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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Britain's multipolar disorder

So Gordon Brown has been to America, he's met George W. Bush, he's been to the United Nations and come back again.  And we know no more now about the new British foreign policy than we knew before.

Melanie Phillips comments:

We read from unattributable briefings that in private the encounters had been warm and friendly. But we heard from the PM that he and the President had had a "full and frank exchange of views".  Now that is diplomatese for a blazing row. He deliberately told the world therefore that they had had a row, doubtless so the British public would feel gratified that the new PM’s first act in the middle of a war was to pick a fight with America, our major ally, and ensure the enemy knew about it. Predictable (if reckless and stupid) once again. But did they actually have a row? And if so, what about? Or was Brown using diplomatic language to spin a misleading impression of a perfectly amicable discussion?

Well that, unfortunately, is anybody's guess.  The Bush administration is understandably keen to keep Britain on board, especially where Iraq is concerned, and so the praise heaped upon Gordon Brown's head was effusive.  In return Gordon Brown looked as though he was enduring a particularly unpleasant trip to the dentist.  This was in sharp contrast to Brown's energetic performance at the United Nations, where he has helped to engineer the largest peacekeeping operation in the history of the UN in Darfur.  This is not before time, and entirely consistent with Brown's (and Blair's) known views on humanitarian intervention.  So although welcome, it tells us nothing much new about Britain's international priorities under the new regime.

The problem is not just that Brown has been playing to the gallery, but that the gallery contains three distinct audiences (not two, as Melanie Phillips would have it): the Americans need to be reassured (by being nice to the Americans), the British electorate need to be reassured (by distancing ourselves from the Americans) and the Labour Party needs to be reassured (by being completely beastly to the Americans).  And none of this even begins to address issues such as the European Union and the Reform Treaty.

Britain's foreign policy is suffering from multipolar disorder.  It's not just that the voters, the commentators and the politicians can't make any sense of it.  The worry is that perhaps our own government can't make any sense of it.  Unless and until the new administration takes charge of its own foreign policy rather than being held hostage to whatever interests it feels the need to appease, our international credibility will diminish.   Tony Blair, for all his faults, had the courage to lead from the front and do what he considered to be the right thing.  Can Gordon Brown do the same?  This may not be clarified before another election.  Brown needs his own mandate, but even more he needs an election campaign: it is time for the real Gordon Brown to show himself to the electorate.