Tony Blair on the BBC

One of my friends in the UK send along this link to the BBC’s interview with Tony Blair about the upcoming war with Iraq. (click on the phrase “Tony Blair’s Newsnight interview point by point” for video).

It was interesting for an American viewer who does not watch TV at all to see this. The interviewer was actually openly rude and interrupted constantly. Really boorish. I don’t think anybody should have to put up with that, let alone a democratically elected leader. But my wife, a veteran BBC viewer, tells me that is the done thing over there – harsh, cross-examination-style interviews of politicians. I also noted that the interviewer baldly misstated various facts, apparently to get a rise out of Blair, as well as taking a really insulting tone. The hand-picked audience consisted only of opponents of the war. The ideological lefties were pretty easy for him to deal with. But the “regular guy” types of questioners were much tougher.

Blair probably lost ten pounds doing this interview. What a workout. But, God bless him, he had his facts and arguments under control and put in a terrific performance. No wonder he is PM. I wonder if he changed anyone’s mind with it?

I have a lot respect for the British system, and the toughness and verbal facility and quick-wittedness of the British politicians who can handle this type of thing. Whenever I watch the questions in parliament, I think that most of our stuffed-shirts couldn’t handle it. Of the Presidents we’ve had in my lifetime, I think only Clinton (whom I detest) could probably have done OK, and also maybe Nixon. Those were both extremely smart and Clinton was good on the fly, and Nixon was always well-prepared. Either of the George Bushes, Reagan, Carter — no way.

The basic tone of the show and the questioners highlights the extent to which the USA is out of step with other countries, even the relatively friendly British. One guy actually said Powell’s presentation was “laughable”, and he was serious. Another guy asked Blair if the United States was going to be subject to disarmament by the U.N., and while he was being flip, he genuinely believed the U.S. is a more dangerous country than Iraq. The crowd seemed in basic agreement with these sentiments. The contempt for America and in particular for Bush is noteworthy, and jumps out at the American viewer. It is just assumed, obvious, a given, that the United States is a moronic country led by a moronic president. It is a good thing more Americans don’t realize how despised we are even in Merrie Olde England. The response would be to reciprocate, and that would not be productive. It’s a pity these people feel as they do, but ultimately not worth worrying about when our security is at stake. If a bunch of people in the North of England don’t like us, they’ll just have to lump us. And if they don’t want to go to war with Saddam, they are out of luck with Blair at the helm.

Blair has political courage to stick with the US on this. It would have been easier for him to bail out earlier, or never go down this road at all. Then the USA would have gone in alone, anyway, but Blair would probably have been more popular at home. He must actually believe it’s the right thing to do. He certainly projected that in the interview. He is a remarkable guy. He has an enormous amount of good will here in the U.S., whatever happens to him politically in Britain. Maybe Clinton can move to Britain and Blair can move to the U.S. Bottom line, if the war goes well, Blair will benefit politically, though to what degree I’m not sure. I think people may be resentful even if we win handily. Less uncertain is that if the war goes badly, Blair is finished. It’s a bet the ranch approach he’s taken. I suppose Gordon Brown would take over then. The Tories are a nullity at the moment.

Besides an apparent sincere belief in the rightness of this course, there is clearly another factor at work. Blair has extraordinary access to Bush and has been privy to the war planning at the highest levels from the beginning. No doubt he has been shown in complete detail what the war plans are, since Britain is making a very major contribution. I, like many people, am hoping the war will be a swift, crushing blitzkrieg. I have lots of reason to think this will be the way the war will actually go. That Blair is so confident gives me confidence.

We shall all know soon how well- or ill-founded Blair’s confidence is.

Old vs. New Europe?

