reflections

Geopolitical Diary: Thursday, June 19, 2003

6 MINS READJun 20, 2003 | 02:55 GMT
The war in Iraq continued today with more attacks and casualties. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell downplayed the significance of his visit to the Middle East, saying it was just another day. The United States continued to warn Iran about developing nuclear weapons while Iran continued to resist. These are the same stories, different day. However, the situation in Britain is a much more interesting tale. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is now in trouble. Whether he faces a mortal blow is not clear, but we tend to believe that his ability to govern is in rapid decline, with little to reverse it. The issue is Iraq. Two former ministers who resigned from Blair's Cabinet have claimed that Blair bypassed the normal operations of the British Cabinet in making the decision to go to war with Iraq. More damaging is the claim that intelligence reports that should have gone to the Cabinet were suppressed, while laundered versions tilted to support the decision to go to war were distributed instead. According to the ministers, the United States and Britain decided last summer to invade Iraq, with the date set for February. The justification for the war came later. STRATFOR has regarded this as the decision-making process since last fall, so, obviously, we believe the ministers. What is interesting, however, is the manner in which Blair is being weakened. This is particularly interesting when compared to the way his American counterpart, U.S. President George W. Bush, is not being weakened, certainly not equally. The issue here is duplicity in the making of foreign policy, in particular, carrying out certain policies with differing public and private justifications. Duplicity in foreign policy is an essential characteristic, much as it is in a good marriage. If your wife asks you if she looks as good as she did 30 years ago, what are you going to say? When former U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was asked why he was aiding the Soviet Union, he had two potential answers. One was to say that he was aiding a bloodthirsty dictator — Joseph Stalin — because he wanted the Red Army to bleed Nazi Germany dry, so that the United States could come in for the kill at the lowest possible cost. He certainly could have said it, but he took the second route. He avoided public justification for ignoring the nature of the Soviet regime, ignoring the cynical use of Soviet lives to ease the American way into Europe and simply emphasized the need to defeat Nazi leader Adolph Hitler. When asked about his true thoughts about Lend-Lease to Britain prior to the war, FDR simply tap danced around the question. His plans were crisp in his mind — support Britain regardless of the Neutrality Act. His actions frequently went beyond the limits of the law. His speeches were designed to obscure reality. When we look at the statecraft of a Roosevelt, we see that in a democratic society, politicians frequently lie about their true motives. Instead, they invent acceptable fabrications, so they don't have to state publicly what they think privately. This is not so much to fool the public, although FDR certainly intended to do that. Rather it is to avoid stating publicly to allies the true intention. Had FDR publicly stated that his strategy with the Soviets was to use them to bleed the Wehrmacht dry, it would have created an untenable situation for Stalin. Stalin was not exactly naïve. He knew that the United States had him by the short hairs, and that the squeeze would be hard. He knew he had no choice. But it is one thing to understand that you are being hammered and another thing to admit it. Today, if the United States and Britain admitted publicly their real motives — that they intended to squeeze the Saudis, Syrians and Iranians by occupying Iraq — they would not have created a domestic political problem. However, without the domestic political problem, it would have been much more difficult for the Saudis, for example, to allow themselves to be squeezed. It is much easier to capitulate if you are permitted to keep your dignity than if you are going to be publicly humiliated. And herein is the tale: As it becomes increasingly clear that the United States had complex geopolitical motives for invading Iraq and that WMD played only a small part in it, the U.S. public is relatively comfortable. The only ones getting excited are those who opposed the policy regardless of justification. There is no great shift in the polls over this issue. The American public appears to be more comfortable with both the underlying reason and the need to fabricate public justifications because, in the end, they simply supported the strategy. Blair is in much bigger trouble, because the British public didn't support the general strategy and, more important, because Blair is from the Labor Party and his own party fragmented over the war. The WMD issue was more important to Blair because the Labor Party required a justification other than strategic requirements. This is because, in the end, Britain has somewhat different strategic requirements than does the United States. In particular, the Labor Party is uncomfortable with realpolitik and has been for a long time. The revelations have shown Blair to have been a cynical manipulator in the grand tradition, and that won't wash in the Labor Party. The Tories, which are more comfortable with this, also aren't likely to bail him out. We suspect that in the end, Blair will execute a graceful exit. For Bush, the critical quesiton will not be whether he lied about WMD, but whether he can pacify Iraq and achieve his strategic goals in the region. For Blair, it is about what he did; for Bush, it is about what he will do. Since Blair can't change what he did, his enemies will bring him down. Bush is far from safe, but at least his fate is in his hands.

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