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Britain’s New Internationalism

TOLEDO, SPAIN -- With President George W. Bush’s grand strategy for the Middle East in ruins, his administration has, however hesitantly, begun to put greater emphasis on resolving conflicts by peaceful means. The settlement reached with North Korea, whereby it will dismantle its nuclear program, and the Annapolis conference for an Israeli-Palestinian peace – with the participation of Syria, a pivotal member of the region’s “axis of evil” – are two key examples of this trend.

The United States’ staunchest ally since 2001, Great Britain, has already gone down this path, divorcing itself from its servile alliance with a Bush administration that focused on war and confrontation. Though only a miniature version of America’s imperial predicament, Britain’s current policy, as its new prime minister, Gordon Brown, is defining it, may anticipate the direction taken by the next American president.

Tony Blair’s endorsement of Bush’s Middle East designs showed that an imbalance of power in an alliance always causes the weaker partner to become subservient. Britain joined America’s Iraq adventure with the same inflated perceptions of its military capacity and diplomatic clout that trapped Bush. But Britain’s military contribution to the war effort was not indispensable, so Bush did not have to heed Blair’s advice. As a result, Britain could not serve as a bridge between a doubtful Europe and a belligerent US, as Blair believed, and Britain’s capacity to be a force for good on the world stage was severely damaged.

Like America, Britain has learned the hard way the limits of what sheer military power can achieve, and also the devastating implications of its misuse for its reputation in the Muslim world and beyond. The scope and virulence of anti-British sentiment in the Muslim world are now second only to that facing the US. Restoring Britain’s reputation in the region will take years of hard work.