Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tony, You Blew It

The West is awash in 'think tanks', many of them thinly-disguised loudspeakers for hard ideologies. There are a few, however, that are both intelligent and intellectually honest. One of the best of the best is Britain's Chatham House.

Chatham House has now issued a report that passes judgment on a decade of British foreign policy under Tony Blair and it's not flattering for the PM. The paper gives Blair fairly good grades for his achievements during the Clinton years but an "F" for pretty much everything he did after George Bush seized the presidency.

While the report said there had been qualified successes in Mr Blair's first term, the decision to provide diplomatic cover for Mr Bush's decision to invade Iraq was the defining moment of his foreign policy and premiership.

"It will shape his legacy - for better or for worse - for many years to come," it concluded.

As so often with British prime ministers, Mr Blair thought unwavering public support for the US would bring private influence and lead to changes in US policy favouring British interests, but this had not happened.

Mr Bulmer-Thomas, author of the report, said there had been an "inability to influence the Bush administration in any significant way, despite the sacrifice - military, political and financial - that the United Kingdom has made".

Given the Byzantine complexity of Washington politics, it was always unrealistic to think that outside powers - however loyal - could expect to have much influence on the US decision-making process, he said.

"The bilateral relationship with the United States may be 'special' to Britain, but the US has never described it as more than 'close' ... Tony Blair has learnt the hard way that loyalty in international politics counts for very little," the report said.

It said there was no evidence that British pressure was responsible for Mr Bush's announcement that the US would accept a two-state solution in the Middle East, because this was simply a restatement of policy under the Clinton administration.

The report added that, whoever was the prime minister in future, there would "no longer be unconditional support for US initiatives in foreign policy".

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