Blair and Bush

by William Pfaff


Tony Blair's current crisis, with a Law Lord inquiring into the death of David Kelly, the Defense Ministry advisor on biological weapons who committed suicide last week, surely derives in part from the prime minister's intense but puzzling commitment to George W. Bush's leadership in the Iraq war. If he or his entourage cut corners to justify Iraq's invasion, it was to serve the common cause. The Blair government has turned the 61-year-old Anglo-American security alliance into an unprecedented subordination of Britain's security and foreign policy to the United States. This was the unspoken message of Tony Blair's emotional address to a joint session of Congress last week.

Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon had already announced, in late June, that British military forces are to be reconfigured so as to function henceforth as Pentagon auxiliaries. This is because from now on, "it is highly unlikely that the U.K. would engage in large-scale combat operations without the United States." By depriving itself of the ability to operate independently, Britain will abandon one of its most important assets, its possession of balanced and autonomous multi-arm military forces, capable of serving distinct British interests.

In Europe, only France now will have the capacity for sizable independent military operations. All other non-neutral western European forces have been turned into specialized units of an American-commanded NATO army.

As David Leich and Richard Norton-Taylor reported in The Guardian last week, Britain has begun reequipping its nuclear missile submarines with U.S.-made and -maintained Tomahawk cruise missiles, usable only with U.S. acquiescence.

Britain, under Tony Blair, has sold its principal aerospace manufacturer, BAE Systems, to the United States.

The Blair government has just agreed to extradite British subjects to the United States on demand, without need for prima facie evidence.

Tony Blair, after taking office in 1997, pledged his government to a "moral" foreign policy. The Bush government claims a moral result from its liberation of the Iraqis but also claims, when it wishes, a sovereign exemption from the constraints of international law and treaty obligation. It asserts a sovereign right to military domination of the planet.

Why does Tony Blair wish this slow suicide of one of Europe's greatest nations, whose independent legacy to modern Western civilization, and certainly to the United States, is so immense? Where is his electoral mandate for so enormous a decision?

Britain gets nothing from the United States in return (other than Congressional cheers and a gold medal for the prime minister). If Bush remains in office beyond next year, Britain might find itself implicated in what could become an American national tragedy.

Neither does the United States gain anything valuable, merely the satisfactions of possessing a complaisant satellite.

Far better for it to have an independent friend, who speaks its language, has independent weight in world affairs, possesses a major voice in the European Union, is capable on occasion of telling Washington home truths and, by using its independent influence, to force Washington to pay attention.

A British tragedy is in the making. For may of us who grew up under the decisive influence of Britain's history and literature, it implies an American tragedy as well.