The Which Blair Project
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
An email has just come in from one of our favorite newspapers, Il Foglio, seeking support for the candidacy of Tony Blair to be president of the European Council. It seems that under the Treaty of Lisbon, the presidency of the Council will changing from being a rotating musical chairs kind of thing to a position with a two-year term and slightly more power. Its power would not amount to a hill of beans in an era when there was a strong and assertive American president pressing our interests. But in a season of American retreat, and with only the Czech president now holding out against Lisbon, the issue Il Foglio is pressing is something to think about.
The Lisbon Treaty is not only a tragedy but a scandal. It was hustled through by partisans of the idea that there should be a big, unified Europe to stand against America — and hustled through in an effort to evade the rejection, by actual voters, of the European Constitution. Our editorial on the tragedy of the Lisbon Treaty, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” was issued in December 2007, and the scandal of the whole thing was described by Conrad Black, in a column called “America’s European Lesson,” which ran in May 2008.
“Very brazen” is the phrase Black used to describe the process — as in, “It is very brazen for the British and French governments to promise a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty; realize they are unable to win a referendum, and substitute a promise for a thorough parliamentary debate; realize that could be inconvenient; and put on the whips and try to force a quick legislative disposition.” Black went on to make a deeper point. Only a few years ago, he reckoned, it would all have been “a bridge too far.” But the Europeans have become not only “frightened by their own weakness,” as he put it, but “more than that, without it much being mentioned, they have become fearful of the shortcomings of American unilateralism, and of a unipolar world with uncertain American leadership.”
We are now well into that time, when a new American president has made uncertain leadership — or at least the idea that American can’t act alone — the central idea of his doctrine. After campaigning for making the war in Afghanistan the key front in the war on terror, the new administration is abandoning the idea of a war on terror at all and retreating into a Carter-esque review of what to do about Afghanistan. It has, in the face of threats from the Kremlin camarilla, pulled out from our agreement with the Poles in respect of missile defense. A direct appeal from the president is unable to win so much as the Chicago Olympics.
This is the context in which we tend to view the prospect of Mr. Blair’s accession at the European Council. The whole presidency up for which he is being put has been tarnished by the central fact that Lisbon is a run around the will of the voters. And which Blair is it going to be? The Blair who, in sharp contrast to Old Europe, stood with America in the Battle of Iraq? Or the multilateral Blair who has been knocking around the Middle East in search of peace and who has been has been advocating for the very position to which he now hopes to accede in partnership with the very Europe he opposed during the early years of this war?
President Bush’s partner in the war is probably the best figure for the new job. But the fact is that the fears Conrad Black warned of are unlikely to be assuaged by any president of the European Council. They are going to be assuaged only by strong American leadership over a great many years and a victory in the current war. We wouldn’t rule out entirely the idea that President Obama could emerge not only as the de jure and de facto commander in chief but also as a true war leader in the classical sense of the term. But he hasn’t emerged yet. And until he, or another American president does, great editors in Europe, like those of Il Foglio, will be pinning hopes on the presidency of the European Council.