Financial Times urges Bush to heed Blair's wavering

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Sat Jan 11 19:59:16 MST 2003

Financial Times (UK)
January 9, 2003


A Warning from America's Friends

Despite frequent jibes, in the UK and across Europe,
that he operates as an American "poodle", Tony Blair
has stuck to a practice of discussing policy
differences with Washington only in private, the better
thereby to influence President George W. Bush and his
administration. In contrast to Paris and its occasional
resort to the transatlantic megaphone, or Berlin, which
ruled out a priori any support for a war on Iraq,
London believes discreet persuasion is the best route
to Mr Bush's ear. This approach appeared vindicated
when Mr Bush elbowed aside unilateralist colleagues in
September and took his case against Iraq to the UN.

What then should we make of Mr Blair's public call for
Washington to start listening to the foreign policy
concerns of its allies, made to a conference of British
ambassadors on Tuesday? On the same day, in an
interview with the FT, Javier Solana, the European
Union's foreign policy chief and former secretary-
general of Nato, lamented that Europe and the US were
drifting apart because American religiosity was feeding
a tendency in Washington to see complex problems with
the moral certainty of "black and white terms".

It would be easy to dismiss the prime minister's
remarks as a first sign of cold feet as a showdown over
Iraq nears, with no sign at all that his government or
the British people are convinced that military means
are needed to deal with Saddam Hussein. But that would
be altogether too facile.

Mr Blair's words are embedded in a firm defence of
Britain's (and Europe's) alliance with the US and, in
particular, of the need to stand by Washington against
threats such as international terrorism, weapons of
mass destruction and Iraq. "People listen to the US on
these issues," he said, "but they want the US to listen
back." That important qualification probably reflects
alarm at the rising international tide of anti-
Americanism. But it also expresses frustration at US
failure to take its allies into account - on issues
such as global poverty and global warming but, above
all, over Middle East peace.

Efforts by Mr Blair and others to rescue Israelis and
Palestinians from their spiral of destruction have got
nowhere, lacking support from Washington and obstructed
by the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon. This touches
on a big difference in transatlantic perceptions. Mr
Blair, as Washington's closest ally, is right to
highlight how a lack of "evenhandedness" and "real
energy" in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
is feeding "a sense of double standards" in the Muslim
world inimical to any successful fight against terror
and rogue weapons.

It is no doubt not the first reflex of any European to
go to war over Iraq. Yet it is not even the second or
third reflex of this US administration to deal urgently
with Israel-Palestine - a conflict it increasingly sees
in black and white terms, rather than as an issue of
security and justice critical to stability and change
in the Middle East. Mr Bush should listen carefully to
what Mr Blair (and Mr Solana) are saying.

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