The German-French deal for the future of the EU has angered most of the other member nations and has even given rise to the hyperbolic accusation that the two countries are trying to erect a kind of new Holy Roman Empire. I think that it also was a factor that motivated the eight statesmen to write their letter of support for the American position on Iraq. Being thus isolated is embarrassing for Germany and France, but not as dramatic as many American commentators and bloggers think, just as Americans tend to take the EU itself much more seriously than it really deserves. The EU is about to expand to 25 members, which makes the costs of further integration unsustainable for many years to come, rifts in the EU or not. Having the opponents for further integration assert themselves is nothing but an expression of this reality. In a way it also is business as usual to have (mostly smaller) EU members side with the US to counter the influence of France and Germany. The small members of the EU have nothing to complain about anyway. Voting power in European Commision, parliament and council is weighted in favor of the smaller countries. Each country gets to send a representative to the Commision, regardless of population numbers, for example. Some reforms are planned, but a German or British candidate for a seat in the European parliament will still need 800.000 votes to get elected, while a colleague in Luxembourg needs less than 80.000. This bias in favor of small countries makes any talk of a French-German power-grab ridiculous. This dispute won’t endanger the existence of the EU anyway, since without it the small countries would have little sovereignty, making them unwilling to leave it. That is not to say that they would be militarily intimidated or even conquered by the larger countries, they would simply have little choice but to go along with decisions made by others. One example: The European Union effectively was a German Mark zone before the Euro was introduced; the German Bundesbank (central bank) set interest rates as it saw fit and the others (even France, Italy and some extent Britain) had to follow. The Euro meant a loss of formal sovereignty for everybody, but they finally have a say in monetary policy (not always to German delight). This concept of shared instead of formal sovereignty is central to the European Union. It also is anathema to many Britons (and by far the most Americans, of course) and is in my opinion the strongest motivation for the downright visceral hostility against the EU. That the alternative to shared sovereignty would be almost no sovereignty as far as the smaller member are concerned is rarely if ever considered. One example is Norway: They decided to stay out of the EU, but have to follow most of its rules and regulations, without being able to influence them. Denmark, an EU member, has opted out of the Euro, but at the same time has no monetary policy of its own, the Krona being firmly pegged to the Euro. Both examples have nothing to do with any malevolence on part of the EU, they simply follow from the difference in sizes. Based on all this I feel confident to say that the EU will survive and that Britain will very likely remain to a member, Anglosphere or not,. Political and cultural affinity are one thing, trade and economic another. Once the EU finally drops its silly pretense of becoming a competitor to America even a transatlantic free trade zone is not out of the question (it was seriously considered in the 90s, but the French blocked it with their veto-power). In the short term I hope to see some benefits from the more market-friendly attitudes of the Eastern European countries, once they become full members in 2004. One is a comprehensive reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (without quite so many subsidies), the other the abolition of the ban on GMOs.

The Cost of Uncertainty

The stock market looks due for a rally but it isn’t rallying. The government-bond markets, especially the U.S. one, look due for a break but they’re holding firm. The situation feels a bit like it did in the second half of 2000, when a lack of political leadership, combined with the uncertainty of the presidential election, contributed heavily to the stock market’s then-seemingly relentless decline. Time will tell if the comparison between then and now is apt, but I wish our government would take action soon against Iraq.

Democracy For Beginners

I saw this in the comment section of another blog and it’s just too good to pass up:

The will of maybe 50 million Germans does not make a majority against more than 300 million US-Americans. So Germany should subordinate themselves to the USA and execute the US-will, if the Germans are real democrates.
Interesting concept. China would love it.

What the Numbers Mean

The losses for the Social Democrats were expected to be severe and turn out to be even worse, downright catastrophic. Schroeder’s power is strongly diminished, he won’t be able to do anything without the say-so of the opposition parties, as I expected. In my opinion this is great news. The trade unions’ ability to block reforms via their hold over the Social Democrats will be much reduced and at the very least this should shut Schroeder up, even if he won’t support the war on Iraq. With any luck he might get sick of being heckled at home and irrelevant abroad and step down voluntarily. More on that tomorrow, I’m off to celebrate.