Hoover Daily Report

What Happened to Tony Blair, America's "Best Friend"?

Monday, October 13, 2003

Over the more than two years since 9/11, and especially during the run-up to the war in Iraq, President Bush repeatedly praised Prime Minister Blair of Britain as America's best friend and closest ally.

So what has happened to our best friend since the war ended? The answer is, simply, nothing good. Like President Bush, Blair enjoyed what the London media styled the "Baghdad bounce" after major hostilities in Iraq ended. For a few weeks, Blair (like Bush) and his Labour government experienced a surge of national pride that translated into swelling support in the public opinion polls. But alas it was not to last, and today Blair and his government have less support than at any time since they took office in 1997. What was a double-digit poll lead before the war has collapsed into a three- to five-point deficit to the opposition Conservative Party. Blair, the most trusted and respected political leader in Britain before the war, is now the least trusted and respected. Why such a steep fall?

A big part of the answer is that Blair took a much greater political risk in leading his nation into war than did President Bush. Although Blair took the initiative on Iraq from a position of unprecedented political strength, he also faced much stronger domestic opposition from the start. Even more important, the bulk of that domestic opposition came from within his own Labour Party in sharp contrast to President Bush, who enjoyed his strongest support from within his own Republican Party. Therein lay the origin of what has been Blair's misery. In laying out the case for war, Blair needed to convince his core political supporters.

Case in point, Blair never convinced half his Cabinet or a third of the Labour members of the House of Commons, none of whom ever came to accept that Iraq posed a clear and present danger to British security. Moreover, they did not like Blair's close relationship with Bush-scorning Blair as no more than Bush's "poodle." So when Blair went to war, his Labour colleagues did no more than go along with what they regarded as "Blair's War," including its attendant political risks.

Blair was highly vulnerable to the political disaster he has been suffering. The failure to find weapons of mass destruction immediately set off shrill demands for an investigation of the entire Iraq policy. This led to the (questionable) accusation that Blair had a key role in exaggerating the case for war. Recently, Blair has suffered through a public judicial investigation of the suicide of a government scientist who apparently made such a charge to a BBC journalist. A highly damaging report from this investigation plus more investigations to follow may make matters worse. But whatever happens the important political consequence for Blair is already known. He has lost the most precious of political advantages, trust and respect, which were the strongest elements of his success. He has indeed paid a steep price to be America's best friend.