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Blair Urges No Retreat From United States Foreign Policy Posture

Being key ally of US sometimes hard, Blair admits
London (AFP) Sept 26 - British Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted Tuesday it can be hard to be the strongest ally of US President George W. Bush, with whom he went to war in Iraq, as well as being a player in Europe. But making his last speech as prime minister to the ruling Labour Party's annual conference, he warned against anti-Americanism, which he said the main opposition Conservative Party was playing on.

"Yes, it's hard sometimes to be America's strongest ally. Yes, Europe can be a political headache for a proud sovereign nation like Britain," he told delegates, referring to London's wranglings with its European Union partners."But believe me, there are no half-hearted allies of America today and no semi-detached partners in Europe."

And he added: "The truth is that nothing we strive for from the world trade talks to global warming, to terrorism and Palestine can be solved without America or without Europe." He also used the speech to attack opposition Conservative leader David Cameron, who has rebranded his party since taking over last year, including distancing himself from the neo-conservatives in Washington. "Sacrificing British influence for political expediency is not a policy worthy of a prime minister," he said. Photo courtesy of AFP.

by Hannah K. Strange
UPI Correspondent
Manchester (UPI) Sep 26, 2006
British Prime Minister Tony Blair mounted a staunch defense of his foreign policy at his last Labor Party conference as leader, urging his successor to continue his close alliance with the United States. But with anti-American public and political sentiment on the rise, it is doubtful whether his advice will be heeded.

In his farewell speech to delegates Tuesday, Blair acknowledged that it was "hard sometimes" to be the United States' strongest ally, but insisted it was impossible in today's world to be only a "half-hearted" ally.

"The truth is that nothing we strive for, from the world trade talks to global warming, to terrorism and Palestine can be solved without America," he said.

Blair acknowledged that at present, people only saw the price of the U.S.-U.K. alliance, but insisted that should it be given up, the cost in terms of power, weight and influence for Britain would be "infinitely greater."

"Distance this country and you may find it's a long way back," he argued.

Blair urged the party not to retreat or alter its strategy in the struggle against terrorism.

"If we retreat now, hand Iraq over to al-Qaida and sectarian death squads and Afghanistan back to al-Qaida and the Taliban, we won't be safer. We will be committing a craven act of surrender that will put our future security in the deepest peril."

He once again rebuffed suggestions that British and U.S. foreign policy had fuelled terrorism, insisting: "We will not win until we shake ourselves free of the wretched capitulation to the propaganda of the enemy, that somehow we are the ones responsible.

"This terrorism isn't our fault. We didn't cause it. It's not the consequence of foreign policy. It's an attack on our way of life."

Islamist terrorism was a global ideology that had killed nearly 3,000 people in the Sept. 11 attacks before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he stressed. Attacks had taken place in over 30 nations -- including Egypt, Algeria, Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Turkey -- with mainly Muslim victims, he continued.

"This is not our war against Islam... It is not British soldiers who are sending car bombs into Baghdad or Kabul to slaughter the innocent," he said. Coalition troops were in Iraq in order to protect them against such terrorists, he claimed, presumably hoping no one would remember that there was no al-Qaida presence in Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion.

Blair acknowledged that in the end, Britain's direction was not for him, but for his successor to decide. "You take my advice, you don't take it," he said. You decide."

But it is questionable whether a successor government, whether Labor or Conservative, will listen to his advice.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, currently the favorite to take over the top job, publicly supported the war in Iraq but is said to have had private reservations and has recently criticized the handling of its aftermath. In his speech to conference Monday, he diverged little from the party line in his references to foreign policy, although his proposal to take the decision to go to war away from the prime minister and put it in the hands of Parliament could indicate his opposition to British participation in any U.S. military action against Iran, as Parliament would almost certainly reject such a move.

Many of Brown's supporters were deeply opposed to the Iraq war, while one of his closest allies, Constitutional Affairs Minister Harriet Harman, recently called for a wholesale review of Britain's foreign policy. Commentators are busy scouring Brown's comments for coded messages that could reveal his intentions, but due to his position as head of the Treasury, he is likely to stifle any opposition to Blair's policies until he has handed over the keys to Downing Street.

A Labor successor would almost certainly take a tougher stand against Israel than Blair, whose refusal to call for a ceasefire in the recent Israel-Lebanon conflict was a major factor in the mutiny which earlier this month forced him to announce he would step down within a year. Much of the Labor Party, including Blair's own Cabinet, are opposed to Israel's policies in the Occupied Territories and view resolution of the conflict as the key to peace in the region. A new leader would certainly be pushed to take concerted action and put pressure on Washington to do the same.

Meanwhile Conservative Leader David Cameron, who would almost certainly be the next British prime minister if an election was held tomorrow, has announced his intention to distance Britain from the United States. Cameron used a major speech on Sept. 11 to criticize the Blair government's "slavish" relationship with Washington, and suggested that under his leadership Britain would be a more critical ally.

Cameron also implicitly criticized the decision to go to war in Iraq, saying liberty was not something which could be "dropped from the air by an unmanned drone." Military action was not the answer, he said.

Blair attacked Cameron's position in his farewell speech, accusing him of "pandering to anti-Americanism."

"Sacrificing British influence for party expediency is not a policy worthy of a prime minister," he insisted.

However Cameron claims that, unlike Blair, he is simply in tune with the wishes of the British people. According to recent opinion polls, he is right.

According to a Populus poll published by the Times of London earlier this month, 73 percent of the public believe the government's foreign policy has substantially increased the risk of terrorist attacks on the country, while 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.

Any contender for the premiership may well view ignoring such figures as tantamount to political suicide.

Source: United Press International

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