Tony Blair, the British prime minister, was with President Bush at Camp David for a couple of days this week. Their joint appearance at a news conference at the end of that visit focused largely on their mutual resolve to press on with the war in Iraq “for as long as it takes.” Even so, there is already much talk and speculation in Europe about what happens after the war.
Earlier this week, before Mr. Blair left London for his quick trip to Camp David and then New York, he gave interviews in London in which he made it clear that he intended to press President Bush to begin planning now for when the fighting stops. He stated in London that it is his view, after the war strong positive steps need to be taken – indeed, must be taken – first to repair and rebuild the transatlantic relationship between the United States and its long-term European allies, and second to give the United Nations a central role in rebuilding Iraq.
Transatlantic relations, except with Great Britain, are as strained as they have been at any point since World War II. Germany and France in particular are on George W. Bush’s bad list. The ill-will is currently flowing both ways. And yet, said Tony Blair, “I think that most people, when they really sit down and reflect on the interests of Europe, they would regard the idea of sacrificing the transatlantic alliance as madness. Because it would be absolute madness.”
The second issue, of course, has to do with the United Nations. It is no surprise that the UN now ranks right alongside France among President Bush’s least favorite subjects. It is also no secret that a good number of those closest to the president have never had any use for the UN in the first place.
And so it seems likely that Tony Blair had a hard sell in their private conversations at Camp David. But let’s hope that he was successful. Let’s hope that the president now wants to be seen as the visionary leader who can see beyond the fog of war to a constructive next stage in which the United States appreciates the need for and tries to shape a world in which multilateral relationships count. If personal frustration is allowed to govern, if getting even carries the day, then we are headed down a road at the end of which lies darkness.
And it wouldn’t hurt, if it turns out that Prime Minister Blair was persuasive with President Bush on these issues, it wouldn’t hurt if someone tells Donald Rumsfeld. Way back in the Eisenhower administration, the secretary of state was the formidable John Foster Dulles. It was said back then that there was no situation in the world so bad that a few words by John Foster Dulles couldn’t make it worse. Well, you can see where I am going with that, can’t you?
Let’s hope that this war can be brought to a speedy conclusion and that the President’s most dependable international partner, the prime minister, will have been persuasive in their talks this week.
This is Olin Robison.
Olin Robison is president of the Salzburg Seminar, located in Middlebury, Vermont and Salzburg, Austria.