Saturday, September 26, 2009

Political Doctrines Make Strange Bedfellows

Part two of Michael Cockerell's Tony Blair: The Inside Story deals with Tony Blair's foreign policy.

Like the many distinctions Blair shares with Barack Obama, Tony Blair shares an important distinction with former Prime Minister Jean Chretien -- being one of the few world leaders to have led their country from the period shortly following the disintegration of the Soviet Union (in Chretien's case, he was elected Prime Minister in the period immediately following this event) right up to the post-9/11 period and the end of the so-called Pax Americana.

As the film shows, Blair approached foreign policy matters with an activist and nearly evangelical fervour. The "Blair doctrine" was a moralist foreign policy doctrine, that demanded nearly open-ended commitment to foreign interventions so long as he was convinced it was the right thing to do.

From the fight against Slobodan Milosevic to the battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Blair was able to use his considerable diplomatic skills to help build interventionist coalitions.

The religious influences on Blair's foreign policy decisions -- which were obvious from the language he used to support his policies -- were obvious. Although Blair was often unwilling to discuss his religious beliefs with the media or in public, he was willing to allow his religious values to influence his political decisions.

While overzealous secularists may condemn such influences, there is little wrong with allowing one's values to influence their decisions -- so long as those values can be shown to be largely positive.

Although Blair had once spoken about the prospect of his generation never knowing war -- apparently the Faulklands Islands don't count -- during his time in office, Blair deployed British troops to Kosovo, Sierra Leonne, Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, just as Tony Blair needed President George W Bush to help implement the Blair doctrine, Bush wound up needing Blair to help implement the Bush doctrine of preemptive engagement.

After 9/11, Blair stepped quickly to Bush's side, pledging support to the United States. Just as Bush must have known he would need Blair's diplomatic skills to build a broad anti-terror coalition, Blair must have known he would need Bush and the power of the American military in order to implement his moralistic vision of the fight against terrorism.

Yet Bush would, in turn, use Blair to carry out the war in Iraq. Blair shared a moralistic view on the war in Iraq based on the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction. Just as questions would rise over the extent of Bush's complicity in the clear manipulation of intelligence leading to the conclusion that Saddam Hussein had acquired weapons of mass destruction, questions would eventually rise over the extent of Blair's knowledge of this, and his complicity in it.

Eventually, the British public failed to share Blair's moralistic view of the planned war in Iraq. Cynicism about the intelligence being used to justify the war became more widespread. Even as Blair made it evident that he at least seemed to firmly believe in the evidence being presented.

In the face of UN opposition, Blair's diplomatic skills faltered. With it disappeared any hope of garnering global support for the Bush doctrine.

Yet Blair was eventually able to essentially shame his party and the House of Parliament to back him on exercising the Blair doctrine in Iraq. Yet, if the War in Iraq truly was a defining moment of the 21st century, it was certainly a defining moment for Tony Blair.

Like George W Bush, the war in Iraq will define Tony Blair as a leader who was not immune to poor judgement. In sticking so doggedly to their foreign policy doctrines in regard to a conflict that didn't necessarily need to be fought at the time it was, both men will likely be remembered for putting more obstacles in the path of those fighting terrorism than any that they may have ever conquered.

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