Politics - John Kampfner on the only friend Tony has left
Even "new Europe" has now parted from Tony Blair on Iraq. The PM has been reduced to phoning Hungary
Everyone else has to wait in line: Tony Blair does not. The Prime Minister's request to see the re-elected president was accepted immediately. From the rest of the world, however, George W Bush has been taking congratulatory telephone calls at a rate of three a day.
Where others bridle, Blair has adapted himself to the second coming of Bush with characteristic ease. He knows his fate is inextricably linked with that of his senior partner. The two are in it together, as their forces reduce Fallujah to rubble. Months ago, Blair allowed himself to be convinced by the Americans that only a military assault on the town would quell the rebellion. Yet British military planners and diplomats work from the assumption that the main organisers of the insurgency slipped out of town long ago and are regrouping elsewhere. There is little expectation now of a reduction in the violence.
The withdrawal of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the main Sunni grouping, from the interim government and the boycotting of the planned elections by the Sunnis' most prominent clerics have further dented any lingering hopes of political unity. Even if the elections do take place as planned in the last week of January, they cannot produce the definitive moment of democracy on which Blair, Bush and their man in situ, President Iyad Allawi, had been banking.
Beyond the US, the international scene has rarely looked so bleak for Blair. At a meeting of EU heads of state on 5 November, he received the latest in a series of rebuffs, when President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schroder welcomed the Spanish prime minister, Jose Luis Zapatero, into the heart of "Old Europe". Chirac's state visit to London on 18 November comes at a particularly low point in their personal relations.
One man who is usually better disposed towards Blair, the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, has infuriated the Brits by saying, immediately after meeting Allawi in Brussels, that "tough action" in Fallujah might undermine the Iraqi elections. He is the first major European politician to cast doubt on the time frame. Even worse for the PM, his own calculation that "new Europe", the bulwark of the enlarged EU, would move in his direction does not appear to be working out quite as he had hoped.
The Czechs and the Dutch have followed the Poles in bowing to public opinion, and have announced that they will pull out their small contingents of troops from Iraq. Hungary's centre-left government said the same, but agreed under pressure from Washington to keep forces there till March. Such an extension, however, would require a two-thirds majority in the Budapest parliament, which is where Blair volunteered his services. His telephone plea straight after the EU summit to the leader of Hungary's centre-right opposition, Viktor Orban, fell on deaf ears.
Even before Bush's second inauguration in January, the tone of US foreign policy for Bush's second term will have become clear. Colin Powell, who appears to have changed his mind about staying on as secretary of state for a while at least, will host an international conference on Iraq on 22 November. The venue is Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian Red Sea resort, where 18 months ago Bush announced new moves to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
That summit proved illusory, and the White House reverted to turning a blind eye to the building of more Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Many of the participants at this new gathering - from the G8 and EU, as well as Arab nations - hope that discussion of Iraq will be linked to broader developments in the Middle East.
In the margins of the summit, Powell is also planning a rare meeting with his Iranian counterpart. A few days later, the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency will meet in Vienna to decide if Iran has done enough to allay concerns about its alleged nuclear programme. The British regard their tripartite initiative on Iran - with the French and Germans - as important not just to defuse the crisis, but also to prove to the Americans that Europe can deliver a diplomatic outcome. Bush, however, is losing patience and plans to call a meeting of the UN Security Council in order to deliver an ultimatum. This, then, could be the first stage towards some form of military action - action that Jack Straw has recently described as "inconceivable".
Blair's trip to Washington marks the start of one of the most difficult phases in international diplomacy. The fighting in Iraq is more intense than at any time since the war itself. Palestine after Yasser Arafat is in flux. Iran is at a critical point. The international community is divided on how to deal with each of these problems.
Having alienated some countries and disappointed others, Blair knows that he has only the Americans to fall back on.
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