November 12, 2002 | Commentary on Europe
ED111202: A Multi-Front War for Blair
Britain's participation in any U.S.-led war on Iraq may seem a
foregone conclusion, especially now that the U.N. Security Council
has unanimously accepted a new U.N. resolution designed to disarm
Iraq once and for all -- one that Britain helped the United States
But before Prime Minister Tony Blair can lead Britain into war, he
must slay two dragons in his path: dissent within his own
government and party, and opposition among European Union countries
to a war on Iraq.
Britain's support in this war would be considerable. Reports from
London indicate that more than 30,000 British troops would join in
a U.S.-led offensive. Britain would play a leading role in the
international security force in a post-war Iraq as well: Up to
15,000 British troops are expected to remain for up to five years
after Saddam Hussein has been deposed.
But for that to happen, Blair must show real leadership within the
House of Commons and in Europe, where anti-American sentiment is
The Labor Party's Old Left considers Iraq "the new Vietnam." This
group of unreconstructed socialists is united by a shared hostility
to U.S. foreign policy and a visceral hatred of the Bush
administration. Blair has begun reforming the Labor Party, but so
far he has failed to dislodge the old unilateral disarmament
coterie that discredited the party during the Cold War.
This group includes ministers such as Clare Short, the
pro-Palestinian International Development Secretary who resigned
from the Labor Shadow Cabinet in 1991 over the first Gulf War, and
Robin Cook, leader of the House of Commons. Among the 160 backbench
ministers who have signed a motion opposing military action against
Iraq are George Galloway, who, in between trips to Baghdad, has
described Britain as "the tail of the American dog," and Alice
Mahon, whose said the Pentagon's advocacy of pre-emptive strikes
meant "the lunatics have taken over the White House."
Such views, by no means unusual among the Labor rank and file, are
undoubtedly an embarrassment to the prime minister, who has faced
increasing anti-American sentiment within his own party over the
United States' handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the
International Criminal Court.
For Blair to play a full role as America's key partner in a war
with Baghdad, and thus continue to maximize British international
influence, he will need to face down his critics in the Labor
Party, in what may prove to be the most important confrontation
with the Labor left since he became prime minister in 1997. Blair
shouldn't be afraid to sack dissenters in his cabinet, including
Short and Cook. Indeed, Blair should use the Iraq debate as an
opportunity to assert his authority and remove some "dead wood" in
The prime minister also will need to confront America's critics in
Europe, including German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whose
political opportunism and ostrich-like failing to confront the
Iraqi regime should be condemned. The continuing appeasement of
Iraq by the EU and Germany is one of the most short-sighted
episodes of post-war European history.
The European Union, led by Commission President Romano Prodi and
External Relations Commissioner Christopher Patten, will use
opposition to an Iraq war to attempt to project its influence on
the global stage, in a vain effort to portray itself as a major
world player. Euro-federalists are outraged by the closeness of
British foreign policy to that of America's. "Morally and
politically, we could take charge in the world," says Belgian
foreign minister Louis Michel. "But the British are blocking that.
They still don't understand that they could play a pioneer role in
Europe instead of submissively following the U.S."
Britain's position as a leading global player has been greatly
enhanced since Sept. 11, in large part due to Blair's standing
"shoulder to shoulder" with President Bush. As the primary nation
in Europe able to project substantial military strength beyond the
continent, Britain has emerged as the world's second most powerful
military and political power in the 21st century. It is no
coincidence that it was the only nation to join the United States
in launching military strikes on the opening day of the Afghanistan
The closeness of the Anglo-American relationship undoubtedly causes
envy and disquiet among a resentful Brussels establishment, who
feel militarily inadequate and virtually irrelevant on the world
stage. But, whether they like it or not, the Europeans have a
choice: They can carp on the sidelines, or they can join Britain
and the United States in an historic war to remove one of the most
evil regimes in modern history.
Nile Gardiner is a visiting fellow in Anglo-American
security policy and John C.
Hulsman, Ph.D., is a research fellow in European
affairs at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).
Distributed nationally on the Scripps-Howard wire.