The Magazine

Perfidious America?

Tony Blair deserves better from American than a medal.

Jul 21, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 43 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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So Blair returns to America a wounded politician, damaged in part because of his willingness to stick with America. In this sense, his commitment of troops to the Iraq war required greater political courage than President Bush's similar decision. The president had his own party behind him from the start, could count on public anger at the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and does not face an electorate enamored of the need for U.N. approval.

Increasingly under pressure from France and Germany to abandon close ties with the White House and surrender control of British foreign and defense policy to the European Union (which Blair says he will never do, but stay tuned), Blair needs proof that the "special relationship" with America, cemented with the deaths of many British soldiers, pays off for Britain. To the prime minister it is enough that he has done "the right thing"; to the more pragmatic of his constituents, tangible rewards are required. So imagine Blair's horror when the first batch of Iraqi oil to be put on the market since the overthrow of Saddam went to the French. And when the "buy American" provisions of our laws were strictly interpreted by administration bureaucrats to prevent British construction companies with long experience in the Middle East from bidding on the initial contracts for reconstructing Iraq's long neglected infrastructure.

It gets worse. The president has announced that we will negotiate a trade deal with Bahrain in return for our use of its territory for bases in the recent war. Meanwhile tariffs on British steel remain--illegal tariffs, according to a decision last week by the World Trade Organization. But the administration is so committed to those tariffs it is appealing the WTO's decision. And yes, we have now announced that there will be competitive bidding for some contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq's infrastructure. But British firms will compete on an equal footing with French companies. A country that stood by us in the face of international opposition will be treated the same as one that hurled all its diplomatic resources into an effort to isolate America and prevent us from pursuing our vital interests.

In short, we seem to know better how to punish our enemies than to reward our friends. Surely Tony Blair deserves better.

Irwin M. Stelzer is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute, and a columnist for the Sunday Times (London).