Bush, Blair and the Special Relationship

Rather Than Being the Poodle, Was Blair More the Tail that Wagged the Dog?

911: President George W. Bush with Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, 09/20/2001.
Bush, Blair and the Special Relationship : Rather Than Being the Poodle, Was Blair More the Tail that Wagged the Dog? - Alastair Coutts

When George W. Bush took over as U.S. president in Janu­ary 2001, many on both sides of the Atlantic declared the remark­able 'special relationship'1 that had existed in the latter part of the 1990s to be over. The ideological link between British Prime Minis­ter Tony Blair and former U.S. President Bill Clinton had allowed an exceptional level of cooperation between the two. Rather than out of a pragmatic desire to make the relationship work, they simply agreed on many issues and shared similar approaches. When Blair first met Bush at Camp David in February 2001, however, they were immedi­ately dubbed "the odd couple," where "oil patch meets Oxbridge."2 Their backgrounds and ideologies were opposites, "Bush the right­wing Republican and little time for compromise; Blair, the ultimate consensus politician, the Third Way man who names Bill Clinton as one of his closest political allies."3 But crossing political divides is not something new to Blair.4 Today, there is no doubt that Blair and Bush now have one of the closest and most workable relationships, not just between world leaders, but also in the history of the special relationship.

Many have asked what it is that drives Blair to stand shoulder to shoulder with someone who seems to have such different ap­proaches and ideologies. In particular, Blair has made arguably his largest political gamble to date by squarely aligning himself with Bush on the decision to go to war with Iraq. While most of the Brit­ish public, Blair's own Labour Party and virtually all of America's other allies had pushed for the cautious approach, implying a re­cognition the resolutions of the 1990s by the United Nations, Bush and Blair have consistently called for either new and tougher U.N. resolutions or outright military intervention. Thus, much war talk has emanated from both the White House and Downing Street over the course of the last fourteen months to the consternation of other NATO allies.

The purpose of this paper is to ask the following questions: What have been the goals of the Bush administration with regards to the disarmament of lraq? How divided was the administration in its approach? What was Blair's agenda in backing the Bush adminis­tration? Did Bush and Blair really wish for military action or was the achievement of the new tougher resolution always the goal? And finally, did Blair play a critical role in the end result?

Bush Administration: Intentions and Divisions

In determining these goals, it is worth investigating how motivated the administration was in disarming Iraq, what route the administration would seek, how unified the administration was and what their motives were. Here it will be shown that while before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, this administration had started to look at alternatives for its disarmament, but 9/11 altered the urgency of this mission. Yet while the terrorist attacks focused the issue, it also highlighted divisions within the administration that proved significant. It will be shown that domestic politics played a role on the rhetoric emanating from the White House.

The immediate aftermath of the events of Sept. 11 give some useful pointers on the Bush administration's tendencies, both with regards to their intentions on Iraq, their inclinations to be either uni­lateral or multilateral and the divisions within the administration.

Many within the Bush administration drew the conclusion that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein may have been involved with 9/11. While direct suspicion turned to the Islamic group al Qaeda, the stra­tegic response was to target those countries that were known to ei­ther provide protection or support for al Qaeda. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney had said immediately after the attacks, "to strike a blow against terrorism inevitably meant targeting the countries that nur­ture and export it."5 Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz reaffirmed this view: "It's not simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable, but removing the sanctuaries, remov­ing the support systems, ending the states that sponsor them. It will be a campaign, not a single action. And we're going to keep after these people and the people who support them until it stops."6 Al­though it was immediately agreed that this would involve Afghani­stan, some within the administration believed that it should involve an attack on Iraq too.

Failure to 'deal with Iraq' was seen by Bush and other Re­publicans as one of the most problematic legacies to have been in­herited from the Clinton administration.7 Thus even before the at­tacks, the Pentagon had been working on military options to deal with Iraq and both Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz felt the attacks represented an opportunity to invade and topple Saddam.8 Secretary of State Colin Powell disagreed, citing the fact that the international community would almost certainly be opposed to it, threatening the cohesion of the growing coalition that supported an invasion of Afghanistan. He felt invading Iraq was "not what they [the coalition] had signed up to."9 It would give the coali­tion members an excuse to withdraw. This became a major bone of contention within the administration.

