July 26 2002


Ally Trouble — Bush Must Revive Friendships With Blair, Fox

By Andrew Reding

In foreign policy, as in personal affairs, it’s a sure sign of trouble when one’s closest friends begin concluding that the relationship is too one-sided. That is what is now happening to George W. Bush.

Bush arrived in the White House with no prior foreign policy experience. During his first year, much was therefore made of the warm personal friendships he struck up with two foreign leaders: Mexican President Vicente Fox and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Fox became Bush’s prime cheerleader in the Americas, and Blair in Europe.

Now, however, both feel jilted.

President Fox has done many favors for Bush. He has imprisoned drug cartel kingpins. He has joined Washington in criticizing Cuba for its human rights violations. He has improved cooperation with the FBI, returning hundreds of fugitives from justice to the United States.

Yet Bush has not acted on Fox’s request for concessions on migration. In May, Fox pointedly told a gathering of American business executives in New York that “there can be no privileged U.S.-Mexico relationship without ... addressing the issue of migration.”

Prime Minister Blair has been the president’s most loyal ally in Europe, making a substantial military and diplomatic commitment to Bush’s “war on terror.”

But Bush is ignoring Blair’s counsels on matters of vital importance to Britain and the European Union. Blair is aghast over Bush’s call for elections to replace Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. At a joint press conference with Bush at the recent G-8 summit in Canada, the prime minister pointedly said, “It’s for the Palestinians to choose the people they choose to elect. It’s not a question of saying we are going to tell people who they will elect or not.”

In response to the argument that one can’t negotiate with leaders who have connections to terrorism, Blair argues that the Good Friday agreements that brought peace to Northern Ireland were made possible only by his government’s willingness to negotiate with the leadership of Sinn Fein, the political party associated with the terrorist IRA.

Blair is also exasperated by Bush’s decision not only to remove the U.S. signature from the Statute of the International Criminal Court, but to threaten to terminate the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia unless Americans are granted blanket immunity from prosecution for crimes against humanity. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw described this latest disagreement, which comes on the heels of disputes over steel tariffs and the Kyoto treaty on global warming, as a “serious matter.”

Unable to reach a satisfactory quid pro quo with Bush, both leaders are looking to strike new friendships elsewhere. Fox is turning to Latin America, Blair to Europe.

Fox has just signed a free trade agreement with Brazil, opening each country’s markets to the other’s in 800 industrial and agricultural product categories. In a visit to neighboring Argentina, Fox called on Bush to offer a helping hand to the country’s tottering economy, as President Clinton earlier did to rescue Mexico. But no such aid has been forthcoming.

Blair, meanwhile, is pulling Britain further into the European Union, with plans for a campaign to convert Britain from the pound to the euro.

For Washington, it is a lose-lose proposition. Close allies are pulling away, and the United States is losing the diplomatic battles that are alienating its closest friends. The International Criminal Court, for instance, has opened its doors in The Hague, with the full support of 76 countries, including Canada and the European Union. Even Australia, with a conservative government, has just snubbed the White House by joining.

The growing rift between the United States and its traditional allies is undermining the global “war on terror,” for two reasons. First, because such an effort cannot succeed without strong international support and cooperation. And second, because the rift contributes to the very anti-Americanism that in its most extreme form leads to terrorism.

So why is it happening?

One can blame Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, all of whom seem to believe it is better to go it alone in foreign policy than to have to negotiate with allies over politics and military strategy.

But the buck stops with the president himself, who has chosen to heed such isolationist counsels rather than those of America’s closest allies.

Reding (areding@earthlink.net) directs the Americas Project of the World Policy Institute in New York.

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