Thursday, 30 November 2006

London Bridge wanna go down

Ouch. Some devastating comments by a state department official Tuesday night regarding the Atlantic Alliance and the UK's traditional role as a bridge between America and Europe. Namely, that it has been irreparably harmed by the Iraq War, and will probably never recover.

Kendall Myers, a senior State Department analyst, told an academic forum that for all Britain’s attempts to influence US policy in recent years, “we typically ignore them and take no notice."

The comments left government officials on both sides of the Atlantic scrambling. Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham and a former Foreign Office minister, who supported the Iraq war, said: “After the Republican defeat in the midterm election, every little rat who feasted during the Bush years is now leaving the ship. I would respect this gentleman, who I have never heard of, if he had had the guts to make any of these points two or five years ago.”

The State Department is distancing itself from the comments, saying Myers was speaking in an academic capacity and not as a representative of the state department. But anyone who follows these things knows that this is indeed the prevailing view at the state department.

The election of George W. Bush was probably the worst thing to happen to Tony Blair. In 2000 he was riding high on the wave of New Labour, presiding over an economic boom and incredible optimism and enthusiasm in the country. He came off of the Princess Diana episode immensely popular. But that all changed when he made his ill-advised decision to become an accomplice in the Iraq War despite most of the world's objection to it. Blair is leaving office humiliated and defeated by that decision.

So London's bridge to America has come tumbling down. The question is, will the UK now build a bridge instead to Europe, repair the bridge to the United States, or become an isolationist island that thinks it can be relevant on its own? It's going to be an interesting couple of years to be living in the UK, what with Gordon Brown taking over as prime minister in just a few months and elections coming up which could usher in a new conservative government headed by David Cameron. Or, it's perhaps not impossible that revulsion to the war could make Britain turn to the Liberal Democrats and give them a shot at running the country.

But whichever new government takes control, Britain has a fundamental choice to make. Which direction will they face in the 21st century? Will they face East to Europe, West to America, or will they turn inward and retreat from the world? The plausibility of them continuing to be a viable bridge between the two continents is becoming more and more remote.

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