Post-Poodle Politics


The performance of Britain’s new PM gives a hint of what the post-Bush era may be like.

George W. Bush‘s British manservant, Tony Blair, is someplace in the Middle East doing little more than meets-and-greets with Israelis and certain selected Palestinians. It’s nothing more than Blair’s trying to sweep the shards of broken Iraq under the rug — he helped break it, so he should try to clean it up.

“Manservant” is too distinguished an image. Much of the world will continue to see the bubbly Blair as the Bush regime’s loyal little puppy. But now that Gordon Brown is the new British PM, we’ve entered an era of what John Feffer of the Institute for Policy Studies calls “post-poodle politics.”

Brown (left, with Bush) is a different animal. He won’t faithfully yip with joy around Bush. He’s known to be sober and reserved, more of a St. Bernard than a feisty, cute terrier like Bush’s pal Barney.

More importantly, Brown may be more like a St. Bernard, but he won’t be coming to the Bush regime’s rescue. The British PM is more likely to take several dumps on Bush’s carpet.

The way Brown practices foreign policy — even what he’s already done as he tries to extract his country from the Iraq debacle — gives us a preview of what a post-Bush regime could look like.

Unfortunately, one step Brown has already taken — halting the influence of his advisers on career civil servants — will probably never happen in U.S. presidential politics. As Ian Davis notes in Foreign Policy in Focus:

The new prime minister has made it clear that career civil servants from the Foreign Office (rather than political appointees) will become his principal advisers on international relations. … Brown also plans to ban special advisers from giving orders to civil servants.

In Dick Cheney‘s Bush regime, a small coterie of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rove, and the like ran roughshod over more pragmatic types like generals Eric Shinseki (on the number of troops needed to “conquer” Iraq) and Tony Zinni (who believed that the road to peace led through Jerusalem instead of Baghdead).

Brown’s more likely to rely on his military people in the field than has Blair, let alone the Bush regime. And that means a quicker exit by the Brits from Iraq. Davis says:

British military commanders are reported to have drawn up plans to withdraw the vast majority of British troops from Iraq within 12 months to concentrate on the war in Afghanistan. They believe British troops are achieving little in southern Iraq and that their presence is escalating the violence.

Blair’s regime didn’t seem to have much faith in its people on the ground. Back in 2005, Blair thought so much of his Foreign Office career diplomats that he immediately canned his ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, after Murray — a boil on Blair’s butt — had the audacity to denounce Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov‘s torture tactics.

Don’t expect to see any photos of Gordon Brown chatting about the “war on terror” with Cheney on the steps of 10 Downing Street, as Blair did in 2002 during the secret plotting of the Iraq invasion.

And as for Iran? No matter how much Cheney and his crew are itching to pull the trigger, this dog Brown won’t hunt. As Davis says:

Iraq will undoubtedly color Brown’s policy towards Iran. While Blair has refused to rule out military action, it is almost inconceivable that a Brown government would support such action.

Finally, Brown won’t be stirring up the populace to support the current war on Terra. More from Davis:

In contrast to Tony Blair, the new British leader has offered no emotive sound bites, no promises of tough new laws and no talk of a “war on terror” since the failed terror attacks in London and Glasgow at the end of June. His few public statements have been measured and brief, with many Britons welcoming this change to a lower-key approach.

Which U.S. presidential candidate sounds the most like Gordon Brown? Well, it ain’t Hillary Clinton, who’s in thrall to the right-wing American-Israeli lobby. Is it Barack Obama? At least he talks about talking with our dastardly enemies. Like Brown, Obama has little experience in directing foreign policy.

For once, a newspaper editorial — a British one, in the July 30 Daily Mailsums things up nicely when it comes to the shift from Blair to Brown:

The love-in is over. Everything about Gordon Brown’s demeanour at Camp David [on July 30] proclaimed that a new chapter is opening in Britain’s relations with the United States.

Gone was the informality of the Blair years: the casual clothes (who can forget ambassador Christopher Meyer‘s description of Tony Blair’s “ballcrushingly tight corduroys”?) and the matey exchanges of banter between British prime minister and American president.

Instead, Brown was businesslike almost to the point of coolness.

Where Tony Blair fell hook, line and sinker for Mr Bush’s flattery, Mr Brown seemed utterly impervious to it.

Why, he even described his talks with George Bush as “full and frank” — diplomatic code through the ages for difficult conversations on points of disagreement.

Good. For won’t this new, more formal relationship be far healthier — for both Britain and the U.S?

We all know where Mr Blair’s lapdog devotion to Mr Bush led us. Every day, new horror stories emerge from the shambles of Iraq.

By the time our presidential election rolls around, Brown will have been in office for about a year. His performance should at least give us an idea of what — and who — it may take to start undoing the damage of the Bush era.