During his decade in office, Tony Blair was often accused of being so preoccupied with war and diplomacy that he neglected problems nearer to home. The truth, though, is that the war on terror forces Western governments to conduct foreign and domestic policy as a seamless whole: the same terrorist may be simultaneously part of an external and an internal problem.
The new prime minister of Britain, Gordon Brown, let it be known that he hoped to focus less on foreign affairs than did his predecessor. Instead of running his own foreign policy from Downing Street, as Mr. Blair did, Mr. Brown signaled that he would leave it to the experts in the Foreign Office.
But if the prime minister thought the rest of the world would leave him alone, he has had a rude awakening. In his first fortnight in office, he has had to deal not only with the Islamist doctors' plot in London and Glasgow, but also with potential crises with both America and Russia.
The trouble with Washington was entirely self-inflicted. The Bush administration had already noted with alarm the appointment to the British Foreign Office of Mark Malloch Brown, the former deputy secretary general of the United Nations. He not only became the most openly anti-American official at the U.N., but made himself a laughing stock by defending his boss, Kofi Annan, against the Oil for Food scandal and denying the incompetent administration of the U.N.'s finances. He also meddled in the World Bank, where he had the chutzpah to point a finger at Paul Wolfowitz, despite his own notorious stewardship of the U.N. development program.
Now Mr. Malloch Brown has reemerged as a minister of the Crown, with a seat in the House of Lords for good measure. His brief covers Asia, Africa, and the U.N., but this empire is apparently not sufficiently vast for the lordly new minister.
In an expansive interview with the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, Lord Malloch Brown succeeded in simultaneously irritating his new British patron, Gordon Brown, his immediate superior, Foreign Secretary David Miliband and, most importantly, Britain's most important ally, America. It was an inauspicious start to his new ministerial career.
Gordon Brown, who has only met President Bush once and has yet to visit Washington as prime minister, is furious about Mr. Malloch Brown's clumsy attempt to preempt him by declaring, "it is very unlikely that the Brown/Bush relationship is going to … be joined together at the hip like the Blair/Bush relationship was."
It will be news to the prime minister, too, that British foreign policy is, according to Mr. Malloch Brown, about to change "radically" toward America. It is not normally the job of junior ministers to announce such changes — let alone to decide them.
Mr. Miliband, too, must have been surprised to read that his new subordinate sees himself as "the older figure, the wise eminence behind the young Foreign Secretary." Mr. Miliband wasted no time in giving an interview of his own in which he laughed out loud at Lord Malloch Brown's pretensions.
Asked if the British government had changed its tone toward the Bush administration, he replied, "No — a straight answer to a straight question. We are not into the game of hints. If we want to say something you will hear it from the Prime minister and you will hear it from myself."
Mr. Bush, however, will not have been entirely reassured. Hackles will have been raised in the White House at Mr. Malloch Brown's sneering reference to the president and Mr. Blair. The rest of the world's hostility to the Iraq war was "enough to put you on your knees and get you praying together," Mr. Malloch Brown said.
Mr. Malloch Brown's pomposity evidently knows no bounds. He boasts of his friendships with the American foreign policy establishment, despite his public criticism of America. He claims that "Condi" Rice praised him to Kofi Annan: "The only person we want to run this is Malloch Brown. Nobody else is serious." If she did use these words, the secretary of state will wince to read them now.
One thing that Mr. Malloch Brown is deadly serious about is his mission to defeat neoconservatism: "I am quite happy to be described as anti-neocon. If they see me as a villain, I will wear that as a badge of honour." This is no way for a British minister to behave.
Mr. Miliband, by contrast, has set a good example by expelling four Russian "diplomats," a euphemism for spies, in response to the Putin regime's stonewalling over the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London last year. The public likes this firm but proportionate line.
At the time of writing this we don't yet know how the Kremlin will retaliate, but the point has been made that state-sponsored assassination in Britain's capital will not be tolerated. It was reported yesterday that British security services thwarted an attempt last month to kill Boris Berezovsky, the oligarch who has been granted asylum in Britain, but whom the Putin regime regards as public enemy number one.
So far, Britain has stood up to Russian bullying. What makes this possible is Britain's unique relationship with its American ally. Anyone — especially a minister — who puts that relationship in jeopardy must be put out of harm's way.
In last week's column, I predicted that once the British press took an interest in Mr. Malloch Brown, he would not last long as a minister. I could not have believed that he would so quickly provide his critics with so much ammunition.