February 3, 2003

February 3, 2003 | Commentary on Middle East

Why Britain will fight in Iraq

Today's meeting at Camp David between Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush will seal the fate of the nefarious regime led by Saddam Hussein. It will set the scene for the United States and Great Britain to lead an international coalition to disarm Iraq, in what will be the most significant display of Anglo-American cooperation since the Second World War.

There are several reasons why British participation is crucial. Mr. Blair holds the key to building a broad-based international coalition to oust Saddam Hussein, either with a U.N. mandate or as the core of a coalition of the willing. Washington depends on London to help generate diplomatic support not only in Europe but also in the Arab world and the Commonwealth nations.

This support has been critical in bringing along Spain, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to the American position. It has made a lie of the pathetic effort of Germany and France to pretend that "Europe" opposes American action in Iraq. Were Mr. Blair to back out, the whole coalition could well collapse. It would embolden antiwar opposition in the United Nations and strengthen the position of Russia, France and China at the Security Council.

Britain's military role also will be substantial. The 30,000 British ground troops, combined with considerable air and naval forces, are expected to play a major part in an Iraq invasion. SAS units will be vital in destroying Iraqi weapon sites, disrupting communications, and co-ordinating missile strikes. In addition, the British Army would be expected to play a lead role in a postwar security operation, to ensure the destruction of the Ba'athist regime, the capture of war criminals, and the establishment of a successful Iraqi federation representing the major ethnic groups.

Most importantly, British support on Iraq is crucially important for the long-term future of the Anglo-American special relationship. It is in Britain's vital national interest to remain America's key ally in the 21st century. The European Union, for all its delusions of grandeur and talk of a common foreign and security policy, is likely to remain a military midget in global power terms for decades to come. Continental Europe is too divided and too weak, militarily and economically, to mount a serious challenge to U.S. global hegemony. As such, it remains in London's best interest to look toward Washington and not Brussels in order to maximize its power.

Since September 11, 2001, Britain has emerged, in the eyes of Washington, as the world's second-most-powerful nation. Mr. Blair's standing shoulder-to-shoulder with President Bush in the war on terrorism has reaped enormous dividends in terms of British prestige and influence on the international stage. In every key area, whether it be diplomatic influence, military power or economic clout, Britain's star is rising.

As a result, the prime minister is able to wield real influence in Washington. In many ways his views are the only ones listened to intently by the Bush administration when it canvasses international opinion. Mr. Blair is no poodle of the American president's. He played a key role, for example, in pushing President Bush to seek a new U.N. resolution to confront the Iraqi regime. In many respects, Britain has blazed the way in leading international condemnation of Iraq's human-rights record and its program of weapons of mass destruction.

The contrast with the near total lack of influence of Britain's European partners couldn't be more striking. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, four months after his controversial election victory, is still regarded with deep hostility across the Atlantic; due to Germany's uncooperative attitude, he has almost no influence over Washington's foreign policy decision-making. Indeed, U.S.-German relations may prove to have been irreparably damaged by Berlin's reckless anti-U.S. position over Iraq. France continues to prepare its troops for possible mobilization while publicly condemning Washington for its bellicose desire to end Saddam's regime - or playing both ends up against the middle over Iraq. As such, the White House views France with deep suspicion.

There is a danger Mr. Blair will heed the growing cacophony of anti-American voices in the Labor Party and in sections of the British media. Labor, with its rump of hard-left extremists on the backbenches, still suffers from its "Vietnam" syndrome: a deep distrust of U.S. foreign policy combined with a misguided militant pacifism. If Mr. Blair "goes wobbly," he risks losing everything he has achieved on the foreign policy stage over the past 18 months.

The prime minister has shown outstanding international leadership on the Iraq question. It's time for him now to face down opposition within his own fractious party, and to make a convincing case for war to the British people. There is much at stake: the long-term success of the war on terrorism, the future of the Iraqi people, and the Anglo-U.S. special relationship, the cornerstone of global security for the past 57 years.

Nile Gardiner is visiting fellow in Anglo-American security policy, and John Hulsman is research fellow in European affairs at the Heritage Foundation.

Originally appered in the Washington Times