Saturday, August 12, 2006

Anglo-American Relations over the Lebanon Crisis

A solid Anglo-American alliance has been the key to American strategy in the Middle East and Europe. Britain has been the most reliable ally for the United States to conduct wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On current crisis in Lebanon, British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared continual partnership with America, when he met US President George W. Bush in Washington DC on 28th July. However, thing are developing turbulently at Westminster, because Labour backbenchers stand against Prime Minister Blair.

At the summit meeting in Washington, British and American leaders gave a green light to Israel’s self defence against attack by Hezbollah, and objected to immediate ceasefire in Lebanon. Here again, Britain stands side by side with America. US President and British Prime Minister agreed that multinational force should be sent to lead to cessation of violence in Lebanon with UN Security Council resolution. According to President Bush, “Our goal is a Chapter 7 resolution setting out a clear framework for cessation of hostilities on an urgent basis and mandating the multinational force.” In addition, Prime Minister Blair stressed the need for Hezbollah to accept a ceasefire before a multinational force could operate. In a press conference at the White House, both leaders criticised Iran and Syria that they sponsor Hezbollah terrorism through supplying weapons and money. Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki blames that the United States and Britain are “co-defendants” of criminal behaviour by Israel.

For a solid partnership, it is noteworthy that George W. Bush apologised on 28th July to Tony Blair after Britain complained that Washington had not followed correct procedures for sending bombs to Israel via a British airport.

As Tony Blair reconfirms the common front with President Bush, Labour MPs are infuriated with this joint statement in Westminster. Some cabinet members such as Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw insists that Israel should “act properly” in order to bring a peace settlement on the Lebanon issue. Even staunch Blairite, like Environmental Secretary David Miliband and Chief Whip in the Lords Lord Grocott are critical.These reflect unease within the Labour Party and the cabinet. On 8 August, leading leftists in the Labour and Liberal Democratic Parties submitted a letter to current Speaker of the House of Commons Jack Straw to discuss the Lebanon problem at the House. Led by Jon Trickett, chairman of leftwing MP group attracted the support of 200 Members of Parliament to request immediate ceasefire in Lebanon. Foreign and the Commonwealth Office is also concerned with the joint statement in Washington. Sir Stephen Wall, Former Foreign Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister, describe it as follows .

Realism about an independent foreign policy is sensible, not least on the 50th anniversary of Suez. This government has taken to unprecedented lengths the view that Britain's influence on the US can be exercised only in private. It has too readily lost sight of the fact that Britain's interests and those of the US are not identical.

Tony Blair has been consistent supporter of the Bush administration since wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now in Lebanon. But it is wrong to assume that Blair is just America’s poodle. As James G. Forsyth comments in his article “Think Again: Tony Blair” in Foreign Policy May 2005, Blair is a “neoconservative” if the philosophy is defined as a commitment to make the world more democratic—using force if necessary to achieve that aim. In addition, Blair’s moral commitment to global affairs comes from the tradition of the British Empire. According to Professor Niall Ferguson at Harvard University, Victorian opinion leaders like John Stuart Mill advocated that Britain should use its power to prevail liberalism in Asia and Africa (See Chapter 3 in “Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power”). This idea has been put into practice from Lord Palmerton, Earl of Rosebery, to Winston Churchill.

On the other hand, Blair’s foreign policy has deviated from Labour tradition. In the Iraq War, Labour has lost long time supporters like civil societies. Peace activists have been solid bases for the Labour Party, and they were disillusioned with New Labour shifting away from Fabian principles. Leading cabinet members such as Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and International Development Secretary Clare Short resigned over Iraq.

If Anglo-American relations cool down, some commentators say that German Chancellor Angela Merkel supplants Britain’s role in the transatlantic alliance. A well-known blog published by Fulbright alumni in Germany, called “The Atlantic Review” takes up this issue. Certainly, Merkel has changed cold relationship with the United States since the Iraq War, and Germany has a strong influence in Mitteleuropa. This is an asset, which Britain does not have.

However, Germany cannot play the role of Britain. Even though conservative, the Merkel administration is still critical to US policy on Iraq. In addition, Britain has been sharing most advanced military technology and information with the United States for decades. There is no long sustained mutual trust like this between Germany and the United States. Even if Merkel is a wholehearted pro-American chancellor, she heads the coalition; therefore, her leadership is constrained by party politics.

Current political processes in the United Kingdom will have a significant effect on the transatlantic relationship. Successful alliance between Britain and America depends on whether Gordon Brown can continue New Labour policy and calm down radical leftists, or Tories roll back. No one can dismiss political turbulence in London.