TCS Daily

Why Tony Blair Wants John Kerry to Lose

By Joshua Livestro - April 9, 2004 12:00 AM

Despite repeated requests to do so, US presidential hopeful John Kerry has so far failed to name even a single European leader who would be willing openly to endorse his candidacy. That does not mean, of course, that the anonymous supporters Kerry boasted about don't exist. Many European politicians probably feel more at home with Kerry's "If you don't like my principles, I have others" approach than with the uncompromising policies of President Bush. They just don't have the courage to admit it in public -- yet.

For as the election date draws ever closer, the odds shorten on at least one or two of Europe's leading politicians speaking out against Bush and perhaps even in favor of Kerry. After the closely fought 2000 elections, some European politicians already made it clear that as far as they were concerned, Bush was the wrong man for the job. The Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel observed that "it seems George Bush has won the elections. Personally I think that's a shame." The Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson described the Bush victory as "a setback."

There is no reason to assume things will be different this time round. Lower-ranking European politicians have in fact already begun to voice their support for the "anybody but Bush" candidate. Only a few months ago the Belgian Defence Minister André Flahaut declared that if he were an American, he would definitely vote Democrat. More recently the British former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said that "for the sake of the USA and the whole world" he was hoping for a Kerry victory.

There is one European leader, however, who is extremely unlikely to speak out in favor of John Kerry any time soon. That leader is British Prime Minister Tony Blair. One look at his record shows that he is in many ways the anti-Kerry. Unlike Kerry, his opposition to special interests isn't merely posturing. He has spent a considerable amount of his political capital on a campaign to break the stranglehold of the trade unions on his party. And while Kerry seems to have committed himself to a €900 billion tax increase to fund a range of spending commitments, Blair has campaigned twice on not raising taxes.

Most recently, Blair has waded into the controversy over outsourcing, rejecting the Democrat protectionist position and confirming his attachment to free trade as the only reliable road to prosperity for all. When asked if he wasn't worried about outsourcing, he stated that of course he regretted any job losses. But in a veiled swipe at Kerry and others he continued that for his part he was "not going to pretend I have the powers to stop it." His Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt was even more outspoken in her criticism, dismissing calls for measures against outsourcing as "siren voices" and accusing Democrat politicians of "playing politics with people's jobs and prosperity." She warned them that "protectionism is the road to recession."

These differences, however, are as nothing compared to the major differences over the war in Iraq. On the war in Iraq perhaps more than anywhere else, Kerry's opportunism could stretch the famous "special relationship" between the US and Britain to breaking point. When the specter of the anti-war candidate Howard Dean was hovering over the Democratic primaries, Blair made every effort to put clear blue water between himself and the Democrats, to the dismay of the English leftwing Guardian newspaper, which lamented that "it has come to this -- a Labour leader rooting for a Republican victory."

But then came Kerry, whose triumph in Iowa was greeted by analysts like The New York Times' Tom Friedman as a victory for "Blair Democrats" -- Democrats who were just as pro-war and tough on terror as Blair. Blair's advisors obviously welcomed Kerry as a victory for common sense. But they are getting increasingly worried about Kerry's new anti-war rhetoric. He has for some time now tried to create political capital out of opposing (the handling of) the Iraq war and its aftermath. A Kerry victory in November, combined with a victory for the anti-war Socialist Party in the Australian elections, would leave Blair isolated as the only principled supporter of Western involvement in Iraq. Such isolation could well spell the end of his prime ministership, and thereby of the British commitment to the war on terror.

The "special relationship" has been the driving force behind the global coalition against terror. If it remains strong, as it currently is between Bush and Blair, there is no reason to doubt the West's commitment to the rebuilding of Iraq and the dismantling of the terror networks. But if John Kerry were to succeed in defeating George Bush, the special relationship would lose many of its special qualities. Tensions in that transatlantic partnership could fatally damage the West's campaign against al Qaeda. The war on terror can withstand French posturing, German blustering, even Spanish backsliding. But a "not so special relationship" between Britain and the US might just be the straw that breaks the camel's back.


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