Thursday, July 03, 2003

BLAIR AMERICAN STYLE. Meanwhile back in the UK, Tony Blair is hunkering down as British press and politicians, infinitely more adversarial than our own ("Blair is No Better than a Kung-Fu Monkey," howls the Telegraph), accuse him of pre-invasion prevarication.

To Yankee eyes the spectacle is surprising. Much of the current talk, as outlined by the Guardian, is centered around a claim, allegedly included in a draft of the Government's Iraq dossier, that Saddam could set off nukes on 45 minutes' notice.

Here in the good old USA, of course, the President had us scared silly of a tinpot dictator who couldn't even defend his own country, and as it becomes increasingly clear that this threat was vastly exaggerated, we treat it as an academic exercise. We sustain a long-running shell game with Iraqi WMD evidence. (As reported by CNN, the latest claim is imminent proof of a "WMD program that could have turned out an operational weapon on short notice. " Not short enough to save Saddam, apparently. Maybe the fuses rolled behind a couch?) The general presumption is that some bullshit was employed, but so what?

That the Brits are more outraged at apparently smaller distortions does not necessarily mean that they lay greater stock in truth than we do. The American people backed Bush, and identifies still with his cause, but the British public has been less convinced; we have a lot more to lose or gain, psychologically, in probing the wounds that truth sustained in prosecuting the war, while for the British it's pretty much all on Blair.

Also, MPs have a centuries-old habit of standing up and roaring at the PM. This Blair must endure, and whenever I've watched Question Time on TV he seemed to handle himself well. But I can't imagine it's much fun for him now.

Back in 1996 much was made of Blair's similarity to Bill Clinton -- centrist, smooth, modern. It's beginning to look, though, as if it's really the model of the American Presidency, irrespective of occupant, that he emulates. This is canny because, as Britain grows more Americanized, what works for the Oval Officer is a good bet to work for the Prime Minister (and what fails here will fail there, too -- poor John Major filled the befuddled Bush Sr. role as well as Blair fit challenger Clinton's). It's a little tougher now for Blair, but I would bet on him to hang in -- especially as his Government's tactics, as shown in this South Africa report from June, are obviously cued by the American style of spin:

A spokesman for Blair's office said that the government's investigation into the two trailers in Iraq was still under way.

But he also said on customary condition of anonymity that no credible evidence had been found so far to suggest they were not used as part of Iraq's chemical and biological programs.

No evidence they were not used! Shades of Charles Foster Kane telling old Mr. Thatcher, outraged by his claim of a Spanish "armada" off the Jersey coast, "Can you prove it isn't?"

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