Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff at PostGlobal

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Germany

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a Senior Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic public policy and grant-making foundation. He overseas the fund's policy programs. He was previously the Washington bureau chief of the German newsweekly, Die Zeit. Close.

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Germany

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a Senior Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic public policy and grant-making foundation. more »

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Mixed Up in the Wrong Crowd

The West is about to lose the only formidable leader in the cohort of the past age. Tony Blair’s tragedy is that he has been surrounded by Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schröder and George Bush -- the weakest team since World War II.

Admittedly, things may seem rosier when looking from the outside in. Yes, there is Iraq. But Blair’s rationale for joining Bush and thus staying inside the tent appears sensible even in retrospect. As the Suez Crisis of 1956 recalls to memory, nothing can hurt Britain’s position in the world more than taking action without the United States at her side -- not even loosing a war, as long as it is lost alongside the Americans. In the end, the Iraq war will have hurt America more than Britain. Iraq marks the end of this unipolar moment in history. America will have a hard time adjusting to the fact of its diminished power. Britain will not be hurt in the same way; the country started to adjust to its own fading power 90 years ago. It is not even clear that the Iraq disaster changes Britain’s role in the world in any measurable way.

Tony Blair may not have destroyed British power, but he has seriously damaged the idea of liberal interventionism. Liberal hawks, in Europe and in the U.S. alike, went to war with Tony Blair, not with George Bush. Blair’s idea that sovereignty is limited when authoritarian leaders engage in mass murder and genocide does not sell post-Iraq. If Tony Blair were to take the Left into Kosovo today, he would likely fail. It might not take long before Western societies come to regret the outcome of this debate -- and reopen it.

History will not judge Tony Blair solely on the basis of his Iraq adventure. His accomplishments clearly outweigh his failures. Britain is a better place today than it was when he took office in 1997. Blair made his country safe for globalization. It is more cosmopolitan than ever before. Blair has secured the economic gains of the Thatcher era while putting greater emphasis on social justice and public services. If the same could be said about Germany and especially France, Europe would be in great shape. And let's not forget that it was Tony Blair who brought self-government to Scotland and Wales and, most importantly, peace to Northern Ireland. If Britain (along with Germany) will lead the fight against global warming, it is because of the foundations that Tony Blair laid.

Blair may go down in history as remarkable, but not as the great prime minister that he could have been. Some of his shortcomings are of his own making. He missed the chance to finally anchor Britain in Europe. He was too timid to introduce the Euro when he had the chance to do so. After all, Europe looks more British at the end of his tenure than it did at the outset. It is more deregulated and less likely to become a Franco-German superstate.

But most importantly, Blair came into office with a group of sub-par Western leaders. Blair and Schröder promised to be a pair of left-of-center modernizers who would lead Europe into a hopeful 21st century. The Schröder-Blair-Paper, published in June of 1999, was a manifesto of change. But Schröder, afraid of the polls, did not follow through. Only during his second term did he revive a watered down version of the reform agenda. By that time, Schröder had isolated Germany over Iraq and worked hard to reverse his fortunes -- at Blair’s expense. The old partner became a challenger, and in the end, Britain ended up in a weak position in Europe.

With respect to Chirac, there is little to say. At times, Chirac and Blair did not even talk with each other. Blair had no comment for the stagnation that Chirac orchestrated for France. Which left George Bush, Blair’s odd partner on the world stage. Not only did Bush deny Blair any benefit from his steadfastness as an ally, he also denied Blair his desired role as a peacemaker in Palestine. Bush did not sign on to any element of Blair’s global agenda.

Tragic Tony was the right man in the wrong environment.

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