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David Miller: Method in the Madness

David Miller Online

Tony Blair and Iraq: Method in the Madness

It is interesting to see that the British Government is revising its hard-line stance on Iraq while deploying a naval task force to the Persian Gulf at the same time. Suddenly Mr. Blair is stating that the United Nations inspectors in Iraq need more time to complete their search for weapons of mass destruction and that there must not be a deadline imposed before war is declared. There is speculation that this may simply be a tactical shift by Number 10 and the hawks within the British Government to deflect opposition among the public and members of the House of Commons to a unilateral strike against Saddam Hussein. Other commentators are seeing this as a possible sign that Mr. Blair is weakening but this is unlikely to be the case as it is Mr. Blair and the British Government who have the most to gain from going to war.

Mr. Blair has walked along a very fine line ever since he placed his government firmly inside the Bush camp. There is growing opposition from within the British public and the Labour Party over Britain joining any American led military action that is unilateral and takes place outside of the United Nations mandate. Many former Gulf War allies are adamant that any strike against Iraq must be sanctioned by the United Nations and this is unlikely to happen if the inspection teams declare that Iraq does not posses any WMD. If this happens then President Bush’s case for war is placed on very shaky ground.

Mr. Blair must also try and limit criticism of his government from other states around the world who are British friends or allies. This includes those in the European Union, such as Germany and France, and powerful and wealthy Arab countries, for example, Saudi Arabia. Britain has long played a role in the Middle East with vast economic interests at stake as well and if these assets can be protected by Mr. Blair placing some distance between himself and Mr. Bush then that is what he will do.

So why does Mr. Blair still continue to beat the drum of war?

Since September 11, the world has witnessed a much bolder United States and one that will act on its own to achieve foreign policy objectives. Suddenly there is a willingness to act outside of the United Nations and brandish US power regardless of public opinion around the world. This sets a very dangerous precedent in that if the United States can act in this manner then what is there to prevent other countries around the world follow suit? The British incursion into Sierra Leone and the recent French deployment into Ivory Coast demonstrate this point in action.

In recent years Britain has found itself in much demand when it comes to the deployment of peace keeping missions around the world and is one of the first countries asked to provide forces. This has reached the point where the United Nations now looks upon Britain as a global ‘policeman’ and over half of its military forces are now deployed on active service. Decades of policing in Northern Ireland and former colonies has meant that the British forces are renowned for their skill and professionalism in this area and this skill is being called upon more and more.

The benefit to Britain is that by deploying its forces to so many places around the world and being steadfast in its support for the United States is that it is granted a louder voice in international affairs. One way to describe this would be to say that Britain, ‘boxes above its weight’. Its military forces are not that large when compared to other countries around the world nor are they as well equipped. Often when one reads reports of British military adventurism there are complaints by their senior officers that they do not have the people or equipment for the job. However by having what forces there are serving on UN missions, with the US forces in the Persian Gulf or by themselves in a country such as Sierra Leone, the British are able to have a greater influence than they might otherwise receive. It is not only the politicians who are granted a greater influence but also the powerful and expansive arms industry that can flourish as well.

It is easy to make fun at Mr. Blair for being a puppet of Mr. Bush and it would not be inaccurate to claim that the Prime Minister is riding on the coat tail of his US counterpart however there is much for Mr. Blair to gain by doing so. He is determined to cut a swathe on the international stage and has embarked upon an ambitious and often aggressive foreign policy ever since taking office. He is determined that if any voices are to be heard within the international community then they will be British and to do this he needs the US support and US compliance should it be his turn to force an issue. This is the method of Mr. Blair amidst the madness.


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