Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Changing of the Guard

I am sure almost everyone who would be reading this blog (unless you accidentally stumbled upon it), knows that Tony Blair steps down today and his successor, Gordon Brown, becomes PM. He wanted to be PM ten years ago, but Blair beat him to the punch. From what information I have garnered, Brown is more intelligent than Blair, but, as I saw him give a speech on CSpan, he definitely lacks Blair's charisma, which has been so useful in foreign relations. Speaking of which, Brown's foreign relations policy seems to be pretty much the same as Blair's, at least, as pertains to Afghanistan and Iraq. I do not think there is much perceptible difference in domestic issues either, although I am not sure here. For the differences between the two, the New York Times reports (for entire article, hit the hyperlink on "Tony Blair"): "The new Prime Minister has promised accelerated domestic reform on schools, housing and public health and changes in the way Britain goes to war, giving parliament more of a say. In a series of written responses published in The Independent newspaper today, Mr. Brown acknowledged that “mistakes were made in our planning for what happened after the removal of Saddam and I think it’s important to learn the lessons and to go forward.”" I do recall all of these issues arising from his speech when he gained leadership of the Labour Party. Let's see what speeches today brings.

Brown, though, has a tough sell in the next few months. He must appear different than Blair, he must be something new or bring something new to the table, but he cannot be too critical of Blair. So, we have a person whose policies are basically the same as Blair's, but he lacks Blair's baggage and his charisma. On the other hand, personality-wise, he seems like a person who is not going to be subservient to Bush (Blair is called "Bush's Poodle" in the UK). Here's the question of the day: how long will Brown last? Or, in other words, since I cannot file this post under religion or antiquity, should I put it with phenomena or ephemera (I am leaning towards the latter).


James said...

I've seen speculation by Juan Cole among others that Brown--or indeed whoever had turned out to replace Blair--will initiate a de facto change in Iraq policy. Labour needs to get out of Iraq before the next election. The war is simply too unpopular.

What could be seen is that Brown will declare that the Basra region, which is occupied by British troops, has been stabilized and that it can be turned over to local forces. Then, patting themselves on the back for a job well done, the British will leave Iraq.

This will be a problem for the US forces since southern Iraq is not, in fact, stable (except perhaps in comparison to northern Iraq or if by stable you mean completely dominated by militias who are not fighting against each other), and a British withdrawal will threaten US supply lines, since Basra connects the rest of the country to the sea. An expansion of the US occupation to the south would then be likely.

At any rate, Brown can "continue" the policies of the Blair government while changing them completely. It only requires a little duplicity.

My prediction, then, is that Britain will withdraw from Iraq without taking a stand against the war.

Jared Calaway said...

Yes, that is exactly the type of tightrope that Brown would have to walk--quietly leave Iraq while not directly criticizing the war, which clearly is very unpopular in Britain, as you say.

I do wonder, though, how Blair's new appointment as the senior peace envoy to the middle east would fit into this or any new UK strategy in the region. Of course, his appointment comes not from Britian but from the "quartet" and his brief is for building up a framework for the Palestinian state. But he is a much higher profile figure than his predecessor in this role, and would, perhaps, draw more attention to the British presence or non-presence in the Middle East. On the other hand, it might represent a refocussing, shifting the emphasis from a military occupation of Iraq to a diplomatic intervention in Palestine.