President Bush seems resigned to the role of Will Kane, the determined lawman in High Noon left by the cowardly townfolk to fight alone against the outlaws. Almost unanimously, our allies are saying “what, me worry?” in response to Dubya’s calls to join the coming war against Saddam, The only notable exception has been Britain’s Tony Blair. Mr. Blair’s almost Churchillian stance against terror has faded of late, due to the lack of public support for American action. Now, Blair’s own party is on the verge of forcing Britain to sit this one out.
Mr. Blair’s Labour Party government appears to be far stronger and more stable than most. He enjoys a parliamentary majority of about 180 seats, nearly double the number that Mrs. Thatcher had. He has been in office longer than the leader of any other major Western power, and seems safe from challenge by the near-comatose Conservative Party. From that considerable power base, he was able to act quickly and decisively when we lit up Afghanistan. Without the British fleet — of airborne tankers, that is — our air power would have been severely limited by the inadequacy of our own airborne refueling capability. As a result, the Afghanistan campaign would have been longer and more costly. Now Blair is caught between three demanding allies: British labor unions, America and the European Union. The conflicting pressures have forced him into the Hamlet-like “yes, I will, no, I won’t” role he now plays. And things may get worse very soon.
Next month’s Labour Party annual conference is reportedly going to be a showcase for the British lefties’ opposition to a war against Saddam’s regime. Blair can fight against those resolutions in his own party conference, but the ball game may be over by the time that conference begins. Before the Labour Party meets, the British Trades Union Congress will hold its own convention, and opponents of the Iraq campaign are stacking the deck to produce a major problem for Mr. Blair. What the Trades Union Congress decides, the Labour Party will almost certainly have to follow.
According to the London Times, the heads of nine leading trade unions agreed that there is no evidence that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction or is a threat to the U.S. The report said that a letter saying just that was drawn up by the head of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, who also plans to call on Blair to withhold support for the Iraq war. Resolutions taking positions against the war will be debated and voted on. This sets the stage for a very high-risk game that may decide if Britain will support the Iraq campaign. In the Trades Union Congress, the discussion will be emotional, demagogic, and dangerous. How could this situation get any worse? I’ll give you only one guess.
Last seen grabbing a rifle and heading for the Israeli front lines (or not), the guy who sent our military into action more often, with less justification and to less result than any modern president, the man whose contempt for our troops led to the incidents portrayed in Blackhawk Down, Lil’ Billy is going to Blackpool to speak to the Trades Union Congress. (There is no word of the speaking fee he will be paid, or how many young women his hosts have arranged to be within easy reach.) The only thing we can be sure of is that Mr. Clinton will declaim against any idea of attacking Saddam, and state conclusively that the solution to Saddam is containment, not war.
Mr. Blair is also being pressured heavily by his European Union “partners” to keep Britain out of the fight. The EU pressure is significant, because Mr. Blair’s popularity at home depends, in large part, on trade relations with the EU. Ignoring EU pressure could result in many kinds of retaliation against British goods and services crossing the Channel. Mr. Blair has, so far, rejected advice of some in his own party to recall Parliament to debate the war. Faced with the trade union opposition, the EU problem, and the meddling of Mr. Clinton, Mr. Blair needs help from this side of the Atlantic.
When I last visited Britain in April, I saw the need for a presidential visit to bolster British support. Many active and retired British military leaders were — and still are — justifiably uncertain of our intentions, and of how we value their counsel.
What was advisable in April is urgent and essential now. If Mr. Blair would recall Parliament for an address by Mr. Bush before the Trades Union Congress convenes, much of the damage it — and Bill Clinton — will otherwise cause can be pre-empted.
The president needs to do a better job of convincing America and the world of the need to liberate Iraq. Before going to England, he should make an address to Congress and the American people, even if he has to call Congress back from recess to do it in time. After that, the British Parliament is a grand stage on which our case should be made. He can tell the world why we need to fight, and what we expect to achieve, in the coming war. The president should call Mr. Blair right away. In that call, the president should propose the speech, and assure Mr. Blair that in it, he will work to strengthen the alliance we used to call the “Special Relationship.”
The speech should be a milestone in our war against terror, one that marks the resurgence of the alliance that led the world against the original Axis of Evil sixty years ago. If Mr. Bush doesn’t make this speech, and sway British opinion, Britain may not be with us in the fight to liberate Iraq. Without our British airborne gas stations, our air power will be limited severely. Without their special operations troops, targets that should be destroyed in the first minutes of the war have a greater chance of slipping past our guys. These are not risks we should allow to arise. We shouldn’t take the Brits for granted, Mr. President. Go to London. Make the speech. Lead, and the world will follow.