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July 28, 2006

Bush's Poodle? Not quite.

The fact that accusations about the one–sided nature of the "special relationship" between Britain and the United States should arise during a conflict in the Middle East is interesting. Because from where I'm sitting it often looks more like Israel is the United States' poodle, engaged in the same relationship as the client states of the US and the USSR in the Cold War.

Rather than get involved in a war with Syria or Iran (which six months ago wasn't an entirely impossible notion), the current conflict in the Middle East is effectively between the proxies of the United States and Islamic Extremism. Cold War II, if you like.

This puts a different spin on the "Yo, Blair" problem. Certainly, it seems as if Condi Rice is more senior in the global hierarchy than Blair after Bush told him to stay out of the region and leave it to his Secretary of State. And yes, we're the only state who joined the U.S. in avoiding calls for an immediate ceasefire. And true, we went to Iraq because we wanted to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the United States after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

But – so far – the relationship remains special because the Bush Administration isn't sending British troops out on a limb in conflicts that the U.S. wants to personally avoid. It's true that we're of secondary importance, but also true that we have the only government who has the full support of the world's only superpower. We do benefit, both politically and economically, from the special relationship. Sitting between two continents has massive benefits (just look at where all of the US's FDI in Europe goes), but requires us to make big sacrifices – one of which is an independent foreign policy.

We're not a poodle to the same degree as Israel is, but when we fail to push strongly for a ceasefire in the Middle–East, we do at best look like a wet–behind–the–ears Labrador.


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