The Bush/Blair White House Summit: Strengthening the Coalition inIraq

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The Bush/Blair White House Summit: Strengthening the Coalition inIraq

April 13, 2004 8 min read
Nile Gardiner
Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow
Nile Gardiner is Director of The Heritage Foundation's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will meet this Friday with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington. The summit will be the most important meeting between the two world leaders since the liberation of Baghdad a year ago. They will meet against the backdrop of a militant Shia rebellion in Iraq led by Moqtada al-Sadr that threatens to destabilize the country and derail the timetable for the handover of power. The threat of revolution and civil war in Iraq will dominate talks between the two allies, and the Bush Administration will be looking to the British leader to help strengthen the resolve of the international coalition of over 30 nations operating in the country.


Anglo-U.S. Leadership on Iraq

The U.S. and British leaders should demonstrate leadership and vision and call for a strengthening of resolve within the Iraq coalition. The United States and Great Britain must unite in their determination to stay the course in Iraq and defeat the scourge of terrorism. The international coalition will be looking to President Bush and Prime Minister Blair for direction in a time of fear and uncertainty.


Iraqi insurgents, both Sunni and Shia, will seek to sow the seeds of division within the Iraq coalition, especially between London and Washington, and will attempt to further intimidate coalition partners, such as Japan, Italy and Poland. It is therefore imperative that the U.S. and British leaders project confidence, unity, and resolve.


The Key Issues

  • The June 30 deadline for the handover of power in Iraq. President Bush and Prime Minister Blair are in firm agreement that there can be no delay in the timetable for the handover of power. The two leaders will seek to reassure the world that mounting violence and terror will not alter the June 30 deadline. At the same time, they must convince skeptics that Iraq will have a viable and secure government in place by the time of the handover.
  • Dealing with the Shia and Sunni insurgencies in Iraq. Blair's visit to Washington comes amid intense criticism of U.S. tactics in Iraq from sections of his own Labour Party, including his former foreign secretary Robin Cook.[1] While Blair may privately urge a more cautious approach than the Bush Administration's in dealing with the Iraqi insurgency, he is unlikely to appease his critics on Iraq. Blair is likely to support publicly U.S. counter-terrorist operations in Iraqi cities, while stepping up British efforts to enlist the support of moderate Sunni and Shia clerics. The coming weeks could see the successful fusion of U.S. and British military and diplomatic power in Iraq.
  • Shoring up the Coalition of the Willing. The pledge by the new Spanish Socialist government to withdraw its forces from Iraq has sent shockwaves through the Coalition. The upsurge in violence across Iraq and the taking of hostages by Islamic militants has also begun to unnerve some coalition partners. The U.S. and British leaders will be discussing how to strengthen the Coalition and limit the damage in Europe of Spain's decision to pull out of Iraq. Blair's role will be critical in keeping the European alliance together.
  • Role of the UN in Iraq. A major area of potential disagreement between the White House and Downing Street will be over the role of the United Nations in shaping the future of Iraq. Tony Blair is under considerable pressure from his ruling Labour Party to call for the UN to be given a greater political role in Iraq. The Bush Administration has so far resisted calls for the UN to be given a central role in the country.
  • UN resolution on Iraq. Despite division over the precise role of the UN in shaping Iraq's future, Washington and London are in agreement on the need for a new UN resolution mandating U.S.-British plans for the handover of power to the Iraqis. The British Prime Minister will be meeting with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Thursday, prior to Blair's visit to Washington, to discuss the resolution.


Key Recommendations

  • Suppress the Iraq Insurgency. The rule of law must be imposed in Iraq. The United States and Great Britain must be vigorous in their prosecution of the war against Moqtada al-Sadr and his followers, as well as Sunni militants in Fallujah and other parts of the Sunni Triangle. The rebellions are a test of American and British global power and are being closely observed across the Arab world. Any sign of weakness or indecision will only strengthen the hand of rogue states and Islamic terrorist groups.

    At the same time, every effort should be made by the Coalition and the Iraqi Governing Council to urge Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the spiritual leader of the Shias, to help rein in the militant followers of al-Sadr. Similar appeals should be made to senior Sunni clerics, in an effort to reduce terrorist activity in Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle.

  • Limit the Role of the United Nations. The role of the United Nations in shaping the future of the Iraqi people should be strictly limited. While the UN does have an important advisory role to play in Iraq, including the training of election officials and the monitoring of elections, it should not have a military or dominant political role.[2] The huge scandal surrounding the UN's handling of the Iraq food program demonstrates clearly that the world body cannot be entrusted with a major management role in Iraq.[3] A handover of political and military power to the UN would also be a strategic disaster, making it impossible for U.S. and coalition forces to wipe out the terrorist networks operating within Iraq.

  • A NATO Command for Iraq. A NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) command in Iraq is a far better alternative to giving the U.N. a bigger say in shaping the country's future. Unlike the U.N., NATO is a multinational organization that is run effectively and can project military power. NATO's track record has been excellent and bodes well for any future stabilization operation in Iraq.[4]

    President Bush and Prime Minister Blair should call for NATO to take over command of Allied troops in Iraq after the June 30 handover. NATO involvement will reduce the burden on U.S. forces and will likely draw more allies into the Iraq coalition. The U.S. and Britain should lay down the gauntlet to nations such as France and Germany and call on them to join the multinational effort to build a democratic and safe Iraq.

  • A Diplomatic Offensive in Europe. Both Washington and London will need to embark upon a sustained diplomatic offensive to limit the damage wrought by Spain's decision to withdraw its forces from Iraq and to align itself with the Franco-German "axis," President Bush should invite key European allies to the White House for a major summit on the future of Iraq. The United States and UK must work closely together to reinforce the alliance with the nations of "New Europe," especially the ten central and eastern European nations that will enter the European Union in May, including Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.



This week's summit between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair is of huge symbolic significance. The Anglo-U.S. special relationship has been the driving force behind the international alliance against global terrorism and rogue states. The free world will be looking to the leaders of the world's two most powerful nations for leadership and resolve in the face of adversity. The enemies of freedom, including Al-Qaeda and their supporters among Sunni and Shia militants in Iraq, will be seeking signs of division between the United States and Britain and evidence of cracks in the Iraq coalition.


As the British Prime Minister recently stated, the United States and Great Britain remain locked in an "historic struggle" in Iraq. Failure by the Anglo-U.S. coalition would result in the triumph of terrorism and tyranny.[5] The White House summit will be critical in sending a message to the insurgents in Iraq that they will be defeated and that freedom and democracy will prevail.


Appendix: Coalition Forces in Iraq


Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

[1] See "Cook Attacks U.S. Tactics in Iraq," BBC News Online, April 8, 2004.

[2] See Nile Gardiner and James Phillips, "A Limited Role for the United Nations in Post-War Iraq," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 402, January 22, 2004.

[3] For background, see Nile Gardiner and James Phillips, " The UN Oil for Food Scam: Time for Hearings," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 438, March 1, 2004.

[4] A NATO role in Iraq is explored in more detail in Nile Gardiner and John Hulsman, "After Madrid: Preserving the Alliance Against Terrorism," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1743, April 9, 2004.

[5] Tony Blair, " Why We Must Never Abandon This Historic Struggle in Iraq," The Observer (London), April 11, 2004.


Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow