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Alliance With Bush By Blair Was Great Error

US President George W. Bush with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Hannah K. Strange
UPI U.K. Correspondent
London (UPI) Sep 07, 2006
As British Prime Minister Tony Blair battles to save his job, poll findings that a significant majority of Britons want the country to distance itself from U.S. foreign policy point to the role his alignment with the Bush administration has played in his downfall.

Amid a mutiny of Labor parliamentarians demanding Blair's resignation, a Populus poll published by the Times of London Wednesday found that 73 percent of the public believe the government's foreign policy has substantially increased the risk of terrorist attacks on the country. 62 percent said that in order to reduce the terror threat, Britain should distance itself from U.S. foreign policy, withdraw from Iraq and take a stronger stance against Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories.

The poll points to what will one day be regarded by historians as Blair's great error: his decision to align himself unflinchingly with the U.S. neoconservatives in their "war on terror."

Opposition parties said that the government was in "meltdown," as it grappled with a wave of resignations over Blair's continuing leadership.

The revolt was sparked by Blair's declaration last week that he would not, as expected, announce a timetable for his departure at the Labor Party's annual conference later this month.

Infuriated Labor members of Parliament immediately lined up to demand he reconsider, with some warning of a leadership challenge. Following the delivery of a letter signed by 17 previously loyal MPs urging him to resign the leadership and reports of others to come, ministerial allies attempted to quell speculation by suggesting Blair would be out of office by this time next year.

His advisers went further, telling the Sun newspaper that Blair planned to announce his resignation on May 31 next year. Downing Street refused to confirm or deny the claims, though it did reject suggestions it had purposely leaked the story.

But it was not enough for seven signatories of the letter, who resigned Wednesday in protest at Blair's leadership. One, Junior Defense Minister Tom Watson, Watson said it was not in the best interests of the party or country for Blair to remain in office. Ministerial assurances in the media could not provide the clarity that was so desperately needed, he added in a statement. In a move described as bizarre by commentators, Blair then issued a statement saying he had been planning to sack Watson anyway, as he had been "disloyal, discourteous and wrong" to sign the letter. The rebellion reaches right to the heart of government, and is fast gaining momentum. The Independent newspaper Sunday quoted anonymous members of Blair's Cabinet as saying they planned to confront the prime minister at a meeting this week, with one minister describing him as "deluded" and another as "self-indulgent." "This pantomime has got to end or we are going to lose the next election," one said.

Their remarks evoke memories of the last days of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, when some of her closest allies accused her of losing her grip on reality and eventually forced a leadership contest.

Blair's leadership has been the subject of constant speculation since he announced in 2005 that he would not stand in the next election, likely in 2009. Now, as the party plummets in the polls, Labor critics say the prime minister needs to step down promptly to allow a successor to make their mark and rebuild public support. Many of Blair's policies have caused outrage both within Labor and among the wider country, most notably his decision to invade Iraq and his apparent support for Israel in its campaign against Lebanon, which lead to near-mutiny in the party.

It is this support for U.S. foreign policy which many analysts say is at the root of Blair's decline, with the Sept. 11 attacks cited as the turning point in his premiership.

The decision to go to war in Iraq was unpopular from the start, with majorities consistently opposed to the intervention and suspicious of the government's intelligence argument. Now widely regarded as a spectacular failure, the invasion is held by a sizeable majority of the public to have contributed to the July 7 bombings in London, with Blair, as its co-architect, to blame.

Then there was Lebanon. Once again, Blair glued himself to President Bush and refused to call for a ceasefire, a move widely interpreted as giving a green light to Israel to inflict maximum damage on Hezbollah. As the civilian death toll mounted, Blair's stance caused a rift reaching right to the Cabinet and nurtured the seeds of rebellion within the Labor Party. The public, too, was outraged; a YouGov poll for the Telegraph newspaper found that 63 percent thought the Israeli campaign in Lebanon was disproportionate, 53 percent thought Blair had handled the crisis badly, and 64 percent believed he was simply going along with whatever the U.S. administration said.

But it is the latest poll that delivers the most damning indictment of Blair's foreign policy. It found that nearly three quarters (73 percent) of the public believe that "the British government's foreign policy, especially its support for the invasion of Iraq and refusal to demand an immediate ceasefire by Israel in the recent war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, has significantly increased the risk of terrorist attacks on Britain."

Moreover, three fifths (62 percent) agree that "in order to reduce the risk of future terrorist attacks on Britain the government should change its foreign policy, in particular by distancing itself from America, being more critical of Israel and declaring a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq."

Bush understood the political difficulties Blair faced in joining the Iraq invasion, and on receiving his commitment to do so famously remarked that the British leader had "cojones." He was right, but courage married to power can easily spill over into hubris, and it is this which is at the heart of Blair's downfall. The man frequently dubbed "Teflon Tony" for his ability to slip out of sticky situations has been here before, but there is a prevailing sense that this time is different.

As the crisis unfolds, many are questioning whether he will be able to hold on until next spring. One thing is certain, President Bush's recent wish that Blair would remain in office "as long as I'm president" will not be fulfilled.

Source: United Press International

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