- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tony Blair is terminating his long goodbye and Gordon Brown is soon to become the British prime minister. Even allowing for the fact that Brits tend to over-romanticize the “special relationship,” what might this mean for Washington? Margaret Thatcher impressed on Tony Blair that it was the fundamental duty of a British prime minister to stay close to the U.S. president. “Better to rely on the Americans than the shifty Europeans” has been a leitmotif of British foreign policy since the alliance of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan fought, and won, the Cold War shoulder to shoulder. Mr. Blair behaved as though Bill Clinton was his soulmate, and, despite the ideological differences, he easily formed a warm friendship with President Bush.

Despite the peace deal in Northern Ireland, Mr. Blair will be remembered as a war leader. His theory of humanitarian interventionism required U.S. firepower in Kosovo in 1999. In 2000 Mr. Blair went solo and sent the British armed forces to Sierra Leone. After September 11, Mr. Blair ratcheted up his views on interventionism to fight alongside the United States in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003.

He did not pander to U.S. policies; he intervened in the Middle East because he believed it was the correct, and moral, course. Mr. Blair is perhaps the most overtly Christian of modern British prime ministers. To be sure, strategic interests were also important. British and U.S. intelligence agencies work very closely together. And Britain’s nuclear deterrent — which Mr. Brown is committed to renewing — is reliant on U.S. technology.

When Mr. Blair came to power 10 years ago, his chief ambition was to restore Britain’s prestige in the European Community. September 11 changed his priorities The Franco-German hostility to the war against Saddam merely confirmed old Gaullist suspicions that Britain was a Trojan horse, part of the Anglo-American conspiracy to subvert Europe.

The Iraq war divided British public opinion even more than the aborted invasion of Suez in 1956. It undermined support for the ruling Labor Party which suffered heavily in local council elections, on May 3, in England and in the national parliaments in Wales and Scotland. Mr. Blair personally identified himself with the “war on terror” and the failures in Iraq could contribute to the defeat of the Labor government at the next national elections.

But that is two to three years away, unless Mr. Brown calls (a highly unlikely) snap election. Mr. Brown will follow the usual ritual of a new prime minister: see the Queen and then shortly after visit the U.S. president. There may not be the same chemistry as Bill and Tony or George and Tony, but Prime Minister Brown has no doubt that there has to be a functioning relationship.

Mr. Brown is a long-established pro-American, though he would be more at home with a Democratic presidency as well as a Democratic Congress. In his forthcoming book, “Courage: eight portraits,” he singled out Bobby Kennedy as his “moral beacon.” Mr. Brown is a more serious man — far less the showman — than Mr. Blair. He is said by his opponents in his party to be “psychologically flawed” and in public he never seems at ease with himself. He is not interested in celebrity, clothes, money, or, it appears, in small talk — though intimates say his private company can be very convivial. His Scottish background — the son of a church minister — have given him a puritanical, even dour, aura.

Although for 10 years he has been relatively successful, in financial terms, as the chancellor of the exchequer, he is a something of an enigma to the British public — it is full of unknown unknowns. Like all senior politicians he is pragmatic. In his years as Britain’s financial boss he switched from socialism to hyper-Thatcherism, though he also imposed numerous so-called stealth taxes.

In foreign policy he will continue to ally with the United States, and the new pro-American French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to combat Islamic extremism, especially as the domestic threats of more July 7, 2005 mount. But he is likely to be much more cautious than his predecessor about military intervention, not least because some generals have accused him of underfunding the armed forces. He is likely to continue, even accelerate, British withdrawal from Iraq. He said he would “learn the lessons” from the mistakes made there. Whether he is prepared to boost the British military presence in Afghanistan awaits his first 100 days in office, which begin in six weeks’ time.

Mr. Brown will focus on defeating the resurgent Conservative opposition at home rather than a resurgent Taliban. And the Scottish nationalists have emerged as the largest party in his native Scotland, a possible repetition of 1918, when Irish nationalists dominated their country, and eventually secured independence. That led to civil war, partition and later the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland which absorbed so much of Mr. Blair’s time. No one expects violence in Scotland. But a nationalist-dominated Scotland, with a leader whom Mr. Brown loathes, will distract the new prime minister as much as Ireland did Mr. Blair.

Mr. Brown has many domestic issues on his plate. His premiership may be relatively short, but while it lasts Whitehall expects fewer “Yo Blair” moments with Mr. Bush. Mr. Brown will bring a difference in style, not substance, in Anglo-American relations.

Paul Moorcraft is the director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Analysis, London.

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