Bush's view seems to be that while he suspected Saddam's involvement, without strong evidence he wasn't prepared to act too quickly: "Many believe that Saddam is involved. That's probably not an issue for now. If we catch him, we'll act. He probably was behind this in the end. "10 More than anything, Bush felt his best chance of gaining support for a later attack on Iraq would be a suc­cessful campaign against Afghanistan, "My theory is you've got to do something and do it well and that ...i f we could prove we could be successful in the [Afghanistan] theater, then the rest of the task would be easier."11 The non-intervention route prevailed during the next six months as the United States and its allies successfully embarked on their campaign against Afghanistan.

This has shown two things: First, the Bush administration was keen to tackle the issue of Saddam at some point. Second, this very issue started to show divisions within the administration that had thus far lain dormant.

The administration was equally divided on whether the United States should act alone or in a coalition of allies. Cheney hinted that, while an international coalition would be nice, it was worse to have a coalition that "tied their hands."12 This view was later repeated by Wolfowitz who said that U.S. foreign policy from now on must have ''the mission that determines the coalition; the coalition must not determine the mission."13 However, the main debate seems to have been between the 'Rumsfeld camp' that argued multilateral action was preferred but not essential, and the 'Powell camp' that insisted multilateral cooperation was paramount. Certainly Bush seems to have favored the former. Bush later recalled that his "attitude all along was, if we have to go it alone, we'll go it alone; but I'd rather not."14 Yet at the same time, he felt America would go it alone if necessary: "At some point, we may be the only ones left. That's okay with me. We are America."15 While Cheney and Rumsfeld agreed, Powell repeatedly pointed out that the broader the coalition, the greater the legitimacy of their actions. Furthermore, Powell saw the attacks of 9/11 as a diplomatic opportunity. An event of this magnitude could serve to reshape the structure of worldwide relationships. Not only could old foes, such as Russia and China, be brought onside, but cooperation could be greatly increased within these alliances in ar­eas such as intelligence sharing and the tracking of financial assets.16

However, it was with the resurfacing of the issue of Iraq in the spring of 2002 that fissures in the administration became more obvious. Powell began to feel increasingly alienated. He referred to himself as "being back in the icebox"17 due to his view that the ad­ministration should publish a "White Paper" detailing evidence supporting Osama bin Laden's involvement in the 9/11 attacks.18 This was heavily criticized by other members of Bush's Cabinet. Rumsfeld, for example, worried that it might set a dangerous precedent: "We may not have enough information to make our case next time, and it may impair our ability to pre-empt against the threat that may be coming at us."19 Additionally, following his trip to mediate in the Israeli-Palestine conflict in early 2002, Powell felt others in the ad­ministration, particularly from Cheney and Rumsfeld 's offices, 20 had deliberately given the public the impression that he was "pro-Pales­tine" in an attempt to undermine his popularity domestically. This had prompted his deputy, Richard Armitage, to tell him that, "they're eating cheese on you."21 Powell agreed with many in Europe that the Israeli-Palestine conflict should be dealt with before Iraq, as Anthony Zinni, Powell's senior advisor, stated in August.22

During this time, the messages emanating from the Bush ad­ministration on Iraq's disarmament were increasingly contradictory. A clear division was emerging over whether the United States should act alone or return to the United Nations. It seems that this genuinely reflected the varying beliefs within the administration, not just on the means - unilateral vs. multilateral - but also on the end - regime change vs. disarmament.

