Blair is no poodle
Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2002
by Brendan O'Neill
Tony Blair is often accused of being President Bush's obedient little poodle. Throughout the Royal Marines' disastrous stint in Afghanistan, Blair was lambasted by his critics for 'fighting America's war' and following Bush's orders. Now, as Britain and America plan to attack Iraq, the Daily Mirror says Blair is 'sleepwalking towards a terrible crisis', and advises him to 'leave Iraq to the US cowboys'.
There are two problems with this characterisation. First, it lets Blair off the hook, suggesting that he is merely being led astray by evil Bush rather than really wanting to intervene around the world - hence the Mirror's 'sleepwalking' jibe, as if we should forgive Blair for he knows not what he does.
Second, it depicts modern imperialism as a peculiarly American thing (carried out by brash American 'cowboys'), which good old anti-imperialist Britain should have no part in. Both of these arguments are way off the mark.
After New Labour announced that it would stand 'shoulder to shoulder' with the US and help 'find the folks' who carried out the 11 September attacks, anti-war protesters warned Blair not to get too cosy with Bush. From the outset, opponents of the Afghan war claimed that America would drag Britain into a bloody, drawn-out American conflict.
They seriously underestimated Blair's desire to jump on the post-11 September bandwagon. Far from being led astray by an overbearing President Bush, Blair was keen to join the 'crusade against evil' - to use foreign intervention abroad to boost his standing at home, just as he had with the Kosovo conflict in 1999. Like the Bush administration, Blair saw opportunities in the wake of 11 September - opportunities to restate his political and moral authority in response to the terrorist attacks.
But rather than being challenged on this politically, rather than being criticised for planning military intervention in Afghanistan and elsewhere, Blair was simply 'given advice': keep away from Bush, he was told, don't get too involved, you know what those Americans are like. Blair was presented as being foolish, rather than being imperialist.
This does more than allow Blair to escape the flak - it actually boosts his moral authority in international affairs. America is depicted as the bad guy, the mad cowboy that bombs weddings and villages, while Britain is seen as a more rational force, which is just making mistakes.
Indeed, there is a fine line between the Blair-as-poodle criticisms and demands that Blair exert a 'calming influence' on Bush. Very often, those who consider themselves radical for labelling Blair America's little puppy end up calling for him to be a rational voice in the new world order. This is a line of attack that Blair will be more than happy to live with.
In much of this discussion, foreign intervention is seen as an all-guns-blazing 'American thing' that innocent Britain should reject. In fact, intervention today is most often justified in humanitarian terms - in the name of defending democracy, standing up for human rights, and helping the poor people of the third world (never mind that its consequences are as disastrous as they have always been).
Even the allegedly gung-ho America has learned humanitarian-speak - in fact, it invented much of it. Bush made a point of dropping food packages as well as bombs at the start of the Afghan war; he talks about 'his friends, the Afghan people' (while bombing the hell out of them); and he strenuously denies that the war on terror is a traditionally imperialist war on Islam or the East or any kind of Other.
This is the new liberal imperialism, where Western leaders justify their domination of the third world in PC language. And as long as Blair is seen as the man who can 'calm Bush', he is certain to play a leading role in this new order.