No, James Naughtie is not a Tory MP. Rather, he’s a British journalist who’s just published a rather interesting book called The Accidental American: Tony Blair and the Presidency.
Naughtie’s analysis of the close identification between Blair and Bush is fascinating – and revelatory of the dynamics of a relationship that has puzzled pollies and observers on both sides of the Atlantic. Naughtie thinks there is a certain sense in which both men are innocents in politics. There may be something in this, and it may also help explain their shared belief that they can remake reality by “rebranding” it – to use a Blairism.
Naughtie also adds some historical reflection to our understanding of the “special relationship”. Roosevelt, though to some degree captivated by Churchill’s charm, never lost sight of America’s national interest and was prepared to play hardball and gang up with Stalin against what he saw as Winston’s outdated imperialism. Thatcher was perhaps the reverse – ideologically close to Reagan, she was nevertheless prepared to use her influence to shift him from his intuitive position in arms-control negotiations with Gorbachev.
In the wake of Bush’s re-election, Jacques Chirac has recently commented that the UK has been able to exert only a minimal influence on US Policy. In the wake also of Arafat’s death, the Palestine conundrum will surely be the major test of how far Blair’s influence extends, as will possibly also be the way that engagement or confrontation with Iran plays out.
Naughtie has a neat little tale that suggests what may lie ahead. In the lead up to the Iraq War:
Blair believed he had persuaded Bush to sound enthusiastic in public about the UN resolution that Britain now wanted to write in order to give a sounder basis to the war that they were both convinced would come in a month or two. Blair needed it to hold his Cabinet together and to keep his Party from exploding in rage. Bush seemed willing to oblige him.
But on the way from the Residence in the White House to the Press Room, a whispered word from Ari Fleischer and a sage nod from Karl Rove were enough to shift the course Bush took in the subsequent press conference.
Would the world be a different (and perhaps safer) place if the UK Prime Minister had a stronger sense of national and world interests and a weaker sense of identification with Bush?