- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, shoulder to shoulder for the war in Iraq, face a much more difficult task standing together once the shooting stops.
Mr. Blair, who meets with Mr. Bush at Camp David, Md., today to discuss the military and humanitarian situation in Iraq, has sketched out a markedly different long-term agenda for the Middle East and the United Nations from the one pushed by the Bush administration.
Buoyed by recent polls showing that a majority of Britons support his hard line on Iraq, Mr. Blair, nevertheless, remains under considerable political pressure to produce tangible benefits from his close association with the U.S. government.
Polly Toynbee, a columnist with the leftist London Guardian who opposed British participation in the Iraq war, wrote this week that Mr. Blair was "full of frantic optimism" that the Bush administration shares his views on the need for U.N. involvement in postwar Iraq and on the need to press ahead soon on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Mr. Blair's "elevated language jars painfully with the ignobility of his place in White House priorities," she wrote.
A central point of contention in the Camp David discussions is expected to be Mr. Blair's proposal that the United Nations take a prominent role in the oversight of Iraq after the downfall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
U.S. officials have been vague about the constitution of a postwar administration in Iraq. But there is deep skepticism in the administration about including the United Nations after the failure of the Security Council to approve a second resolution sought by Washington and London explicitly authorizing the war.
At a London press conference yesterday before leaving for Washington, Mr. Blair said, "I can assure you that it is our desire to make sure the United Nations [is] centrally involved" in the Iraq reconstruction project.
Nile Gardiner, a visiting fellow in Anglo-American security policy at the Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Blair runs a risk if he presses the point too hard.
"I think Blair might be underestimating the tremendous opposition to going down the U.N. route again inside the Bush administration," Mr. Gardiner said.
Mr. Blair also has been far more outspoken than Mr. Bush in urging a renewed international effort to revive peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, in large part to mend fences with Arab states.
Mr. Bush's Rose Garden pledge two weeks ago to release the Middle East "road map" a phased peace plan drafted by the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia was widely seen as a gesture to Mr. Blair.
The British prime minister, answering questions in Parliament yesterday, insisted, "There is no difference between us at all on the basic principles" in the Middle East peace process.
But Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former Middle East specialist at the State Department, said Mr. Blair is likely to be disappointed if he is banking on a major U.S. push to pressure Israel and the Palestinians to strike a deal.
"The United States is unlikely to forcefully engage" in the Middle East peace process, because of high political costs and the unwillingness of either side to strike a deal, he said.
Fiona Hill, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution who just returned from a London trip, said that even the atmospherics of the war are very different in the two capitals. Mr. Blair, she said, describes the war as a necessary evil and stresses the humanitarian mission in Iraq, even as American officials talk of "shock and awe" tactics and the need to protect U.S. national security interests.
"If the U.S. is seen to act in a demonstrably imperial sense, then the British could part company and that would be disastrous for Tony Blair's position," she said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide