Thursday, May 19, 2005

Screwed Brittania

In considering the results and the path for the future after the elections in the U.K. two weeks ago, I came to the realization that this election was rife with problems and contradictions. Tony Blair, when he cast his lot with President Bush, started the wheels turning to redefine not only the U.S.-U.K. partnership but the fortunes of his own party, a party that he helped reshape and build.

For added insight, read the piece by Sidney Blumenthal in the Manchester Guardian.

First, the partnership. The US and the UK have always shared a vision in world affairs and a certain, if strained, cultural link. This partnership, around since the Treaty of Ghent in 1815, was defined in the current sense after World War II. The partnership between the two nations, due in no small part to the personal rapport between Roosevelt and Churchill, became the cornerstone of the Cold War west, the NATO alliance and the central push against the Warsaw Pact nations. After the fall of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union (1989-1992), this partnership continued, although in a rather confused manner. It has so often been built on personal relationships between leaders with similar political outlooks and eerily similar fortunes.

If we look at the period from 1979 to the present, we see these personality pairs and what went wrong in a link between Blair and Bush43. Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990) and Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), John Major (1990-1997) and Bush41 (1989-1993) and Tony Blair (1997-pres.) and Bill Clinton (1993-2001). The comparisons between these are obvious even to the casual observer and need not be repeated here. What is important is the fact that Tony Blair reconfirmed this link between the US and the UK in the aftermath of 9/11.

In the intervening years, Blair has realized the position that he is in because of supporting the U.S. not so much in Afghanistan (which was clearly a NATO Article 5 operation) but in Iraq. If he said no, this would have provided the Tories an opportunity to question Blair on his dedication to the relationship and the larger global war on terror. If he said yes, well, we know what has happened. He pulled off an electoral victory by simply avoiding the issue and running on his reputation as the engineer of "New Labour," having cleasned it of the old "loony left."

Blair is not long for power. He will step down as party chair and therefore as P.M., choosing a successor from the ranks. Labour will continue in power in Britain for some time, but they would be well to watch their backs. Dissatisfaction and dissolutionment with leadership that seems to be leading the country wrong can be a tough political situation. The Lib-Dems have gained ground as have the Tories. The era of New Labour may be coming to an end and Blair may have his relationship with the U.S. to blame.

The U.S. and the U.K. will doubtless always maintain an alliance. Will Britain turn towards Europe and away from the U.S.? Will the relationship become more of a pan-European one as the EU, NATO and the EDI expand? Will it always be the case, as Churchill famously said, that "Britain is in Europe, but not of Europe?" Stay tuned...

I know what you are thinking: "Will, you didn't mention Ireland!" Another issue, another day.

Too much commentary can be hazardous to your mental well-being. Digest and continue.

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