The Blog

London's Bridge Falling Down

Tony Blair wanted to Great Britain to be the bridge between America and the European Union. Now he'll have to choose between the two.

11:00 PM, Mar 17, 2003 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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TONY BLAIR'S PROBLEMS will not end with the unseating of Saddam Hussein. Nor will they end when he crushes the revolt of the loony left in his party. He will still have to face the fact that his foreign policy--indeed, his view of the world in the 21st century--is in tatters.

Some time ago I upset Britain's prime minister by suggesting that his notion of becoming a bridge between the United States and Europe is a fantasy and that Britain would some day soon have to choose between America and a Europe dominated by a Franco-German axis. He took to a national television program to say that I was only helping the "bad guys" by creating a rift between the "good guys."

That was before Iraq, in the balmy days when the prime minister and the French agreed to the Nice Treaty, calling for the establishment of a European defense force, one the French saw as a rival to and eventual replacement for a U.S.-dominated NATO, but Blair hoped would merely supplement the 50-year alliance. Embarrassed by Europe's military impotence in Kosovo, Blair had a vision: a united and militarily potent Europe would march hand in hand with America into the future, Europe carrying its own weight, and Great Britain positioned as the balancing force between France and Germany, and as a bridge between a united Europe and the United States. Better still, more and more decisions would be moved to the United Nations, where Britain's veto on the Security Council confers on it a role more commensurate with its one-time rank as a world power than with its current more humble standing in the international ranking of nations.

In short, in this view of the world, Britain did not have to choose between its special relationship with America and placing itself at the heart of Europe: it could have both its ice cream and apple pie, and its brie and Chablis.

NOW WE HAVE IRAQ, and Jacques Chirac's alliance with a Germany wallowing in anti-Americanism. Chirac's stirring up of "the European street" to derail Anglo-American efforts to strip weapons of mass destruction from one of the cruelest regimes in the world should have surprised no one. But it certainly came as surprise to the British prime minister, who, since taking office, has made it his policy to woo France and Germany by ceding larger and larger chunks of his country's sovereignty to the European Union.

It seems clear that the bridge that Blair was so painfully constructing between Europe and America has collapsed. France wants to lead an anti-American coalition, while U.S. administration officials have begun to re-examine America's historic support for the European integration. The thinkers who influence the Bush administration's foreign policy now realize that further unification of Europe is not in America's interest.

Rather than deal with what Donald Rumsfeld calls "Old Europe," America has found it in its interests to deal directly with Britain and a prime minister who has proved himself one of the great international statesmen of his age; and to pay attention to the "New Europe" of countries that know first-hand what it is like to live under a tyrant, supplemented by any other countries that prefer to link their futures to America rather than to the Franco-German axis.

But that puts Blair between a rock and a hard place. The prime minister is deep in negotiations with Valéry Giscard d'Estaing--a clapped out French pol described as a man "whose credentials seem to be that he used to be someone important"--over the shape of the new European constitution that is emerging from an unelected assembly of European bureaucrats, failed politicians, and time-serving ministers.

Should Blair sign this document--he has already said that he will not submit it to the British electorate in a referendum--he will commit Britain to a common European defense and foreign policy, one certain to be dominated by the Franco-German axis. In that circumstance, there will be no inclination and very little reason for the Bushes to receive the Blairs at the Crawford ranch or at Camp David. "W" and "Tone" may continue to use the same brand of toothpaste. But America's need and wish to consult No.10 Downing Street on matters of importance will be gone. Power will have shifted from No.10 Downing Street to a Brussels foreign and defense team subservient to Chirac (the French run the E.U. bureaucracy) and Schröder (Germany is the E.U.'s paymaster).