The Aftermath of the War: The View from London
Q: Has British Prime Minister Tony Blair paid a price for his support of the United States during the Iraq crisis, and could this inhibit future British support when the United States confronts other "rogue states" such as North Korea or Iran ?
A: No, the Prime Minister's political standing is higher than it has ever been. He was extremely courageous in the run-up to the action in Iraq and he has been completely vindicated. I think that his own parliamentary party will be much more cautious about challenging him than they were before. So I would say that he has got all the leeway that he needs to do anything reasonable, but each case has to be examined on its own merits. Obviously, we all hope that it does not come down to a military showdown with anybody else. But if it does seem that another state is engaged in completely provoking behavior in a manner, as did Iraq , that rouses real national security concerns in Britain , in that event he would be fine. I think that the Prime Minister now has a very strong mandate. The country and his party and the official opposition would be very inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. He is, of course, fundamentally a man of peace and he'll do anything he can to prevent a situation from ending in to war, as he tried in the Iraq case.
Q: Geoffrey Kemp notes in this week's issue that American credibility is at stake, that if evidence of weapons of mass destruction is not found in Iraq , then Washington will be accused of "crying wolf" and its allegations vis-à-vis Iran or North Korea may not be accepted at face value. How do you think the British public would react to allegations about suspected production of weapons of mass destruction, say in Syria or Iran or North Korea , if there is no conclusive proof of WMD in Iraq ?
A: If I may take the liberty and speak for American opinion too--in the first place, we will probably obtain all we need to satisfy any credibility questions in respect to Iraq . I think that when we have interviewed the scientists it will be clear that they had some sort of a program underway, even if it was skillfully hidden or partially destroyed or largely evacuated. In the second place, in the case of Iran and North Korea the evidence is so overwhelming--these regimes have been comparatively forthright about their ambitions in these regards, and so presenting evidence will not prove to be much of an issue. I think the North Koreans have been pretty explicit about the fact that they have nuclear weapons. We should not also forget that, unlike Iraq --a country that was subject to a number of prohibitions on what it could purchase--this has not been the case for these other countries.
I think that the Iraqi experience has heightened the credibility of the British and American leaders--not diminished it.
Q: How permanent is the rift that developed between Britain and its leading partners in Europe , France and Germany , over Iraq ? Is the breach repairable?
A: It all really depends on the response of the French and the Germans.
With the French we have their traditional effort, with ample Gaullist precedent, of professing to be ultimately a friend of the British and Americans but in practice spending 95 percent of their energies undermining the British and Americans and opposing them. I am not saying that when it is a real foul-weather issue, a real matter of urgent principle--the example always cited is the Cuban Missile Crisis--the French aren't reliable allies. But I think there will be a powerful argument generated from Washington, one to which Britain will be inclined to attach some credence also--that if the French want to be regarded as an ally they have to be a little less ambiguous in their conduct.
In the Anglo-French case there is the particular issue of the attempts President Chirac made to undercut Blair in the eyes of his own partisans, to undermine his position within his own party in parliament. I think the state of relations between the British and French governments is actually really quite poor now as a result.
So how the relationship is rebuilt between London and Paris depends to a great extent on how the French respond. If they go on as the ostentatious head of an alternate group, to be some sort of counterweight to American or, as they put it, "Anglo-Saxon" influence in the world, then the British will continue to work with other powers within the EU and the European part of NATO to maintain a strong position, outside the French orbit. I think they would be successful as they were in the Gulf War. It is the traditional role of Pitt the Younger. There is considerable resentment in the EU and the European part of NATO against the hegemony of the Paris and Berlin tandem and Blair could go on playing that quite successfully--if that is what French recalcitrance obliges him to do. He certainly would be amenable, and so would the British foreign policy establishment, to a full reconciliation with France . This will require, however, more than a state dinner and a handshake for the cameras. The French are going to have to give some comfort that they will behave as friends and not make the occasional friendly noises while acting as enemies.