Powell sought unlimited access for weapons inspectors: "No inspection regime would be of any use, based on our experience, unless it's anywhere, anytime, anyplace, anybody."23 Given the ex­isting U.N. resolutions contained some restrictions - particularly access to Saddam's palaces - this implicitly called for a new resolu­tion. "Iraq has been in violation of many U.N. resolutions for most of the last eleven or so years. And so, as a first step, let's see what the inspectors find. Send them back in."24 If this failed to produce the disarmament desired, the United States would then have greater le­gitimacy in initiating military action.

However, while Powell was describing weapons inspectors as 'essential,' Cheney was calling them 'useless.'25 "A return of in­spectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of compliance with U.N. resolutions. On the contrary, there is a great danger that it would provide false comfort that Mr. Hussein was somehow 'back in his box'."26 Rumsfeld, on the other hand, was sending out the message that the United States should not wait to gain international support to act in Iraq. "It is less important to have unanimity than it is to be making the right decision and doing the right thing, even though at the outset it may seem lonesome."27 In other words, don't be frightened of acting alone.

Bush was undecided, swinging between the different opin­ions in his Cabinet. According to Bob Woodward,28 Powell felt in­creasingly excluded from the president and sensed that Bush was heading toward the idea of a pre-emptive strike against lraq.29 His feeling of exclusion was such that Armitage suggested that Powell should attempt to have more private meetings with Bush in order to counter the ones Rumsfeld was having. Indeed, Powell became in­creasingly blunt and direct with Bush, "It's nice to say we can do it unilaterally, except we can't."30 This appears to have been some­thing of a turning point.

When Bush finally revealed his intention to take the multilat­eral route in his speech to the United Nations,31 it was the result of much conflict and division in the administration. During the course of this process, rumours were rife that Powell was going to stand down from his post at the end of Bush's first term.32 Witnesses saw Powell and Rumsfeld having a public row in the Rose Garden of the White House. The messages from Bush throughout were ambigu­ous, often reflecting the views oft he last person in his office, raising separate questions over the strength of Bush's leadership qualities.

While a lack of leadership may explain some of the conflict­ing messages to come out of the White House over the last half of 2002, it is possible congressional elections on Nov. 5 played a role. As one British newspaper points out, the "hardline on Iraq as an extension of the U.S.'s 'war on terror' was a popular campaign pitch. "33 Former Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore drew much criticism when, in September, he spoke out against the Bush administration's policies toward Iraq.34 New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman described the Democratic opposition as so weak, that Blair, Powell, and U.S. Sen. John McCain became the 'De Facto Democrats,'35 providing the only real opposition to the administration's view. If true, this reflects how firmly much of the U.S. elector­ate is positioned in the 'pro-military intervention' camp, a point surely not unnoticed by Karl Rove, Bush's chief political strategist. It also implies these three individuals had some degree of influence.

As has been pointed out, though these political considera­tions might have affected the magnitude of the rhetoric from Bush, there were real divisions within the administration. In the short term, Powell's view prevailed. Was this a result of Powell single-handedly persuading Bush of the merits of this course of action? Or was it the influence of Tony Blair, described by the New York Times as one of the three most important 'doves,' along with Powell and McCain?36 If it was the latter, what were Blair's motives for aligning himself with Bush and was this the best strategy to gain influence over him?

Blair: Intentions and Influence

What were the reasons that Blair positioned himself with Bush? First, he genuinely believed that something had to be done with Saddam. However, while he outwardly talked up the military option, he did this not just to bring himself 'onside' with the Bush administration, but also because he felt the tougher the rhetoric the more likely Saddam would cooperate peacefully. Second, he became increasingly concerned by the strains that were starting to show in the transatlantic relationship. Not only did he see risks to Britain if the relationship was allowed to deteriorate, but he also perceived a very real risk to world stability. Third, despite objections within his own party, he gained politically from this position. The Tory party has been left unable to hold its traditionally pro-military point of differentiation. Finally, although differences exist, Blair and Bush have much in common.

