January 11, 2007

Bush's Speech, the British Context

Its undeniable that the greatest consequences from the Bush speech are for Iraq and the Iraqi people- but the other great democracy for whom the Bush plan has massive consequences is the UK. The UK already has thousands of troops on the ground in Iraq. Since 2005 when the then British Defence Secretary, John Reid, announced British withdrawel over the next 12 months, to more recent suggestions from people like Anatole Kaletsky that Gordon Brown would like to withdraw as the first dramatic act of a Brown Premiership, withdrawing from Iraq has been on the cards in the UK.

The problem is that the UK can't withdraw from Iraq now without upsetting its major international partner. The UK's armed forces are overstretched and its government is haemoraging popularity, largely consequent upon the Iraq war. (Iain Dale has even raised the question of whether the Uk was asked to participate, having a mini-surge.) Brown's hope of taking the Premiership is to staunch the wound, to stop Labour leaking votes over the Iraq war. But now Brown cannot without risking a diplomatic confrontation with the United States take up a policy that most people in the UK are devoutly desiring for a variety of reasons. The problem electorally for Labour is that Iraq could be a factor right up until 2008, with corpses returning home drip by drip, right up until Bush leaves office, which means that the weight of that decision over Iraq may be pressing down not only on Blair but also upon Brown and also right up until Bush leaves office, and if McCain is his successor then even beyond that. Brown despite the fact that he would never have wished to be, may end up being a war Prime Minister, stuck in a Middle Eastern Vietnam and may be unable to avoid that particular part of the New Labour legacy.

Or perhaps the genius of the Treasury has a plan to square the circle.