by Jerome a Paris
Sat May 13th, 2006 at 11:28:01 AM EST
The Economist has its front page story on the "end of the Bush-Blair era", which would be good news if only they were celebrating it. Instead, they are engaging in a nasty bit of revisionist history and lamenting the end of two "Churchill-like" leaders with the right ideas (if incompetent execution capacities). This attempt to secure a kind view of Bush and Blair's legacy must be fought.
So here's my deconstruction of their editorial.
A world-bestriding partnership is drawing to a close
THEY have been improbable soul-mates, the silver-tongued British barrister and the drawling Republican from Texas. But the partnership between Tony Blair and George Bush has shaped world events in the nearly five years since the attacks of September 11th. Over the past year, however, the debacle in Iraq and problems at home have turned both leaders from soaring hawks into the lamest of ducks.
"soul mates", "silver tongued barrister", "drawling Republican from Texas", "soaring hawks". That's a lot of opinion shaping for a first paragraph. Even though it supposedly introduces the (unavoidable, today) notion that they are lame-ducks, it is made clear that these are nice, great guys who have done grand things together. And indeed that will be the content of the rest of the article. Note also how the issues bringing them down seem oddly unconnected to them (the "debacle in Iraq" and "problems at home").
This week Mr Bush's popularity drooped to 31% in the polls; his party faces a beating and the possible loss of one or both houses of Congress in November's mid-term elections (see article). In Britain meanwhile, much of the Labour Party, which Mr Blair reinvented and led through three consecutive election victories, wants to bundle its saviour into retirement and replace him with Gordon Brown (see article and article).
Neither man is going right away. Mr Blair may hang on for another year. Unpopular lame duck though he may be, Mr Bush will stay in office until January 2009. And the path may not be all downhill: the dysfunctionality of the Democrats may yet let the Republicans limp home in the mid-terms. But an era is plainly drawing to an end.
Sure, they are staying on. so why are they lame ducks right now, despite their recent victories? That question will never even be asked. And note again how the 'dysfunctionality of the Democrats" is inserted in there to relativise the lameduckness.
No matter how long they remain in office, the self-confident and often self-righteous political partnership that shaped the West's military response to al-Qaeda and led the march into Afghanistan and Iraq is now faltering. What does this mean for the wider world?
An important parapgrah, which underlines the whole state of mind of Bush, Blair and those, like the Economist, who support them: there is only a military response to Al-Qaida, and the attack on Iraq is linked to Al-Qaida, again, despite the fact that this is blatantly false. It is still being repeated, and still kept in the minds of all, even today.
Remember first that this is no pairing of equals. Britain's contribution to the war on terror has been smaller in substance than in symbolism. After September 11th Mr Bush did not need Mr Blair in order to mobilise the domestic support and military power he required for his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. But in Mr Blair the president found a supreme political salesman and a dependable ally with a respected voice inside both the UN Security Council and the European Union.
Again, the link between 9/11 and Iraq casually reaffirmed. And it is simply false that Bush did not need the support form Blair to attack Iraq. Blair's support was crucial to lend credibility to the idea that there was a link between 9/11 and Iraq and to convince Americans that it was necessary to attack Iraq.
I won't comment on whether he was a respected voice within the UN Security Council and the European Union.
Better still, Mr Blair was a true believer, exuding conviction. He attached himself to Mr Bush out of principle, not some British instinct to hold the coat-tails of the superpower.
Yeah, right. Unless you consider holding the coat-tails of the super-power a principle.
From the start, he believed in a forceful response to terrorism and the need to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein. As a “progressive” politician from the centre-left, who had got on just as well with Bill Clinton, Mr Blair reached audiences in parts of the world, and of America, that Mr Bush could not reach.
Again, terrorism and Saddam Hussein in the same sentence. It is pathological. As to the audiences Blair could reach, they were purely inside the USA.
Because Britain is so much the junior partner, neither Mr Blair's new weakness nor his possible ejection from Downing Street will have an immediate impact on America's behaviour in the world. Mr Brown has so far given few clues about his beliefs in foreign policy beyond the fact that he is a Eurosceptic well-disposed to America. Under him Britain will continue to value its transatlantic alliance, not least because the European Union has been at sixes and sevens since the voters' rejection of its new constitution and no longer exerts much of a tug in the opposite direction. The timetable for extracting Britain's small force from southern Iraq, Britain's commitment to peacekeeping in Afghanistan and its opposition to Iran's nuclear programme will almost certainly not change.
Linking the EU Constitution and the attitude of European countries to US policies is highly misleading. Europe was divided on "valueing the transatlantic alliance" because Bush and Blair specifically worked to divide it on that topic (who coined the "New Europe"/"Old Europe" label, again? Who cavorted in small committee in the Azores?). If there is one thing that unites Europeans today, it is their thorough dislike for the Bush administration. Their governments may be less vocal in expressing this opinion, and more cowardly in standing up to Bush, but they are basically trying to "contain" the US, by pretending to go along in the hope of slowing it down (on Iran, for instance, where the UK is working with Germany and France on diplomatic solutions).
