Sunday, August 14, 2005

Tony Blair: Leader
of the Free World

The British prime minister supplants
President Bush as a global influence on
terrorism, diplomacy, the environment

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has become the leader of democratic nations. Stepping eloquently into the critical terrorism fray after the July attacks in London, he was able to allay the fears of British citizens, rally Muslims to the effort of containing a radical fringe group, and balance other global issues during his chairmanship of a meeting of the G-8 in Scotland.

Out of the G-8, deftly argued through in the context of the London attacks, were major new initiatives addressing African poverty, HIV and Malaria in Africa, and support for the Palestinian Authority. Where President Bush's image has declined as a world leader, Blair's has risen. Where Bush is foundering, Blair has planted his feet solidly. It looks like leadership and appearances count in the hall of nations.

The Bush recess appointment of John Bolton as U.N. ambassador only confirmed what was already apparent; the American president is no longer the leader of the free world. That light is now being passed to others. Instead of having a strategy to shape the world for the betterment of mankind, the Bush administration has wandered aimlessly among objectives in foreign policy and employed bullying tactics instead of the bully pulpit. It has involved itself in an intricate web of falsehoods to substitute for thoughtfulness and good planning and to cover for its grossest mistakes. Global leadership in the hands of the Bush administration has spiraled downward, leaving an opening for others to set examples and provide guidance.

The most critical of these failures in leadership is not the Bolton appointment. That was only a demonstration of the point. The worst was still the invasion of Iraq under -- at best -- deceptive rationales and possibly with fabricated intelligence. While weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein were touted by the Bush administration as the explicit reason for invading Iraq, the complete lack of evidence on this count only resulted in an ex post facto shift in the administration's argument to the establishment of an Iraqi democracy. In doing so, it has completely ignored the many other dictatorships the United States has supported (including Saddam Hussein's) and continues to support around the world.

With its rampant framing mentality, the Republican administration seems to think that simply repeating its fictions will make them somehow truthful. The rest of the world sees it differently. They don't buy the "framing" of political messages the way many nationalist Americans seem to. Blair has demonstrated resolute loyalty and steadfastness and has stayed in the war avoiding the glaring casualties that now befuddle the United States.

While a slim majority of Americans still supports the U.S. war effort in Iraq, a June 2005 Rasmussen Reports poll in the United States indicated that 49 percent of Americans say that President Bush is more responsible for starting the war with Iraq than Hussein. The survey found that 44 percent take the opposite view, that most of the responsibility is Hussein's. Outside the United States, far greater majorities put the burden on Bush. A long-standing free world principle is that democracies don't start wars. The leader of the free world cannot be seen as an invader. President Bush now is.

The second is the tactical misdirection taken in the so-called "war on terrorism." The United States did make a direct strike on the Islamic radical terrorist group that was behind the 9/11 attack when we bombed training camps and sent troops in to dislodge the government of Afghanistan in late 2001. Since then the Bush administration has diluted that effort by 1) diverting resources to fight an unconnected war in Iraq; 2) under-manning U.S. forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq; 3) failing to focus on Islamic radical terrorists (as distinct from any terrorist); and 4) failing to develop and pursue a coherent and comprehensive strategy to deal with the world's divisions that lay behind the terrorist problem.

Blair has chosen to name names. He has made the anti-terrorism effort specific to radical Islamists and has gone directly to the Muslim community in Great Britain with both carrot and stick.

"Coming to Britain is not a right," he said. "And even when people have come here, staying here carries with it a duty. That duty is to share and support the values that sustain the British way of life. Those that break that duty and try to incite hatred or engage in violence against our country and its people have no place here. This is not in any way whatever aimed at the decent, law-abiding Muslim community of Britain," Blair said. "We know that this fringe of extremists does not truly represent Islam."

Other international issues where the United States has historically taken leadership roles have also been victims of American ideological sidetracking and confusion. On environment, the Bush administration backed out of the Kyoto Protocol and claimed the global warming was not a real threat. Other nations have taken the lead on trying to resolve this issue and Bush, five years later, has had to admit that there really is a problem and that there is human involvement in it.

On AIDS and HIV, the Bush administration has made grand gestures but has let ideological and religious pursuits regarding condoms and abortion undermine and delay any significant U.S. contributions. Blair has now taken the lead on this critical global health issue.

Two recent public relations debacles have further diminished U.S. leadership in the eyes of the world. One is leaks from chief White House aide Karl Rove of classified information about a CIA operative and a nonsensical and contradictory defense of Rove. The other is the Bush nomination and recess appointment of Bolton to be U.N. ambassador.

Whatever the legal details of the Rove case, information that was classified secret was either provided or confirmed by Rove concerning the identity of a CIA agent who was the spouse of a political opponent of the president. Bush initially condemned this leak and asserted that the individual responsible would be punished. Upon learning of Rove's involvement, Bush turned around on the issue, letting the case founder in technical legal details. These technicalities have little impact on image, especially outside the United States. It still looks like political corruption of the intelligence and foreign policy decision processes.

Bolton's recess appointment, like his nomination, is a cancer on the administration's global leadership position. Bolton is not just critical of the United Nations, he is anti-U.N. There was opposition to Bolton's nomination in almost every quarter within the nation and without, including from the president's own party.

Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel said on Bolton: "We need a uniter. We need a builder. We need someone who will reach out to our friends and our allies at the United Nations."

Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio prevented the nomination from being reported positively out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, condemning the nomination as wrong in every way that he could see.

A group of 125 former diplomats wrote an extraordinary letter to President Bush opposing Bolton's nomination, arguing that he lacked the appropriate history and credentials to be able to lead in the U.N. or to even work with allies. Bush has put him in the position anyway, an indication that ideology beats leadership common sense for the Bush administration.

The Bolton appointment, behind the back of the Senate, is not just an affront to the Democrats but to the global community. President Bush may see it as resoluteness or personal loyalty, but the community of nations that is in desperate need of leadership and direction sees it as simple stubbornness and defiance along a track that has already clearly gone wrong.

The Bush administration is no longer providing that leadership or direction. Partly by default but mostly by clear-eyed, decisive, and secular decision-making, Tony Blair is.

Llewellyn D. Howell is senior research fellow at the Asia Pacific Country Risk Institute, College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii-Manoa.

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