Monday, June 04, 2007

Britain and America after Tony Blair

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is on his final global tour, now. He will step down on June 27, and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown is likely to succeed the position. Will Blair’s legacy continue in the next administration? I would like to review Tony Blair’s political achievements. Also, I have to mention this: contrary to popularly believed, Blair is not a poodle to Bush, but he acted out if his own conviction.

In order to assess Tony Blair’s political achievements in general, I would like to refer to two articles in the Economist, entitled “The Great Performer Leaves the Stage” and “Tony Blair’s Farewell” on May 10. It is widely believed that Tony Blair’s New Labour is Tory in disguise. However, Blair has a background of urban middle-class and baby boomer, and his supporters are hostile to Tory establishments. In domestic policy, Blair succeeded in shedding the reputation Labour incompetence to govern. The economy has boomed, and the Blair administration succeeded in creating jobs and reducing unemployment. Also, Blair admitted autonomy to Scotland and Wales. As the Economist says, his achievements in domestic policy deserve credit.

Blair’s economic and social policy owes much to Margaret Thatcher. He improved public services through market-oriented competition, which won a widespread support among the middle class. Both Chancellor Gordon Brown and Conservative Party leader David Cameron are likely to imitate Blair’s Thatcherite social and economic policy. His New Labour was not so new in Britain, because Blair was not required to change British politics and society unlike Margaret Thatcher and Clement Atlee.

It is foreign policy that makes Blair’s performance controversial. Particularly, some media and left-wingers attack Britain’s commitment to the Iraq War, and they scorn Tony Blair a poodle to George W. Bush. Apparently, they do not understand fundamental ideas of Blair’s liberal interventionism. Also, it is necessary to think about his role in Iraq.

Regarding liberal intervention policy under the Blair administration, Mark Leonard, Director at the European Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out the following at the event which was sponsored by the Foreign Policy Centre and the Prospect, and chaired by Michael Portillo, former Defence Secretary in the Major administration.

Blair shares the European attachment to a rule based world order, but I think he knows that in order for it to work, that order has to be underpinned by power, and the only power that can do that at the moment is American power. Therefore the legitimacy of that world order is umbilically tied to the legitimacy of the United States which means that if the American government wants to undertake an action which is destabilizing, Europeans are faced with two very stark choices: either you stand aside and condemn it and thereby undermine the legitimacy of the internationalist project which is sponsored by the United States, or you support it and try to apply it with at least fig leaf of legitimacy and then try behind the scenes or in front of the camera to eliminate the most erogenous bits which you don’t want to be associated with or you think will do the most damage. Put like that the answer for Britain the past has always, always, been to go along with the Americans. If you keep the question in that form, the answer for Blair will almost certainly be to still go along with the Americans. (“Liberal Intervention: The Empire’s New Clothes”, p. 18, 26 July 2003)

Leonard refuted popularly believed idea that Blair joined US-led Iraq War just in order to bolster Britain’s position in the world through forging the alliance with the United States. Rather, Prime Minister Blair was motivated by the above mentioned principle.

In addition to what Leonard mentioned at the panel, Britain has been involved with global peace and security beyond its own national interest, which is based on liberal imperialist tradition by Lord Palmerston and Earl of Rosebery.

Richard Perle, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, points out that Tony Blair played much more important role than just acting with George W. Bush in the Iraq War and the War on Terror. He says that Blair has been frequently ahead of Bush in designing strategies against terrorism. This is apparent in his speech at the Foreign Policy Centre. As mentioned in “In the News.” (Blair: Global intervention is vital, 21 March, 2006), Blair insists that the fight against terrorism and extremism is beyond the clash of civilization but a threat to the global community. Tony Blair articulates that this is the ultimate reason why he decided to intervene into Iraq and Afghanistan.

Also, Perle mentions that Blair urged Bill Clinton to send troops to Kosovo as it was necessary to resolve the problem by force. This is what happened between Margaret Thatcher and George H. W. Bush in face of Saddam Hussein’s invasion to Kuwait.

Certainly, Blair acted with Bush to topple Saddam Hussein. However, Blair insisted on fighting against Iraq under UN resolution, while Bush was reluctant. Tony Blair has been acting with his own conviction, but poorly informed critics miss this point quite often.

Those who regard Blair a blind follower to the United States must keep Richard Perle’s comment in mind: “The interactions of British and American foreign policy are far more complex and subtle than Blair's critics imagine.”

At this stage, it is difficult to tell how Britain’s relationship with the United States will change under Gordon Brown. He has extensive personal contacts in American political corridors. His personal network ranges from Republican Paul Wolfovitz to Democrat Edward Kennedy. However, the Washington Post warns that bilateral relations could tone down in the article, entitled “Brown May Loosen UK Ties to Bush” on May 11. Mark Leonard commented "The Labor Party does expect some clear blue water between Brown and Blair in order to start the healing process after Iraq, but Brown will have a subtle balancing act in the near term. He's not going to be a poodle; he is going to assert British interests. But there will be no open breach with the White House."

According to Professor Anthony King at the University of Essex, Gordon Brown is not the man of idealism, and “His pronouncements on Iraq are deliberately vague; you're not meant to know what he thinks. He makes the Sphinx look voluble."

On the other hand, Opinion Journal presents more optimistic viewpoint, saying that “A strong Britain is vital to both Europe and America. As much as Continentals don't like to hear it, the British economy is a model for the European Union.” The article concludes as the following.

London will also remain Washington's most trusted interlocutor with the Old World. For all the anti-Americanism in the British press, Britain is still spiritually closer to the U.S. than Angela Merkel's Germany or Mr. Sarkozy's France. The popular branding in Britain of Mr. Blair as President Bush's "poodle" willfully misrepresents the bipartisan esteem for the special relationship in Washington.

Thanks to Gordon Brown's reticence, no one knows how well he'll meet this challenge. He did have an excellent instructor for the past 10 years, assuming Mr. Brown was paying attention.
(“Britain after Blair”, Opinion Journal, May 10)

For success in the war against terrorists and tyrants, it is vital to maintain staunch Anglo-American alliance. Therefore, I would like to talk about Chancellor Gordon Brown and his rival David Cameron more in detail in a forthcoming post.