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     Volume 4 Issue 15 | October 2, 2004 |

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Book Review

Tony Blair's Bizarre Infatuation

Lord Gilmour


The Accidental American
By James Naughtie

The 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.

Blair's 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.

Blair's "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.

Naughtie 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.

Before 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.

Much of 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.

No weapons 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.

Source: The Guardian Lord Gilmour is a former editor of The Spectator and a Conservative cabinet minister.



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