Blair had no doubts about the need to pressure Saddam to the highest level to bring about disarmament. As early as April 2002, he said, "It has always been our policy that Iraq would be a better place without Saddam Hussein. We know he has been developing these weapons. We know that those weapons constitute a threat. The issue has to be dealt with."37 More recently, when presenting his dossier with evidence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to the British Parliament, he said, "Our case is simply this: not that we take military action, come what may; but that the case for ensuring Iraqi disarmament [as the United Nations stipulated] is overwhelming. I defy anyone on the basis of this evidence to say that is an unreason­able demand for the international community to make when, after all, it is only the same demand that we have made for eleven years and he has rejected."38

Nonetheless, Blair has been careful in two respects: He has never actually used the terminology "regime change " and he has consistently implied that military force should be used as a threat to back up diplomacy. In October, Blair said:

"The international community will talk but not act; will use di­plomacy but not force; and we know, again from our history, that diplomacy, not backed by the threat of force, has never worked with dictators and never will work. .. But our purpose is disarmament. No-one wants military conflict."39

This seems to be the largest difference between Blair's gov­ernment and some of the more hawkish within the Bush administra­tion. Threaten war and the U.N. route is more likely to be successful. In his speech at the Labour Party Conference in September, Blair said "Let Saddam comply with the will of the U.N. ... Sometimes, and in particular dealing with a dictator, the only chance of peace is a readiness for war."40

More crucially, he does not believe that the rest of the world should stand by and let the United States deal with Saddam alone, "This isn't just an issue for the United States. It is an issue for Brit­ain. It is an issue for the wider world. America shouldn't have to face this issue alone. We should face it together."41

This leads to a most fundamental point: Significant rifts had developed in an already fragile transatlantic relationship over what should be done with Iraq. Blair believes strongly that the U.S. Eu­rope alliance is essential for world stability. In November, he said, "Europe and America should stand together. The moment people think they can play Europe and America off against each other then every bad lot in the world will be doing it, and we will be the losers."42 On the other hand, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has been openly critical. In an interview with the New York Times, he said that Germany would not support an attack on Iraq, given that it would unsettle the Middle East, destroy the coalition against terror, and "perhaps even push the Iraqi dictator into the very rapprochement with Islamic extremists that the United States fears."43 He also im­plied the United States had not bothered to analyze the consequences of an invasion or make any strategy for afterwards.44

Differences have existed between Europe and America over the Middle East conflict, trade and the environment, as well as Iraq. Blair's greatest concern is a point Robert Kagan put forward: The differences go well beyond specific issues in foreign policy; basic values and interests are diverging.45 Europe is interested in a "self­contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation," while the United States believes that "international laws and rules are unreliable" and "true security and the promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might."46 Treatment of Iraq provides a good example of this. Fur­thermore, the difference in military might means the United States no longer needs Europe or, in the words of Richard Haas, head of policy planning at the U.S. State Department, the danger was not of some crisis across the Atlantic but of a European "loss ofrelevance."47 This would seem to be Blair's biggest fear. By positioning himself closer to America, he acts as the link between the United States and Europe. He not only maximizes his leverage on the global stage but he also helps hold the alliance together. While Kagan feels the fact that the United Kingdom sided with the United States on Iraq, he indicates how also culturally, Great Britain is becoming more simi­lar to the United States. 48 Blair nevertheless believes that Britain and the rest of the world are better off when Europe and the United States are working together. However, as Nicole Gnesotto points out, Blair seems to recognize that 9111 has caused a further shift in U.S. foreign policy.49 Greater priority is placed on domestic security, so previous U.S. dissatisfaction over the financial 'burden-sharing' of European security has been replaced with European security being "relegated to secondary importance."50 Europe's military inferiority leads "the United States to believe that the Europeans are relatively useless, and this in turn confirms America's unilateralist choices."51 Hence, combined with the U.S.'s undeniable status as the world's only superpower, the United States feels it can impose its will on the rest of the world. As Bush said, "you're either with us or against us. "52 Pierre Hassner describes this development as moving "from total war to war without risk and now war without rules,"53 citing the U.S.'s threat to withdraw from all future U.N. peacekeeping mis­sions unless the rules were changed for the United States on the In­ternational Criminal Court.54 Therefore, while most of Europe is concerned "not to provide a pretext that might fuel the cause of those in the United States... to place it above the law," the real risk is to "relegate Europe to the status of an irrelevant actor."55 Blair has sided with the administration on a key issue like Iraq in an attempt to both gain greater influence and hold the alliance together. The shift in his enthusiasm for the ESDP56 since his summit with French President Jacques Chirac at St. Malo in 1998 is evidence of this. Blair "looks a lot less European than he used to," says Francois Heisbourg of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.57

Clearly Blair sees the new world after 9/11 as one in which the United States will feel that it is entitled to act unilaterally if it needs to. There is little Europe can do to prevent it so cooperation is preferable to confrontation. Indeed, Blair's apparent siding with America has prompted some within the old Paris-Berlin-Brussels axis to refer to "the little dog that followed America."58 However, opinion in Eastern European countries, to where the European Union's center of gravity is rapidly shifting, is decidedly more pro-Ameri­can. To them, "Britain's loyalty to America seems less servile than logical."59 Blair's apparent sacrifice in Europe may be less than it seems.

Additionally, domestic politics have played a part in Blair's positioning with Iraq. With a majority of 167 seats in the House of Commons, Blair has been able to discount some of the protestation he has received to his Iraqi policy from within his own party. Gerald Kauffinan, former foreign secretary under Blair, led the backbench movement against a war with Iraq, gaining the support of 160 Labour MP's. He described Bush as "the most intellectually backward Ameri­can president of my political lifetime" and "surrounded by advisers whose bellicosity is exceeded only by their political, military and diplomatic illiteracy."60 He goes on to list the reasons for his opposi­tion to military action, including retaliation by Saddam with WMD, Israel's inevitable involvement in the conflict and an oil crisis com­parable to the 1973 War. Ironically, Blair has received more support from the opposition Conservative Party. Party leader Iain Duncan ­Smith asked "those who refuse to contemplate military action at any price: How are we to force Saddam to comply with U.N. resolutions that he has flouted for a decade?"61 Strong alliances with an Ameri­can Republican president, the Reagan-Thatcher relationship for ex­ample, and a forceful foreign policy were traditionally the domain of the Tory party. Blair has successfully stolen this, leaving them little to differentiate themselves within the foreign policy arena.

Finally, Blair sees similarities between the United States and Britain and also between himself and Bush: "The reason why we are with America in so many of these issues is because it is in our inter­ests; we do think the same, we do feel the same, and we have the same sense of belief that, if there is a problem, you've got to act on it."62 Some people close to Blair would argue that the public also underestimates the 'moral axis' to Blair's politics. "He sees this as a moral issue," says one figure close to Blair. "He does not understand how people on the left can argue against what we are saying about Saddam. He [Saddam] is an evil man."63 Both leaders feel there is a strong Christian backing to their policies. According to Denis MacShane, a British M.P., "They come from very different political clans, but their politics are driven not by ideologies, but by values."64 Blair also has more personal respect for Bush than most appreciate: "The thing that has impressed me the most is that he's really direct, he's really to the point, he's very straight and he's extremely easy to deal with. There's no hidden agenda or undercurrents to the conver­sation."65 Indeed, they are close enough to preview each other's speeches. Blair apparently contributed to the multilateral flavor of Bush's address to the United Nations and Bush was allowed to see Blair's presentation to Parliament on lraq.66 Ultimately, "The two leaders are convinced that terrorism, political repression and antidemocratic forces in general are a threat to global security and economic well-being."67

Poodle or Tail that Wagged the Dog?

Was Tony Blair 'the poodle,' pandering to Bush, or did he recognize that outwardly supporting Bush allowed him maximum influence, meaning Britain could be the 'tail that wagged the dog?'

