- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

Decades of alliance and the Bush-Blair era notwithstanding, Great Britain’s support for an aggressive antiterrorism policy in close cooperation with the United States is actually quite fragile. It does not extend very far beyond the offices of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his allies, which is highly salient now that the Blair era is drawing to a close. More attention is being paid to this fact after the United Kingdom’s dramatic announcement last week that 1,600 of its 7,100 troops in Iraq will be withdrawn in coming months. But that’s not really even the evidence we’re talking about.

The phenomenon is deeper than a single policy decision. Large swaths of British society and government are lukewarm or even hostile to an aggressive policy on radical Islamist terrorists, and have grown unhappier with the United States — which fact Washington must now come to grips with. A year after the start of the Iraq war in 2003, for instance, the Pew Center for the People and the Press found that only 40 percent of Britons wanted so close an alliance with the United States as Mr. Blair’s. Today, anti-Americanism is up and weariness of U.S. policy in the Middle East is high. Late last year, majorities of Britons polled by the Program on International Policy Attitudes opposed the use of British airspace for so-called renditions of terrorism suspects to countries with less-than-ideal human-rights records. Meanwhile, the push for separate Shariah courts of law inside the United Kingdom continues to be taken seriously, while the militancy of the more radical elements of the recent Muslim population surge grows.

Few British writers paint a more vivid picture of this state of affairs than newspaper columnist Melanie Phillips, who, interviewed in Tuesday’s editions of The Washington Times, scored her government for its handling of radical Islam, but also cited a more general cultural paralysis in the face of rising Islamism. “Britain is under attack by the Islamic jihad through a pincer movement of terrorism and cultural pressure,” she said. Among the more noteworthy examples she cites is the suggestion by a senior London police officer that Muslim terrorism informants should be encouraged to channel their information through “honest brokers” in mosques. In such thinking the desire not to offend supercedes a more varied and entrepreneurial intelligence-gathering mindset.

The public and elite officials in the United Kingdom are entitled to whatever opinion of the United States and its policies which they settle upon. But the threat from radical Islam exists independently of those opinions. As Mrs. Phillips puts it: “If Britain really imagines that its interests will be better served by weakening the special relationship and by seeking to appease radical Islamism, it will not be long before it has a very rude awakening indeed.” Let us hope it does not come to that.

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