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Blair defends U.S. ties

- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 24, 2007

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, scheduled to step down Wednesday, has fired a parting shot at those in Britain and elsewhere who advocate a foreign and security policy that excludes an alliance with the United States. His succinct counsel: "Get real."

In an essay published in the Economist magazine, Mr. Blair says he doesn't mean just anti-Americanism but a drift into isolationism and promotion of foreign policy independent of U.S. policy. That, he said, "bewilders me."

Mr. Blair wrote in the context of Britain and Europe, of course, but said his admonitions were intended for "a global audience." In Asia, they would apply to the younger generation in South Korea and leftists in Japan who want to loosen their security ties with the United States. They would apply to those in Taiwan who contend that Taipei can ignore Washington.

They could be read profitably in the Philippines, where anti-Americanism is a legacy of the colonial days when the United States ruled there. Mr. Blair's cautions would apply in other capitals in Southeast Asia and in Australia, where Prime Minister John Howard has supported the United States but has been confronted with running criticism from leftist opposition.

Mr. Blair's voice will be missed in Washington as he is the second of President George W. Bush's three close allies abroad to leave office. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, who had been in power for 5½ years, left last September. Mr. Blair is going after 10 years in No. 10 Downing Street. Mr. Howard, prime minister for 11 years, faces an election late this year.

All chose to ally with the U.S. as partners whose phone calls to the White House would be answered and whose ambassadors would have assured access to the highest levels of the U.S. government, even if they don't always get their way. Whether their successors get the same treatment remains to be seen.

In Mr. Blair's essay, titled "What I've learned," he said: "I have real concern that on both sides of the Atlantic there is, in certain quarters, an indifference, even a hostility to an alliance that is every bit as fundamental to our future as it has been to our past." For Atlantic, "Pacific" could be substituted.

"By this," he continued, "I don't just mean the rampant anti-Americanism on parts of the left." Rather, he wrote, "It is more a drifting away, occasionally a resurgent isolationism that crosses right and left. In Britain now there are parts of the media and politics that are both Eurosceptic and wanting 'an independent foreign policy' from America.

"Quite where Britain is supposed to get its alliances from bewilders me," Mr. Blair wrote. "There is talk of Britain having a new strategic relationship with China and India bypassing our traditional European and American links. Get real," he urged. "Of course we will have our own relationship with both countries. But we are infinitely more influential with them if we have two strong alliances behind us."

In a nod toward potential isolationism and protectionism in the U.S., Mr. Blair said: "In Europe we wonder: Is it worth it to continue such reliance on America? We would be better asking whether the political leaders in America still see Europe as their first port of call." Similarly, an Asian leader has more than once wondered whether the United States could be counted on in a crisis.

"A weak Europe is a poor ally," Mr. Blair said. "That is why we need closer cooperation between the nations of the EU [European Union] and effective European institutions. In a world in which China and India will each have a population 3 times that of the EU, anything else is completely out of date."

On the threat of terror, Mr. Blair contended the world has become misguided: "If there was any mistake made in the aftermath of September 11, it was not to realize that the roots of this terrorism were deep and pervasive." Removing the ideology of terrorism is harder than removing the terrorists themselves, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Mr. Blair argued: "It is based on genuine belief, the believers being people determined to outlast us, to be indefatigable when we are weary, to be strong-willed and single-minded when we have so many other things to preoccupy us.

"There is no alternative to fighting this menace wherever it rears its head," Mr. Blair concluded. "There are no demands that are remotely negotiable. It has to be beaten. Period."

Richard Halloran is a freelance writer and former New York Times correspondent based in Honolulu.