From the evidence presented above, it is clear that while Blair was prepared to talk up the military options, he did so to increase the chances of success for the multilateral U.N. route. He never explic­itly called for regime change and, as British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw confirmed, "The best chance we have of resolving this crisis peacefully is by the toughest possible stand which makes clear our readiness to use force if the international will continues to be de­fied."68 Hence the reputation he gained within the United States as one of the ''three most important doves."

However, while "inaction was never an option,"69 Blair be­lieved he gained more access to Bush by supporting him. "The more he stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Bush, then the more influence he has to use a restraining hand."70 "Even superpowers don't like being lonely," according to John Chipman, director of the Interna­tional Institute for Strategic Studies.71 The willingness to commit British military forces seems to gain great credibility with the White House. While hugely inferior to U.S. forces, "their political value far outweighs their military utility."72 Blair's support gives Bush "greater credibility" among potential partners, according to Chipman.73 Yet despite this show of military willingness, Blair maintained the repu­tation as the 'multilateralist' among Bush's Cabinet members. Ac­cording to sources, Powell would invoke Blair's view to Bush to assist him in his battles within the Bush Cabinet.74

Another concern was to patch the supposedly troubled spe­cial relationship: ''Nobody doubts that the special relationship be­tween Britain and America is going through a rough patch."75 Disagreements over the Middle East Conflict, trade issues such as the U.S. steel tariffs and the farm bill, the last minute wrangling over the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the U.S.'s rejection of the Kyoto Treaty on climate change were the main issues. Even the left wing "New Statesman" announced "new Labour is now on a par with other whingeing Europeans. Time has run out on the Blair-Bush alliance."76 "The traditional British role of playing the bridge be­tween the United States and Europe is becoming increasingly unten­able," so said Ivo Daalder, an expert on U.S.-European relations at the Brookings Institution.77 Moreover, the Bush administration was unhappy with Blair's use of his Labour Party Conference - in par­ticular, using it as a means of pushing Washington on the Middle East process. As Blair said, "Some say the issue is Iraq. Some say it is the Middle East peace process. It's both."78 Rapturous applause for Bill Clinton's speech that included many criticisms of the Bush administration was also not well received. On the other hand, it could be argued that these frictions point to the high level of influence Blair enjoys over Bush. It is argued that it was lack of British sup­port for the United States over the ICC that forced Bush to compro­mise.79 Blair's refusal to accept Bush's line that the Palestinians must elect another leader as a condition for a Palestine state is in agree­ment with E.U. policy: "It is for the Palestinian people to choose their own leader."80 It was allegedly Blair who persuaded Bush that Putin was "much more, than a former KGB goon."81 Probably most importantly, the last-minute October Camp David summit between Bush and Blair was called at the height of Bush's indecision over the use of the United Nations. Less than a week later, he announced his intention to go to the United Nations.

Did the other principle European allies have a critical im­pact? Protestations by both Schroeder and Chirac, while satisfying domestic public opinion, did not sway Bush. Schroeder's stance can be seen as the antithesis of Blair's. Even before the general election in Germany, Schroeder had presided over "Germany's coming of age in foreign affairs."82 However, when he declared Germany would seek greater independence in its foreign policy after 9/11 - "the days when Germany could stand timidly on the sidelines, declining to participate in foreign military missions, are irrevocably over''83 - few interpreted; it as meaning greater independence from U.S. for­eign policy. However, combined with some vote-catching criticisms against U.S. 'adventures' in Iraq, Schroeder has effectively 'frozen' himself out of U.S. foreign policy. "I don't want him in the White House" had been Condoleezza Rice's response when German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer visited Washington in October.84 In­deed, rather than restraining U.S. intentions, such criticism caused the United States to be increasingly unilateral. One senior Washing­ton source told Peter Riddell that Washington is becoming increas­ingly dissatisfied with European because of their "smugness," "in­tellectual arorgance," "snobbishness," "weak leadership" and "vac­illation."85 Hence Blair's fears about a crumbling transatlantic rela­tionship would seem justified.

