By Anatole Kaletsky in Times Online
It has been another awful week for Tony Blair, perhaps even worse than the mid-summer meltdown triggered by his fatally misjudged support for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. First there was the craven surrender to Saudi Arabia’s demand for the suspension of Britain’s anti-corruption laws if they impinge on the personal finances of Saudi princes. Next came the derisive rejection of Mr Blair’s latest effort to ‘kick-start the Middle East peace process’ by every leader in the region. This was followed by the devastating report from Britain’s leading foreign policy institute, explaining how the Prime Minister had subordinated national interests to his unrequited love affair with President Bush. Then to cap it all, Britain’s supposed ally, the Iraqi Vice-President, commented that Mr Blair had been ‘brainwashed’ and ‘blackmailed’ by Mr Bush.
Nobody much cares any longer if Mr Blair rushes towards political perdition, but will his few remaining months in office sabotage the prospects of future Labour governments for years to come? The Chatham House report about the ‘disaster’ of Mr Blair’s foreign policy is surprisingly sanguine about the willingness of future prime ministers to change course: ‘His successor(s) will not make the same mistake. For the foreseeable future, whoever is prime minister, there will no longer be unconditional support for US initiatives in foreign policy.’
If only things were so simple. With every day that passes, Gordon Brown, through his silence on foreign policy, is closing off the options which should be available to the next prime minister. Having failed to hint at any objections to the conduct of the Iraq war or to Washington’s Middle East policies, Mr Brown is starting to get personally locked into the Blair-Bush axis. If he remains silent on foreign affairs much longer, Mr Brown will find it difficult to undertake the radical shift in British diplomacy that many of his supporters have been expecting and which Chatham House now describes as inevitable and necessary for Britain’s national interest.
The difficulty of executing a foreign policy U-turn if Mr Brown takes over, presumably sometime in June, will be greatly exacerbated if events in Washington and the Middle East continue to accelerate at their present pace. The problem is not just that the security situation in Iraq is deteriorating, but that the Bush-Blair duo are ruling out sensible options and creating new enemies almost every time they open their mouths.