- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

As France and Germany celebrated their wedding at Versailles with proclamations of joint citizenship and dreams of leading a United Europe, Britain like Julia Roberts in "My Best Friend's Wedding" stifled a tear in the bittersweet moment, wishing them all the very best. But it was not always thus. In fact, until just months before the ceremony the "relationship" had been a triangle certainly informed and partly sustained by an artful Britain, and her unique American link.
While we've seen such infatuations before in the '50s between German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and French President Charles de Gaulle and again in 1963 these things never come at a good time, and this is a particularly bad time for Britain.
Downing Street has had a notable shortage of good news. Israeli President Ariel Sharon sabotaged Downing Street's plans for a conference on Palestine and French President Jacques Chirac has infuriated the prime minister by inviting Robert Mugabe to Paris. Moreover, relations with its favorite cousin and erstwhile partner, America, while appearing fine to the neighbors, are fraught with tension, not to say bewilderment, behind closed doors. And Iraq isn't the only reason, just the most immediate.
Further, the household itself has seen better days. Most Britons deplore the state of the National Health Service, now dogged by innumerable boards of inquiry. The rail service is so unreliable a mere windstorm can delay trains for hours on end that one schedules appointments in nearby towns at one's peril. Not to mention how long the stoic British can bear the steady implementation of stealth taxes year by year a burden slowly eroding the quality of English life.
But it is within Mr. Blair's own Labor Party that the pips have begun to squeak. The crease is drawn between the "old" internationalist, union-oriented Labor Party of Ramsay MacDonald in the 1920s, Ernest Bevin in the 1940s, Harold Wilson in the 1970s, today's Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown and Mr. Blair's "third way." The latter, inspired partly by Bill Clinton, has been blindingly successful in usurping both traditional Labor and Tory positions, and blending them with Britain's prominent post-September 11, 2001, global role to define the prime minister's "New Labor" government.
Just as George Bush has raised the specter of terrorism, and now the need to crush a perfidious Saddam Hussein, so Mr. Blair has muffled everyday concerns with what doesn't work in England by focusing the nation's emotions (yes they have them here) on the same international challenge. In a sense Mr. Blair has rattled on down the road one step ahead of the "grand guignol" being prepared by frustrated backbenchers fed up with his Teflon prime ministership.
And, though politicians are allergic to appearing in cartoons, the cartoonists have etched in the public mind a certain Mr. Blair, "faithful poodle," perky and alert, gracing the Presidentfl Bush's lap. But for the policy community, it's a poodle without a payoff.
Whitehall officials recall that Margaret Thatcher "the Iron Lady" suffered similarly from her friendship with Ronald Reagan. But Mrs. Thatcher extracted a price; the Trident submarine, support in the Falklands War, among other things. Today Britons see no payoff; no real help over Northern Ireland, no help for British Aerospace or Rolls Royce. More than that, however, Britain believes itself mispositioned.
Washington's Iraqi gambit formed a pivot on which the Europeans have turned and closed ranks leaving a British nose pressed against the window. The prime minister's fealty to Washington on Iraq has also provided the nub on which old Labor has built a mountain. Angry at being denied the details on military deployments and timing, frustrated by Washington's unwillingness to allow the inspectors more time, annoyed at having to tidy up after Mr. Bush's plain-folks homilies presented as policy, Mr. Blair has little to show for his trouble and may lose his government because of it.
Only 12 percent of the British public supports a war in Iraq without the agreement of the U.N., probably less support than Anthony Eden had before the Suez operation a fact that has not escaped the notice of Gordon Brown.
What is most astonishing in all of this is Washington's apparent scant regard for Britain's legitimizing role in the Iraq drama. Were it not for Tony Blair, the inchoate mumblings from Washington would have had far less traction in foreign ministries around the world. It was Mr. Blair's diplomacy that defined the events of September 11, extracting broad agreement that the event was an assault on civilization everywhere.
And it was Mr. Blair, moreover, who held off the Europe that has turned chilly toward him, persuaded Mr. Bush to proceed multilaterally and crafted the powerful diplomacy that gave the U.S. a fighting chance in the Security Council and the 15-0 vote dispatching inspectors to Baghdad.
Now as the war of words moves to a close, and Iraq's future hangs in the balance, so does Mr. Blair's. Even seasoned supporters of what has been the most successful partnership in modern history the Anglo-American Special Relationship shake their heads in disbelief that Washington's tunnel vision could bring the fall of the Blair government. But they say it will do just that unless the war is "very short indeed." We shall see.

Stefan Halper, a former White House and State Department official, directs the Atlantic Studies Program at Cambridge University. He is senior research fellow at the Center of International Studies and Senior Research Fellow at Magdalene College.

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