While Britain has sought to maximize its power in foreign af­fairs by acting as the bridge between Europe and America, France has attempted to gain as much leverage as possible from its position in international institutions, namely as one of five permanent mem­bers of the Security Council. Asked if he would like to see Saddam toppled, Chirac said he would, "But a few principles and a little order are needed to run the affairs of the world."86 Henry Kissinger's view is that, ever since the fall of Napoleon, France has deluded itself with regards to the role it has in the world. "It is ironic that the country that invented raison d'etat should have to occupy itself... with trying to bring its aspirations in line with its capabilities."87 Their right of veto, combined with diplomacy with Russia, has caused some U.S.-backed resolutions to be unsuccessful in the past, such as the 1998 resolution against Iraq. "The French don't have a lot of power, but they certainly know how to make the most of what little they do have. At the Security Council, France wields a veto, thanks to Franklin Roosevelt (and FDR didn't even like the French)," according to Robert Kagan.88 Indeed, French and Russian insistence that there was no "automaticity'' in resolution 1441 proved to be a major stum­bling block to the final wording of the resolution. However, whilst giving the impression of wielding power, the lack of will to enforce these resolutions means this strategy runs a risk of being its own undoing. Many in Washington see the United Nations as becoming increasingly ineffective. It was mainly the perception that the United Nations was unworkable that caused the administration to prefer the unilateralist approach in the first place. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice recently summed up this view: "The danger here is that the United Nations and the Security Council will become to look like a toothless tiger - that they pass resolutions addressing a major international problem, but then there is never any action."89 Blair agrees, thus reaffirming his greatest fear: the loss of coopera­tion between Europe and America. "If at this moment having found the collective will to recognize the danger, we lose our collective will to deal with it, then we will destroy not the authority of America or Britain but of the United Nations itself."90


The Observer newspaper recently quoted a U.S. commentator's description of the Bush-Blair relationship:

"The Prime Minister and the President were like two men look­ing through different ends of a telescope. To Blair at one end, Bush is a huge figure, right in the middle of the picture. To Bush, looking through the other, Blair is smaller, less significant. Still in his eyeline, but not taking up all the space."91

This probably depicts the relationship well, and in so doing, illustrates the impact Tony Blair has had on Bush's strategy and sub­sequent war to disarm Iraq. There is no doubt the most critical indi­vidual in this process was Colin Powell. Could Blair have done it without him? Certainly not. Could Powell have done it without Blair? Possibly, but with greater difficulty.

It is certain the Bush administration was extremely divided in what the appropriate course of action should be. Bush's lack of decisiveness only made the problem worse and probably encouraged both sides to make their cases publicly. If Bob Woodward's account is to be taken as accurate, however, Powell had critically changed Bush's mind before Blair and Bush had their final summit. Blair, having built up Bush's confidence in him over the previous 12 months, was able to reassure Bush of the need, for taking the U.N. route in order to give greater legitimacy to a potential military op­tion. Most of the international community probably misjudged ex­actly how much this issue was a struggle within the Bush adminis­tration. The international players were only going to have an effect to the extent they managed to influence the players in his Cabinet. Blair recognizes that U.S. foreign policy did change after 9/11 and that America increasingly feels it has the right to be unilateralist.92 The choice for the rest of the world is to accept that and work with it, or fight it. This is where Blair managed to have a far greater effect than Chirac or Schroeder. Blair fully supported the line Powell was taking so once Powell had started to win the battle in the Bush Cabi­net, Blair's influence was important.93

Francis Fukuyama, in a recent lecture94 said he believed the administration was probably always going to go down the U.N. route. Certainly, the evidence presented here does not back this up. Strobe Talbott, head of the Brookings Institution, believes Tony Blair played a crucial role in tipping the balance towards Powell at his final Camp David summit. Was this the case? It is hard to be sure, but the evi­dence does imply Bush was in need of some important reassurance. And it appears Blair was the one person who could provide it.