Malcolm Rifkind: Blair crumbles when Bush comes to shove

From a speech by the former Foreign Secretary to the London School of Economics

Previous Prime Ministers have been quite prepared to fight it out with the Americans if necessary. Churchill did not hide his concern that Roosevelt was too trusting of Stalin. Wilson refused to send British troops to Vietnam. But Blair's support for George Bush seems unconditional and unqualified, particularly in regard to Iraq.

But what about his pressure for a UN second resolution? What about his support for UN involvement in Iraqi reconstruction? Surely these policies all began in London, and Blair can take credit for them? True, but with a fundamental qualification. Yes, the Foreign Office worked night and day with splendid British initiatives. And yes, some of them were taken up by the Americans. But the point is that whenever the Americans don't like them, Blair doesn't growl defiance.

If you think I am being unfair, just ponder on the events of the last few months. Blair tells us now that the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a great moral and ethical imperative. Well, if it was, why wasn't it for the first five years of his Prime Ministership? The truth is that Blair had not the slightest intention of advocating regime change in Iraq until Bush told him it had become US policy. Likewise, the British public were told that a UN second resolution was essential until it became obvious that it wasn't going to happen.

George Bush wasn't guilty of such evasion. He made it crystal clear from the beginning that the Americans would attack with or without international support. Blair started by insisting on the UN route, but when Bush came to shove he crumbled quickly.

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