INSIDE OUT: Blair should use his influence in Washington to make sure British firms are given contracts in Iraq and to consolidate the special relationship

INSIDE OUT: Blair should use his influence in Washington to make sure British firms are given contracts in Iraq and to consolidate the special relationship - Tony Blair is in danger of squandering the immense political capital he has built up during the war with Iraq. He is under pressure from Labour backbenchers to push for a substantial role for the United Nations in the rebuilding of Iraq; and his own desire to be at the 'heart of Europe' leads him to think his primary post-war international purpose is to heal the breach between the European Union and the US.

by Andrew Neil, publisher of The Business and Scotsman newspapers
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Tony Blair is in danger of squandering the immense political capital he has built up during the war with Iraq. He is under pressure from Labour backbenchers to push for a substantial role for the United Nations in the rebuilding of Iraq; and his own desire to be at the 'heart of Europe' leads him to think his primary post-war international purpose is to heal the breach between the European Union and the US.

Both policies represent a lost opportunity for Blair and Britain: both would be better served if he used his enhanced post-war stature to stand up for British interests rather than the self-defeating pursuit of UN and EU interests.

Can anyone seriously argue that the UN should take over the running of Iraq from the moment the war is over? Iraq will remain a dangerous, fractious place for some time after peace has been declared. UN blue helmets will have neither the ability nor the inclination to deal with it. As we have seen from Bosnia to Somalia, they do not 'do action'.

To hand over to them would be to ensure Iraq was scarred by Srebrenicas: we do not want UN forces leaving innocents to be massacred the way they were in Bosnia while supposedly under the protection of UN-mandated forces.

Only the grit and capabilities of Anglo-American forces, joined by others who wish to help in the same robust manner, can do that.

A UN-administered Iraq would become a by-word for corruption and inefficiency.

For the past 12 years, France and Russia have been doing deals with Saddam Hussein, courtesy of the UN's oil-for-food programme, then using their influence in the UN Security Council to ensure his escape from the full weight of sanctions, never mind military action. Paris, Berlin and Moscow say that unless we let the UN call the shots in a post-war Iraq, they'll block any UN endorsement of allied efforts to rebuild Iraq.

The Americans will not let it happen: even the dovish US secretary of state, Colin Powell, made it clear that America must be in the driving seat in the early days of Iraq's reconstruction. Given their experience of the UN in the run-up to war, they have no stomach for reconvening the Security Council to argue for weeks and months over who should get which contracts. It might be cheaper for the US taxpayer, but it would cost the Iraqis dear and result in a mess that would threaten the wider goals of Iraq's liberation.

Instead of the efficient reconstruction of a country emerging from tyranny, there would be UN wrangling, corruption and venality, with those who have not been prepared to spill a drop of blood in Iraq's liberation shouting for the biggest say - and the most lucrative slices of the pie. No US president could let that happen and hope to survive.

But France and Russia insist they will veto any effort to give a US-led administration in Iraq the endorsement of the UN. So the US will proceed without one. If Blair, seeking to bring his own rebellious backbenchers back into line, continues to push the UN case, he risks being a lone voice on both sides of the Atlantic with no support in Paris or Washington.

He runs the same risk if he positions himself as the post-war bridge between the EU and the US. The problem with a bridge that tries to straddle two places going in opposite directions is that it will soon fall down. Blair should take care not to be in the middle when it does.

The war has exacerbated tensions between the Anglo-American and the Franco- German alliances, but these reflect real differences that will not disappear in the post-war world. Blair sees the EU's future as a close ally of the US. France wants to build the EU into a rival power-structure to balance, crib and confine the world's only hyperpuissance, with France naturally in the lead. These different visions for the EU can't be reconciled by a bridge.

There is another way. As David Frum, recently of the Bush administration, advised: 'Instead of using his transatlantic clout (post-war) to help others, Mr Blair could use it for the benefit of Britain. You can see why many French politicians dream of a world in which, in a future crisis, the US president picks up the phone and makes his first call to the president of Europe, not the prime minister of Great Britain. But why would Britain want it?'

Why indeed? Blair will have great influence in Washington. He should use it to make sure British firms are given plenty of contracts in the rebuilding post-war Iraq and to consolidate the newly invigorated Anglo-American special relationship for the 21st century.

As Frum writes: 'Britain doesn't need the EU to be powerful. The EU needs Britain. Doesn't that suggest that it is France and Germany that should be left to mend the fences - while Britain seeks instead to institutionalize its renewed military alliance with America?' The answer must be yes; if it is no, then the prime minister risks winning the war but losing the peace.

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