OPEN UNIVERSITY SEPTEMBER 8, 2006
by Jacob T. LevyIsaac Chotiner, over at our sister blog The Plank, notes:
As an American, it's been hard not to follow Blair's descent over the past couple of years without an abiding sense of, well, shame. [...]But, his predicament has been relentlessly worsened by the Bush administration's continued unwillingness to offer rhetorical or substantive assistance to its best (and, in a practical sense, only) ally. From Guantánamo to steel tariffs to rebuilding contracts, the Brits have been consistently stiffed.
Just so. See also Iain Murray at the Corner.
This is one of my biggest recurring complaints about the Bush administration--it's made the U.S. into a very bad friend to its friends, a bad ally to its allies. Britain, Australia, and Canada have all often been ignored at best, strong-armed at worst, during a time when the U.S. had foreign policy goals and needs that were much more important than the intra-alliance disputes. While Saudi Arabia can typically count on the administration's support and courtesy, and Russia could until pretty recently, closer democratic friends have been gratuitously slighted and insulted for years. Blair in particular, who has been one of the U.S.' strongest allies in Europe in the postwar era, has been kneecapped by an administration that refused to see that Blair needed to be able to show some ability to affect American policy in order to domestically justify his firm alliance. Never having gotten that, he was dogged by the "Bush's poodle" problem to his terrible detriment.
What I don't understand is why the administration has followed this course of action, which has been detrimental to its own interests. At least when it went out of its way to hammer red-state moderate Democratic Senators in 2002 and 2004, thereby punishing those who had been most open to cooperation, it got Republican Senators out of the exchange (even if at the price of poisoning relations with moderate Senate Democrats and so dooming Social Security reform). Punishing one's international friends lacks that kind of zero-sum reward. It's the sort of thing that Cold War presidents understood the importance of avoiding, in the interest of unity on the big questions. Independent of the merits of Bush's foreign policy objectives, it seems to me to have been instrumentally irrational to be such a consistently bad friend to America's friends; it's made the attainment of those objectives harder, and may have soured important relationships in the medium term.
Is there something I'm missing? Dan, you know more about international relations and foreign policy-making than I do. Has there been any underlying rationality to the administration's shabby treatment of Blair?