Verdicts of US and British foreign policy

Here are the opening paragraphs of writer and academic Timothy Garton Ash’s assessment of Bush administration’s Middle East policy which was published in the Comment & Debate columns of The Guardian on Thursday the 14th of December.

What an amazing bloody catastrophe. The Bush administration’s policy towards the Middle East over the five years since 9/11 is culminating in a multiple train crash. Never in the field of human conflict was so little achieved by so great a country at such vast expense. In every vital area of the wider Middle East, American policy over the last five years has taken a bad situation and made it worse.

If the consequences were not so serious, one would have to laugh at a failure of such heroic proportions – rather in the spirit of Zorba the Greek who, contemplating the splintered ruins of his great project, memorably exclaimed: “Did you ever see a more splendiferous crash?” But the reckless incompetence of Zorba the Bush has resulted in the death, maiming, uprooting or impoverishment of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children – mainly Muslim Arabs but also Christian Lebanese, Israelis and American and British soldiers. By contributing to a broader alienation of Muslims it has also helped to make a world in which, as we walk the streets of London, Madrid, Jerusalem, New York or Sydney, we are all, each and every one of us, less safe. Laugh if you dare…..

Hot on the heels of this unmerciful piece on Bush comes the Chatham House verdict on Blair’s handling of foreign policy. Chatham House, one of the world’s leading organizations for the analysis of international issues, says that although Blair had some qualified successes in his early years – years during which he and Bill Clinton were close – his performance in the years post-9/11 – years in which he has been tied to Bush’s coattails – has not been been impressive at all

As Tony Blair approaches the tenth anniversary of his election victory, and his final year in power, this paper assesses the impact of these, and other, events and concludes that a more nuanced relationship with the United States will be a requirement for Blair’s successor.

  • Although Tony Blair did not express much interest in foreign policy before becoming prime minister, in Labour’s first term it must be judged a qualified success. A key feature was Blair’s ability to demonstrate Britain’s European credentials while forging a close working relationship with President Clinton.
  • The post-9/11 decision to invade Iraq was a terrible mistake and the current débâcle will have policy repercussions for many years to come.
  • The root failure of Tony Blair’s foreign policy has been its inability to influence the Bush administration in any significant way despite the sacrifice – military, political and financial – that the United Kingdom has made. Tony Blair’s successor(s) will not be able to offer unconditional support for US initiatives in foreign policy and a rebalancing of the UK’s foreign policy between the US and Europe will have to take place.

    It was John Naughton’s Blog (see Blogroll right) that drew may attention to the Chatham House report. As always, he has a good eye for the interesting. Here’s the full report in PDF form.


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