Geoffrey Howe: Don't let Congress dazzle you

Taken from the Marion Seligman Memorial Lecture, given by the former Foreign Secretary in London

There has been a sea-change in the attitude of the US towards almost every aspect of today's world. It is important to understand that that transformation extends far beyond a simple, short-term reaction to the shock of 11 September. That was the trigger, letting loose a long planned, and fundamental, "neo-conservative" shift in foreign policy.

Today's America is not one that Churchill would easily recognise. Gone is any commitment to the development, even to the support, of international institutions. Gone, too, is the concept of collective defence, founded upon a doctrine of deterrence. Self-defence has given way to pre-emptive attack. Support for European integration has been in many places displaced by open contempt for the very idea.

Never was it more necessary for the nations of Europe to be working together, to restore balance to the transatlantic reaction to, and management of, a dangerous world. And never was it more necessary for Britain to be playing a leading role - not as an ineffective "partner" of the US but as a keystone of the European pillar. Yet our Prime Minister has tragically allowed himself to be cast very differently. And I think I know one reason why.

Nothing, as I believe, is more likely to impair the judgment of a British prime minister than a standing ovation from both houses of Congress. How much the more so for the young Tony Blair, "shoulder to shoulder" with President Bush days after the slaughter of 11 September.

But how far, and for how long, should that commitment by our country to support American policy-makers have been sustained, apparently so unconditionally and in such increasing isolation?

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