Thursday, July 24, 2003

A few different takes on Tony Blair's relationship to the U.S. in light of his recent speech to Congress. First, the American liberal Michael Kinsley writes an excellent essay in Slate, praising Blair's speech:

Blair's speech also had qualities that go beyond eloquence. They might be summed up as rhetorical courage. These are qualities like complexity, humility, reality, irony, and freshness. Rhetorical courage comes down to a willingness to be interesting. Interesting can be dangerous, so American pols tend to avoid it.

If weapons of mass destruction are never found, "history will forgive" America and Britain because at least we destroyed an evil government. American Iraq hawks make the same basic argument, but never framed as a matter of the greatest nation on earth needing forgiveness from anybody, let alone from history.
At the same time, British leftists like Will Hutton, former editor of The Observer, lament that with a few recent decisions, Blair has essentially put the British armed forces under U.S. control. He's correct in noting that the ostensibly sovereignity-obsessed British press has oddly overlooked this. In The Guardian, David Leigh and Richard Norton-Taylor asked last week, "It fair to accuse the US of destroying our national sovereignty? The issue is so little discussed that even to make the claim has parallels with the ravings of the europhobes that Brussels plans to make Britons eat square sausages." But the answer, they say emphatically, is yes: Britain is now a U.S. client state. They offer seven rather convincing pieces of evidence, "none of which depends directly on the way the US dragged Britain into Iraq, nor on the current MI6-CIA intelligence blame game about the war."

The American columnist William Pfaff agrees, and says such a large degree of subordination is bad news for both Americans and Brits:

Far better for [the United States] 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 many of us who grew up under the decisive influence of Britain's history and literature, it implies an American tragedy as well.
Which comes back to a question Blair himself asked in front of Congress, a ballsy statement if there ever was one:

As Britain knows, all predominant power seems for a time invincible, but, in fact, it is transient.

The question is: What do you leave behind?


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