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Quids, Pros and Cons
In Istanbul, terrorists hit British targets, leaving behind devastation and carnage. At Westminster Abbey in London, President George W. Bush consoled the families of British troops who died in Iraq this year. Around Trafalgar Square, antiwar protesters vilified not just Bush, but Prime Minister Tony Blair as well. For Britain the costs of its post-9/11 partnership with the United States were excruciatingly plain last week. Less obvious, even to many Britons committed to paying dearly if need be, is what Britain gets in return.
In public, Blair belittles the notion that the U.S.-U.K. alliance should be treated like “some scorecard,” where every quid deserves a quo . But NEWSWEEK has learned that the Blair government has quietly sought concessions from Washington on a variety of matters, including greater military cooperation, and has been rebuffed. Disagreements over military intelligence became so serious last summer that the issue was placed on the agenda of the July Bush-Blair summit so the two leaders could deal with them personally. Bush agreed to “better information-sharing” at the time, but military sources tell NEWSWEEK that progress has been meager.
More ambitiously, NEWSWEEK has learned, Blair wants Washington to recognize the unique closeness of the U.S.-U.K. partnership by having the United States treat the British as if they were American in all matters of defense. This extraordinary license would apply to “people, intelligence and products,” as one source put it. Blair has been pushing for this ever since the end of major hostilities in Iraq, and Downing Street believed it had secured agreement from Washington. In private, Blair is complaining that nothing has happened. The real-world consequences of inaction are no small matter. In Iraq, for example, U.S. military commanders still do not have Pentagon authority to share fully with the British their intelligence on Iraqi insurgents.
Like the British prime minister, the White House pooh-poohs the scorecard approach to alliance-watching. “I don’t understand the criticism of Blair,” said one senior Bush administration official. “He clearly didn’t go into Iraq for political gain. He is only doing it because he thinks it’s important. That speaks rather well of him. If he says he wants to make the world a better place, maybe that is what he’s trying to do.” Further, by allying itself with America, Britain punches well above its weight. “The U.K. matters,” said the official.”In the 1950s British power appeared to be ebbing. Now British power seems to be growing. He’s gained a tremendous amount.” Of course, that’s how the White House sees it. Many Brits don’t agree at all. For Blair, his new challenge is to ensure that Britain’s losses don’t overwhelm its gains.
Stryker McGuire with John Barry, Richard Wolffe and Liat Radcliffe