As indicated yesterday, this ain't a political blog, although it could easily turn into one, but for enormous self-discipline.
By way of a self-denying ordinance, I said I would restrict myself to just 1 post in 7 being ostensibly political. Today's was supposed to address the so-called "special relationship" , a matter close to my heart.
Some of yesterday was spent googling the ups and downs of Anglo-American dealings since 1946. That's when Winston Churchill delivered that Fulton Missouri speech of his, with not just one, but two memorable phrases (Iron Curtain, Special Relationship).
But one look at the Daily Telegraph this morning, and David Rennie's interview with Ségolène Royale's mentor/political advisor, one Gilles Savary, convinced me that this was not the best moment for any Brit, even this near-anonymous one, to be writing about the special relationship. To be airing one's misgivings about the friend and neighbour across the street, when there's a new kid on the block pelting both our front doors with stones might be seen as poor timing .
According to Ségo, who others are describing as a foreign policy neophyte, Blair's Britain is America's "vassal". Yes, "vassal". How's that for wit and subtlety ? It's the same word, by the way, in French as in English, with the same meaning, ie. a person who owes allegiance and service to a feudal lord . And it's apparently because of the overlord-vassal relationship that Britain agreed to join America in attacking Iraq. Oh yes, and did so without first asking France's permission. Or Germany's. Or the EU's. So we're guilty on two counts simultaneously – one of not having an independent foreign policy and two, of having an independent foreign policy. Yes, you read that correctly.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Iraq invasion, to use the word " vassal" to describe Britain's position vis-à vis America seems incredibly banal, gauche, facile and maladroit (or , as the French might say, banal, gauche, facile and maladroit). Is this to be the political vocabulary of an intending French president ? Punch and Judy name-calling ?
Semantics, indeed politeness aside, is Britain really America's vassal ? That particular feudal description may be a new one, but appears to be drawn from the same list of Roget's Thesaurus synonyms as others we hear with monotonous frequency (poodle etc).
Isn't Ségo (or her mouthpiece) forgetting one thing. By no stretch of the imagination could Tony Blair be described as a squeamish pacifist, one who had to be pressured into deploying his country's military.
Blair is cut from a very different cloth from one of his predecessors, that avuncular pipe-smoking Harold Wilson. It was the latter , you may recall, who succeeded in keeping Lyndon Johnson at arm's length, and in so doing kept Her Majesty's Armed Forces out of Vietnam. Whereas it was our Tone, no less, who first began beating the drums of war when Serbia threatened Kosovo, who urged the Americans to intervene militarily, and who the sent in the RAF to bomb a European capital, something we have not done since WW2. See BBC report, 1999.
The idea that TB was press-ganged into joining in the attack on Iraq is a commonly held one. It supposes that GWB nobbled TB in the emotionally -overwrought aftermath of 9/11, subjected him to a loyalty test ("you say you love us, now prove it") and then railroaded us into the War on Terror.
But that is, I believe, a faulty analysis. The key to understanding Blair's relationship with Bush is not servility but vanity. Vanity writ large. Mr. Tony "He -Who-Can- Charm- the- Hind- Leg-off- a -Donkey" Blair is, in fact, a closet Lord Palmerston. He revels in delivering ultimatums to Johnny Foreigner, in earnest moralising language. And woe betide JF if he doesn't quickly heed the warning. Because if he turns a deaf ear, then the gunboats, or their modern equivalent, follow in short order, bristling with the latest laser-guided weaponry.
Now Lord Palmerston, or his like-minded successor Disraeli, would never have dreamt of going to war without first consulting the Queen. That is, of course, the bare minimum demanded under our constitutional monarchy. And where Queen Victoria was concerned, probably nothing less than her whole-hearted approval would have done.
But it doesn't seem to work remotely like that in modern Britain. TB has taken the role of PM further down the path towards de facto presidency. The Cabinet seems little more than a rubber stamp. The constitutional monarch is seen by His Toniness as a purely ceremonial role, in competition for public adulation. No-one must ever be allowed to cramp his own style or freedom of action.
Whatever TB expects from his Tuesday meetings at the Palace ( which he allegedly regards as an imposition) Her Maj's blessing or support appears not to be vital for his mission. And thus it continues unchecked, the sending of UK forces into various dusty corners of the world, apparently to rescue Islamic tribesmen and/or insurgents from themselves.
It would appear that Mr and Mrs B, with the help of the odd guru or two, need no further counsel from anyone outside their own magic circle to be convinced of the rightness of their cause.
All they need is that vital green light from Washington, to avoid a Suez type fiasco, the result of foolishly leaving the senior partner out of the loop.
Blair is emphatically no vassal, politically or temperamentally, and never has been. To describe him in those terms is a monumental misjudgement of the man's character.
Blair is in reality a control freak, obsessed with his place in history, as a successor to Churchill and Thatcher. The truth is that while Bush has been using Blair to add an Old World stamp of approval to his simplistic world view, Blair has also been using George Dubya to advance his warrior credentials. Each needs the other. It's political symbiosis. Or mutual complementation - each serving to make good the deficiencies of the other.
The end result - Iraq - is one of the greatest catastrophes for British foreign policy in living memory. It makes Eden's Suez adventure look like a team-building paintball exercise.
But for a French politician, and an aspiring President to boot, to portray Blair's Britain as America's vassal is to resort to the cheapest of gibes. One expects better of the supposedly discriminating, sophisticated French mind. Particularly that of this new kid on the block, one who should be aiming to create a good first impression. But hasn't.