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Tony Blair Tours the World, and the American Empire Expands
14 January 2002
Paris: It is hard to know exactly what Tony Blair expects from his world travels supporting George W. Bush's war on terrorism and from his attempts to mediate and moderate tensions between India and Pakistan.
A six-day tour of the Indian subcontinent this month was the British prime minister's sixth foreign journey since the terrorist attacks in the United States in September. He has been in the Middle East, Afghanistan and now India and Pakistan, and an African tour is being planned.Paris: It is hard to know exactly what Tony Blair expects from his world travels supporting George W. Bush's war on terrorism and from his attempts to mediate and moderate tensions between India and Pakistan.
A six-day tour of the Indian subcontinent this month was the British prime minister's sixth foreign journey since the terrorist attacks in the United States in September. He has been in the Middle East, Afghanistan and now India and Pakistan, and an African tour is being planned.
He cannot really expect to become co-leader of the American-created alliance against terrorism, as some critics say is his ambition. One assumes that he knows Washington well enough to realize that while his support and cheerleading are welcome, there is no vacant chair at the head table.
Mr. Bush makes American policy on the advice of his vice president, secretaries of state and defense, and a few other Americans, and would open himself to bipartisan criticism were he to invite a foreign leader into the inner circle.
Some in Europe think that Mr. Blair aligns his government as closely as possible with that of Mr. Bush so as to have a moderating influence on American policy. At the same time, he has been the most vigorous proponent of the rapid reaction force that the European Union has decided to create - the embryo, as Washington fears, of a European military alliance that someday might rival NATO. Mr. Blair's closeness to Washington has allowed him to calm those in the Defense Department and Congress most alarmed by the European force, while making no real concessions on its autonomy.
Britain, unlike France, still shares in the air patrols interdicting Iraqi military activity in the north of that country. Mr. Blair is reported to have thrown his weight against a new intervention in Iraq.
The Blair government's intimations to the London press of its claim on the "deputy leadership" of the alliance are the usual self-serving ballyhoo. But the strength of British political reporting and intelligence in the Middle Eastern Muslim nations and South Asia can influence Washington more than political palship. Republicans in Washington remember that Mr. Blair's New Labour once was pally with Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
It is not evident that Mr. Blair has really profited at home from his assertion of global leadership. The British press has treated it as obfuscation and spin by a Labour leadership in trouble because of the continued decline in British schools, health service and transport performance and infrastructure. Mr. Blair arrived home from his latest trip to find new rail strikes and transport breakdowns.
In a conversation with reporters in Bangalore, India, Mr. Blair brushed off former Secretary of State Dean Acheson's old quip about postwar Britain having lost an empire without finding a role to replace it, saying it was not a valid comment on a "modern" postimperial Britain capable of serving as the nexus of relations among different nations.
Arriving home, he could have found a pre-imperial note in the press that would have interested Mr. Acheson. The Washington Post reports that the Pentagon is already at work on the physical infrastructure of a U.S. military presence in Central Asia "that could last for years." U.S. military engineers are constructing an air base in Kyrgyzstan and improving runways, communications and other facilities at air bases in Uzbekistan and Pakistan.
An expanding American empire is installing itself in regions from which Britain withdrew a half-century ago.