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THE FIRM

Special relationships are invariably predictable just as letters of the alphabet tend to cluster together. Thus it surprised nobody that Great Britain stood by the United States of America regarding Iraq and that Blair and Bush went together. The British prime minister carried the house of commons with him even if he failed to win the support of all his party members — about one in three members of the Labour Party refused to support Mr Blair on Iraq — and lost his foreign secretary in the process. Mr Blair is haunted by the ghost of Neville Chamberlain and was not swayed by the lure of the slogan “peace in our time”. Mr Blair’s speech to parliament was impassioned, it was also well reasoned. There is evidence — in so far as opinion polls have credibility — that the graph of Mr Blair’s acceptance among the people of Britain is climbing upwards. This was not so a few weeks ago when London saw one of the largest peace marches in history. In his speech, Mr Blair rightly noted that a large part of the opposition to the Iraq war is a reflection of the ingrained anti-Americanism among many Britons. There is strong disapproval in Britain and elsewhere in the West of the US attempt to impose its own will on the world. Mr Blair tried to dispel such fears and emphasized that Britain was seeking partnership with the US, and neither servitude nor rivalry.

Mr Blair’s idea of partnership is worth noting only because of the lacunae inherent in the idea. A partnership entails the right to say no. Mr Blair has this right but it is a meaningless one since his no — like anybody else’s — is irrelevant to the priorities of Washington. History, Mr Blair sagely declared, “doesn’t declare the future to us so plainly”. But history can make the present plain, and for the present Mr Blair is unable to say no to Washington even though he knows that the choice is not perfect and the cause not ideal. The price of appeasement, according to Mr Blair, is the perpetuation of tyranny in Iraq and the pampering of states which have arsenals of weapons of mass destruction. The choice when put in such stark terms does not seem a choice at all. The real challenge before Mr Blair is in convincing his Washington partners to be consistent in their opposition to tyranny and weapons of mass destruction. Here failure already stares Mr Blair in the face since Mr Bush’s administration will determine its policies according to its own priorities rather than on the moral high ground Mr Blair claimed in his speech to the house. Special relationships in politics, unlike in life, have an inbuilt hierarchy. Everybody knows who is the senior partner in the firm of Bush & Blair.

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