Even so, as Mr Blair loses authority at home—and even more when he eventually leaves office—Mr Bush is bound to feel the loss not just of a strong ally but also of a kindred spirit. Growing friendlessness at home will be compounded by increasing loneliness abroad. Lately the president has found a new European friend in Angela Merkel. Germany's chancellor is much closer to Mr Bush's way of thinking than was her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder. She is commendably outspoken, for example, on Iran's nuclear programme and its threats against Israel (though also somewhat feeble in her attitude towards Vladimir Putin's increasingly pushy Russia). But many of Mr Bush's other foreign allies, such as Spain's José María Aznar and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, have lost their jobs. And none of these allies formed a bond as strong as the one with Mr Blair. When the time comes for Mr Bush to soldier on without his one foreign soul-mate and confidant, it may not be Britain's troops, intelligence advice or Security Council votes he will miss most but the psychological pattern of mutual encouragement: each man's reinforcement of the other's belief in the rightness of his gut convictions.
Berlusconi and Aznar were not kindred spirits? Why is Aznar still visiting Washington regularly while the Zapatero government is spurned? Why was Berlusconi given the opportunity to give a speech to Congress a few days before the last elections in Italy, in a blatant intrusion in Italy's politicla process by the USA? As to the stupefying arrogance in this evaluation of Merkel (more friendly, but needs to toe the line better on Russia) - and the mindset of conflict with everybody (Iran, Russia to start with) that drips from this paragraph, it shows how much the Economist has made its own, consciously or unconsciously, the "you are with us or against us" mindest of this White House.
The long shadow of the 1930s
The fact that the prime minister and president hail from opposite ends of politics has made this pattern all the stronger. What they shared was the same instinctive responses to the attack on the twin towers and all that followed. Both have a strong Christian morality. Both see jihadist terrorism and nuclear proliferation as dangers akin to those posed by Hitler in the 1930s. Both consider it their calling to rise Churchill-like to the challenge. Mr Blair may not have gone so far as Mr Bush in defining his as a wartime administration. But part of the Blairite worldview is that desperate times require desperate measures. Even before September 11th, Mr Blair was citing Rwanda and Kosovo as justifications for a doctrine of liberal interventionism under which great powers had a duty to use force for virtuous ends even without the say-so of the United Nations. On September 12th the prime minister sent the president a five-page memo promising to help with the invasion of Afghanistan. This prime minister is as close as any British Labour leader can come to being an American neo-conservative.
"dangers akin to those posed by Hitler in the 30s", "Churchill-like", "desperate times require desperate measures". Gah. Does Godwin's law also apply to Churchill and such pathos?
As to this : This prime minister is as close as any British Labour leader can come to being an American neo-conservative. Indeed-y-o, and it kind of contradicts the statement above that Blair hails from the "opposite end of politics" - which is a carefully desgined piece of fiction designed to give Blair's warring instincts more resonance "if even a lefty agrees, war MUST be necessary".
With Mr Blair weakened and his own political capital trickling away, Mr Bush will find it harder to trust his own instincts, let alone rise Churchill-like to the challenges in the remaining two and a half years of his presidency. Critics of the improbable partnership—those who think Mr Bush and Mr Blair overreacted to September 11th, lied their way into Iraq, trampled over law and liberties and inflamed the very clash of religions that Osama bin Laden was so keen to ignite—will rejoice. In a world of one superpower, some say, people are safer when its president is too weak for foreign adventures.
Again, Churchill. And the abrupt dismissal of the arguments of opponents, in half a sentence, by effectively branding them as enemies who "rejoice" at the failure of our grand, patriotic war leaders (and thus cause our defeat, of course).
They are wrong. That Mr Bush has made big mistakes in foreign policy is not in doubt. He oversold the pre-war intelligence on Iraq, bungled the aftermath, betrayed America's own principles in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, ignored Mr Blair's pleas to restart peace diplomacy in Palestine. But America cannot fix any of these mistakes by folding its tents and slinking home to a grumpy isolation. On the contrary. In his belief that America needed to respond resolutely to the dangers of terrorism, tyranny and proliferation, Mr Bush was mainly right. His chief failures stem from incompetent execution.
See, it's only incompetent execution, which means that it's all okay. Note also how the debate is misleadingly transformed from criticising lies and betrayals of principles into not wanting to fight terrorism. That logical step is so false, ugly and slanderous that, just for it, the Economist deserves all our scorn. Again, it's the "with us or aganst us" mindset. Criticise anything, however justified, and you criticise the president, and all the values he purports to stand for, and thus you betray these values, the pesident and the country. It's shameful, shameful, shameful.
The alternative is not necessarily to retreat into grumpy isolation (although that would be progress compared to what's done today), but to actually stand for these purported values, something the current administration is certainly not doing.
What is required when Mr Bush's term ends is a president no less committed to the exercise of American power when it is necessary, and no less willing to rise to external threats. Perhaps that will be a John McCain or a Hillary Clinton. But in the meantime, the world won't wait. However weak he is at home, Mr Bush still has duties abroad. He must ensure that America is not bundled out of Iraq before its elected government has a chance to stand on its own feet. He must hold the line against a nuclear Iran. He needs to push harder for an independent Palestine, continue the fight against al-Qaeda, resist Russia's bullying of its neighbours and help America come to terms with a rising China. If he is wise, he will work harder than before to enlist allies for these aims, even if America must sometimes still act alone. But it will be harder and lonelier without a confident Tony Blair at his side.
Yes, America needs a Bush-light, because the role of the American president today is to wage war on the entire world, apparently. The left is legitimate only if it provides a similarly warring president, otherwise it's treasonous.
The Economist used to be a great newspaper. This is a terrifying sellout of its integrity and its values. [Expletive deleted]