Tony Blair Resigns: Clintonesque Leader Evolves into Moralistic, Bush-Like Crusader


blair bush.jpg
Tony Blair has informed his Queen and his Cabinet that he is stepping down as Prime Minister.
Americans tend to look at other country’s heads-of-state through the prism of their own president — but Blair even more so.
Blair used to seem a lot like Clinton. Now sadly, he looks a lot like Bush.
Here is a piece I have written for The Guardian and the opener:

Americans used to love Tony Blair.
When Bill Clinton’s presidency ended, a vast majority of Americans – despite a sex scandal and impeachment – preferred him to remain in office over either Al Gore or George Bush. For many Americans, Tony Blair – perceived to be a protege of Clinton – was their chance to see Clinton’s charisma and Third Way style of problem-solving idealism carry on in the work and deeds of Britain’s youthful and globally energetic prime minister. Blair, for a time, became for many “America’s hope”.
Now, Blair is telling the Queen that he’s calling it quits – and leaving after ten years at the helm of Britain. And he and his acolytes are grasping for straws of legacy – trying to make sure that all know his key role in helping to settle centuries-old tensions in Northern Ireland and trying to remind his constituents of the massive economic gains the UK made after reforms led by “New Labour”.
But the bottom line today is that Blair’s potentially considerable legacy has been almost entirely blacked out by his close association with another American president and an ineptly conducted war and occupation that George Bush and Blair hatched together.

Now it will be interesting to see which President — Hillary, Barack, McCain, Rudy, Mitt — we choose to see Gordon Brown through.
— Steve Clemons


15 comments on “Tony Blair Resigns: Clintonesque Leader Evolves into Moralistic, Bush-Like Crusader

  1. Dennis says:

    While Blair may have sunk his legacy by tying it to George Bush’s, it’s entirely misleading to view it as if he made a philosophical leap post-9/11. This man was dangerously messianic in his foreign policy views from the start (witness his embarassing esay in Foreign Affairs two issues ago); he was just waiting for the Iraq debacle, and this should remind us all of current neocon policy’s roots in liberal intervention.
    Blair likely would have clambored on board the Iraq express even without 9/11, after all, and it shouldn’t be lost beneath all the talk of theory and ideology that Britain stood to gain mightily from success in Iraq through Brit oil co’s BP and Shell, while those opposed, Russia, China, Germany, France, all stood to lose out.
    Of course some now argue that since they are no longer on the losing end it proves that “war for oil” is just so simplistic. You see, the failure of the Admin’s goals in Iraq mean they never existed in the first place.


  2. Zathras says:

    A column based around the theme that the British Prime Minister acted mostly under the influence of successive American Presidents is introduced with the observation that “Americans tend to look at other country’s [sic] heads-of-state [sic] through the prism of their own president — but Blair even more so.”
    Do they indeed?
    That “Third Way style of problem-solving idealism” originated in Britain and came west, not the other way around. That part of the Clinton administration’s foreign policy that was not run out of the Treasury Department was institutionalized ad-hocracy; the problems it attempted to solve were all approached without relation to one another, because there was no intellectual thread tying them together and because Clinton allowed the State Department and its foreign aid and public diplomacy programs to atrophy. If Blair appeared so willing to go along with the Bush administration’s approach to foreign policy in the early years of this decade it may have been because he thought it had one.
    Blair’s conception of Britain’s international role rested on his faith in his ability to leverage Britain’s relations with other countries. He sought to avoid situations in which Britain might find itself alone — caught outside Europe economically, for instance, or isolated between an America determined to get rid of Saddam Hussein and the French, Germans and Russians who were content to see the sanctions regime directed at Saddam’s Iraq wither and die.
    It’s not irrational for the leader of a country like Britain to avoid isolation, nor are Blair’s moralistic impulses — which reacted to the nature of Saddam’s regime just as they did to less egregious abuses of human rights elsewhere — attributable primarily to American influence.
    The thing Blair lacked was what his great predecessor, Thatcher, had: the determination to uphold purely British interests, and not to risk confusing them with anyone else’s. This determination was what made it impossible for American administrations to take Thatcher’s support for granted as Bush did Blair’s, and what made Thatcher in the end a more valuable ally.


