Legacy of UK-US special relationship contributed to British decision to invade Iraq | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 28.01.2010
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Legacy of UK-US special relationship contributed to British decision to invade Iraq

When Tony Blair appears before an inquiry into the Iraq war, he will likely invoke many familiar reasons to defend his decision to join the US-led invasion. But he might not mention one of the most important factors.

President Bush listens to British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2004

Tony Blair and George W. Bush both wanted to topple Saddam Hussein

Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair has said it all. In numerous public appearances and interviews he has laid out and defended the reasons why he not only passively supported, but actively contributed to the American decision to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Speaking before the so-called Chilcot Inquiry set up by the British government to study London's involvement, Blair will likely make the case again that he and most Western intelligence services were convinced that Iraq retained weapons of mass destructions, that he tried to reach a diplomatic solution through the United Nations, but that he was and remains convinced that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the region even without weapons of mass destruction and that the decision to topple him was therefore correct.

"Unless Blair decides to drop a bombshell, nothing new under the sun will be revealed," is how Klemens Fischer, a lecturer on international relations with the University of Cologne, described the expectations ahead of Blair's appearance before the Chilcot Inquiry.

"I think he is convinced that the decision then was right. Why should he change his opinion now," Daniel Gossel, an expert on British foreign policy at the University of Kassel, told Deutsche Welle.

Traditional bond

More interesting than Blair's oft-stated rationale for going to war against Iraq is a major factor that is less tangible and is mentioned a lot less than the more obvious security aspects: the so-called special relationship between the United States and Britain. While much has been written about the close relationship between Prime Minister Blair and US President George W. Bush and this personal bond is often viewed as a decisive factor in Blair's decision to go to war, experts argue that the relationship is actually only a function of the special ties between both countries.

"I think the special relationship goes far deeper than any personal relationships there were between Blair and Bush," Paul Ingram, executive director of the British American Security Information Council, told Deutsche Welle. "People have to realize that the relationship with the United States has been the number one foreign policy goal of the British ever since the second world war. There is a lot of mythology around that and it remains as strong today as ever."

Young boys wave a Union flag as the British Aircraft Carrier Ark Royal is pulled by a tug as it leaves Portsmouth

British aircraft carrier Ark Royal left Portsmouth for the Gulf

By joining the US effort to topple Saddam Hussein, Britain could not only eliminate a threat to Middle East peace and a pernicious dictator, it would also assert itself as Washington's most reliable partner and thus strengthen the transatlantic bond between both countries.

"The importance of the special relationship between the US and the UK was one of the reasons that they went to war together with the Americans," said Fischer. "Blair obviously thought that it would be better for everyone if he went along with the Americans so he could shift their decisions and not taking part would have meant not to have any chance at all to be involved in the decision-making process."

Dependence on US

A common perception in London is "that Britain only ever has influence on the world stage through its relationship with the United States and that is it is loath to give that up," said Ingram.

"In terms of how strong that was in the decision to go to war, I think it was a very powerful influence, that belief that we needed to stick by the Americans so soon after the attack on September 11, 2001 and that we in Britain faced a similar threat to the threat that the Americans faced," he added. "Saddam Hussein was symbolic of that threat. And it's incredible how such critical decisions can be taken on that basis."

With the Iraq war now a topic for inquiries and seminars and both Bush and Blair out of office, what effect did the staunch British support for US-led invasion have on the special relationship?

"I assume that future British politicians will be more careful before they agree to any military action in support of American foreign policy," said Gossel, adding that the close bond between Washington and London has seen many ups and downs in the past.

Future of special relationship

"From a British perspective in security terms the United States are still the most important power and therefore the most important partner for them. So they certainly will try to keep valid the special relationship and try to preserve it also for reasons of prestige for example."

Barack Obama meets Gordon Brown in the Oval Office of the White House in March 2009

Relations between Gordon Brown and Barack Obama are not as close as between their predecessors

Paul Ingram disagreed: "I think in essence this special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom has no future. This is for two reasons: Firstly, Barack Obama as an individual and the broader Obama movement. And secondly and more importantly is the diffusion of power globally." The US, he argued, focuses increasingly on Asia. But even when the US turns toward Europe, its outlook extends far beyond London. Britain, according to Ingram, in future will only have influence in Washington in concert with other major European partners.While Gossel agrees that US interests extend far beyond Britain and Europe and that globalization demands that nations become more flexible in their relations, he believes that the special relationship will endure: "I think it will stay pretty much the same. Especially in a very globalized world, nations and governments will look for fairly stable relationships."

Author: Michael Knigge
Editor: Rob Mudge

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