing. Part 3 assesses the costs to Britain of participating in Bush's war, not so much the obvious costs with respect to loss of life but the opportunities lost to participate fully in the multilateral campaign against terrorism and to contribute to a settlement in the Middle East, as well as the costs of complicity in the bumbling incompetence of post-war planning in Iraq.


From 1997 to 2000 Tony Blair forged a close working relationship with President Clinton but was also proactive in European affairs, even to the point of proposing a defence identity for the EU in 1998. Indeed, in this period, despite Blair's decision in June 1997 not to join the euro immediately, other European leaders found francophone Blair the most articulate and pro-EU British prime minister they had ever known, although some did resent his arrogance.(3) Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were soulmates of the centre-left with respect to market economic and social welfare reform. They also held similar views on the Balkans, an issue on which the Clinton and Major governments had been at odds. Nevertheless Blair and Robin Cook, Blair's first foreign secretary, were more proactive on intervening to curb the excesses of Slobodan Milo[Symbol Not Transcribed]sevi[Symbol Not Transcribed] and in co-operating with the International Criminal Tribunal on Former Yugoslavia than the Clinton administration. Blair was more inclined than Clinton to use force if he felt there was an ethical justification to do so.(4) In 1999 Blair was impatient with Clinton's dithering over when and how to deal with human rights abuses in Kosovo. Once NATO had decided to use force against Serbia, Blair pressed Clinton for a commitment to put US troops on the ground, but failed.(5) Perhaps the only American who appreciated Blair's enthusiasm for ground troops was General Wesley Clark, supreme allied commander in Europe, who told Blair in April 1999 that he could not guarantee a NATO victory over Milo[Symbol Not Transcribed]sevi[Symbol Not Transcribed] with air power alone.(6) In his second term (1997-2001), President Clinton, much weakened, had to deal not only with a Republican-controlled House and Senate but also with a new right-wing pressure group, the Project for the New American Century, under the chairmanship of William Kristol. This group included several neo-conservatives (including Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and John Bolton) who would later serve in the administration of George W. Bush. Out of office they lobbied effectively for regime change in Iraq and a permanent US military presence in the Gulf region. One result was the Iraq Liberation Act, passed in 1998, which committed the United States to regime change in Iraq and also required the Clinton administration to finance several Iraqi opposition groups. …


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