Blair's Bizarre Infatuation
By James Naughtie
Accidental American is not a biography of Blair but the
story of his relations with President Bush, principally over
Iraq. Naughtie, well known for his broadcasts on "Today"
and other programmes as well as a distinguished former lobby
correspondent of the Guardian, mainly deserts a chronological
approach for a series of essays on Blair. The book is thus
circular rather than linear, and there is a good deal of repetition,
which is inevitably irritating. Additional minor irritations
are the absence of source notes and an index. Nevertheless
the book is well worth reading. Naughtie has an admirably
rounded prose style, he seems to have spoken more than once
with most of the people involved - and many times with Blair
- and he has some good stories and many illuminating quotes.
love affair with Washington was kindled during Clinton's presidency,
but it only became passionate early in Bush's. Not surprisingly,
as Naughtie says, some of Blair's closest colleagues in the
Labour party thought it a bizarre infatuation, as indeed it
was and perhaps still is. Blair became, in John le Carré's
phrase, a "minstrel for the American cause", which
is not exactly what the British taxpayer pays him for.
"minstrelsy" for the US has led him into duplicity
and dishonesty. Since he was determined on war, the notorious
dossier September 2001 was "sexed up", as the evidence
to the Hutton inquiry revealed. Although the intelligence
about Saddam's alleged WMDs was, as Lord Butler said in the
Lords, "very thin", that was carefully concealed
from the public, who were led to believe that there was no
doubt about the matter. Even this week Blair was implying
to the unwary at the TUC conference that the war in Iraq was
connected with the absurdly named "war on terror",
though Saddam Hussein had nothing whatever to do with al-Qaida.
The only connection between Iraq and terrorism was forged
by Bush and Blair. By their illegal war and disastrous occupation
they themselves introduced terrorism into that country.
says that Blair has been caricatured as a poodle of America,
but his book shows that the idea of Blair as a poodle is more
of a portrait than a caricature. The author admits that by
the summer of 2001 it was clear that, whatever Bush's foreign
policy turned out to be, Blair would support it. And from
early in 2002 Blair knew that Bush had decided on war with
Iraq and that a timetable had been set. As one of the Number
10 advisers put it, there were then six or seven moments in
the Iraq story when the prime minister could have drawn back.
Had he done so, he might well have prevented American as well
as British involvement. Yet Blair took none of them. At the
White House earlier this year, he further demonstrated his
poodledom, when Bush threw over decades of American policy
and consented to permanent Israeli settlements on the West
Bank. Instead of politely differing from the president, Blair
merely made the idiotic response that Sharon's proposal was
an opportunity and challenge to the Palestinians.
the war Blair told British ambassadors that "the price
of influence is that we do not leave the United States to
face the tricky issues alone". But when America knows
that Britain will follow her whatever she does, Britain has
thrown away any influence she might have had. No amount of
talk about the "special relationship" will alter
that. The "special relationship" has anyway long
been a grandiose term for Britain's subordination to the US.
As another of Blair's advisers told Naughtie, "there
is only one special relationship in Washington, and that is
with Israel". The consequence of Blair's illusions is
that he has given a lot to Bush but, as Naughtie concedes,
has received very little back from the president.
the recent damage to Britain and also to Blair has stemmed
from the prime minister's "presidential" takeover
of the conduct of foreign policy from the Foreign Office.
The last time this happened was when Anthony Eden was prime
minister, and the result was the Suez disaster. But at least
Eden knew more about foreign affairs than anybody in the Foreign
Office. In contrast Blair's knowledge is that of a neophyte.
The prime minister's ill-judged monopoly of foreign policy
was made all the more damaging by his manner of working, which
is strongly criticised in the Butler report. Decisions were
taken at small meetings of Blair's inner circle without minutes
being taken and with ministers and experts excluded.
of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, thousands of
Iraqi, American and British lives have been lost, and lawless
anarchy now reigns there, but apparently none of that disturbs
Blair. In his view, regime change is enough to justify the
war and the occupation. Yet funnily enough the badly needed
regime change, which could be managed without chaos and without
any loss of life - his own departure in favour of Gordon Brown
- does not seem to appeal to him.
The Guardian Lord Gilmour is a former editor of The Spectator
and a Conservative cabinet minister.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004