  3. reveal says:

    One moment that could have made fantastic history. Blair could have stood with Europe on the Iraq scam. He could have led their fledgling union to a new level, where foreign policy took its place with economic and fiscal policy as the next great binder of that great continent. As an eloquent spokesperson against the war and for Europe’s role as a balance to an out of control superpower, Tony Blair could have created a transforming moment.
    And to think, he passed it up to buddy-up with GEORGE BUSH!
    Blair’s situation is borderline tragic – as opposed to Bush’s which is farcical and over the line criminal. Blair’s obvious intelligence was over ridden by his moral crusading, but let me add, he was also tempted by his obvious ambition to add “war leader” to his resume at what he felt would be an acceptable price. Now he has paid with his reputation. Was it worth it Tony?
    Ask the families of the dead…


  4. Kofu says:

    Good point, David N. That would have been an admirable motive. The Washington Monthly article I quoted, for what it’s worth, gives no hint of such a calculus.
    I don’t know how well URLs come through here, but you can find a copy of the article on the web by googling Bush Blair Clinton advice. It’s in the first page of results, with a title starting “Blair hitch project.”


  5. Gene says:

    In this one single thing, Clinton did the greatest disservice to his country, by giving the rightwing slander machine something real to work with. Once he got caught, I wish he’d had enough brains and balls to simply refuse to answer questions about his private life, instead of trying to weasel around it. Even that might have saved Gore.


  6. David N says:

    I’m not one privy to the thoughts of the great and pompous, but one could interpret Clinton’s instructions this way:
    “Be the guy he turns to,” means give him advice. Clinton was trying to set up someone who could tell Bush what works and what doesn’t. Clinton, like anyone at the time, did not know the full extent of Bush’s arrogance and ignorance, and did not know that he is incapable of listening to anyone.
    Clinton was trying to protect us from Bush, and his failure to do so is not his fault.
    Except if he’d kept his fly shut, Gore would surely have won the last two elections, and what a difference that would have made!


  7. Edward Furey says:

    What seems to have drawn little comment is Blair’s decision to announce his decision to step down on the anniversary of Winston Churchill’s stepping up to 10 Downing Street on May 10, 1940. Perhaps it is American pols who invoke Churchill at the drop of a hat — even exceeding Lincoln now — but of all the days of the spring to make the announcement, the selection of May 10 was probably not a coincidence.


  8. Kofu says:

    Bill Clinton read the political tea-leaves for Blair and advised him to stick to Bush like glue. It seems relevant to your story.
    “‘Be his friend. Be his best friend. Be the guy he turns to.’ That was the advice Bill Clinton gave his close ally and ideological fellow traveler, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, weeks before Clinton was to hand over the reins of power to George W. Bush.”
    – Kenneth S. Baer, in Washington Monthly, March-04


  9. Chesire11 says:

    Head of State is primarily a ceremonial role, whereas the Head of Government is responsible for formulating and implementing policy. In parliamentary democracies, the two roles are separated, in the case of the UK and the rest of the Commonwealth, the Queen is Head of State and the PM is Head of government. In Israel, the President takes the role of Head of State.
    Here in the US, on the other hand, both roles are combined in the person of the President (which can make for some confusion when considering how things are done elsewhere).


  10. Chesire11 says:

    The most important observation in the whole piece (more important than even the subject of Blair’s devolution from “Hyperion to a satyr”) is the following:
    “…superpowers remain so by never showing their limits and by testing how real or illusory their power is only at the rarest of times.”
    This axiom explains not only the folly of invading Iraq, but much of the reluctance to withdraw as well. This one sentence should be printed, framed and hung on the wall of every Senator, Congressman, cabinet member and general. It should be whispered (if not shouted) into the ear of every president immediately upon waking and just before retiring for the night so that it’s the first and last thing he or she hears each day.
    Thank you for putting so succinctly an essential, but often neglected truth of realpolitick.


  11. Pissed Off American says:

    “You have correctly noted that we have a Queen….which rather points to the fact that the Prime Minister is not the Head of State, don’t you think?”
    Than why’d you let the insipid little twerp talk you into this Iraq mess?


  12. Tim Worstall says:

    “Tony Blair has informed his Queen and his Cabinet that he is stepping down as Prime Minister.
    Americans tend to look at other country’s heads-of-state through the prism of their own president — but Blair even more so. ”
    Cough, cough, ahem…..
    You have correctly noted that we have a Queen….which rather points to the fact that the Prime Minister is not the Head of State, don’t you think?


  13. Dan says:

    good bye Mr. Blair and good riddance. You enabled Bush. You ought to be ashamed.


  14. Pissed Off American says:

    Gads, look at the body languge, the pose, that both of them have assumed in the pic Steve put up. Are there strings holding their arms up? How in God’s name did we end up with such a sick and arrogant little man leading this nation?


  15. matthew says:

    Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis dead so that this lapdog could visit the WH. He won’t be missed.


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