Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Political Odd Couple: Bush and Blair and their state of play

Tim Hanes gets it just right in much of this column in his analysis of the Bush/Blair relationship:
AT A TIME when divorce is evidently getting easier and more lucrative, it is touching to see one couple soldiering on despite their domestic difficulties. Admittedly this "marriage" is between two men, which would raise eyebrows (and possibly shotguns) in the senior partner's native Texas. It is, though, the family of the other partner that remains most shocked, mortified indeed, by the enduring liaison. All of which was revealed last week when Tony Blair met George W. Bush in Washington. To some, nothing else during the Prime Minister's time at No 10 has seemed so surreal.

And not only does the Labour Party feel betrayed and humiliated by the spectacle of Mr Blair and Mr Bush in action. So do the Democrats. How, they ask, could a politician of the Centre-Left turn so effortlessly from the embrace of Bill Clinton to a redneck Republican equivalent of Vlad the Impaler?
How indeed?

Unlike many of those Democrats or Labour Party memebers, however, Tim Hanes remembers accurately the era of foreign policy under Clinton. Which explains a great deal in the Bush-Blair relationship.

The attacks on Mr Blair for his dealings with Mr Bush are based on a false nostalgia for the Clinton era, a failure to appreciate the realities that a Prime Minister faces in foreign affairs and a reluctance to admit that ‚Äúliberal interventionism‚ÄĚ often involves conservative methods.

The recasting of the Clinton years is risible. The former President is depicted as a sage diplomat, measured and consistent, who "spoke European" (unlike his successor, who can barely speak English) and with an astute strategy for global politics.

This is nonsense. Mr Clinton's approach to international relations was rather like his attitude to women: he either wanted his hands everywhere or he ignored the body concerned entirely. He came into power demanding that Europe take charge alongside him in Bosnia and then retreated when a relatively minor military debacle elsewhere (Somalia) drained him of personal authority. After that he was such a feeble commander-in-chief that when Osama bin Laden started his terrorist campaign against American targets the response from the Oval Office was to bomb so-called chemical factories in Sudan - but only after local security guards had finished their night shift and there was no danger of them being hit by missiles. That must really have put the frighteners on al-Qaeda.

Then there was Kosovo. Six years after declaring the behaviour of the Serbs in one part of the Balkans to be utterly unacceptable, Mr Clinton had to be dragged kicking and screaming by Mr Blair into a neighbouring area where the atrocities committed were worse still. The split between the two men then was more profound than any that has occurred since Mr Bush entered the White House. It happened not because Mr Clinton was being "measured", let alone "consistent". He behaved as he did because he did not want to risk his poll ratings. Too often, Mr Clinton did not "speak European" - he spoke with a forked tongue. Whatever Mr Bush's faults may be, as the Prime Minister has frequently observed, you do know where he stands and where you stand with him.
Well said indeed, Mr. Hanes. That's precisely how foreign policy was conducted during Clinton's administration, with a President too concerned with poll numbers to take action. And ever since his time in office, the press has become obsessed with daily and weekly polling as well. A hangover from the Clinton era that we are unlikely to shake off any time soon.

Mistakes made in the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein have been costly. Some of them were avoidable. Others, on the other hand, were inevitable. The idea that there can ever be such a thing as Fairy Liquid warfare - conflict that leaves your hands feeling cleaner and smoother afterwards - is an illusion. Liberal intervention will always demand imperfectly conservative methods. It is a price that has to be paid.

Fairy liquid warfare, indeed. Democratic critics of the President have been soaking in it for so long, they don't seem to realize any more - at least in their public, unsophisticated rhetoric - that there are no perfect outcomes in war zones. Just imperfect ones, where plenty of mistakes are always made along the way.

Building the public expectation of a perfect war is a shortsighted policy, and one that may easily backfire on them one of these days.

Unfortunately, they've helped create a superficial public atmosphere that judges the Iraq war, not according to its seriousness of purpose and the good it has already accomplished, but instead by every fault and mistake that was made along the way.


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