This is very, very strange. Whatever you may think of National Missile Defense (NMD), the idea has very little support outside the United States. The only other country which is open to the idea is America's closest ally, Great Britain.
In fact, a week ago British Prime Minister Tony Blair surprised many by issuing what appeared to be an endorsement of the Bush administration proposal. Later Downing Street backed off in response to fierce criticism from within Blair's ruling Labour Party. The salient point however is that the UK is the closest the US has to a friend on missile defense.
Today, however, The Daily Telegraph, a conservative-leaning British paper, published an interview with Bush administration adviser Richard Perle, in which Perle attacks Blair as "wishy-washy and ambivalent" and "dodging the issue" on NMD.
One more bit of info: Blair's about to kick off Labour's campaign for the parliamentary elections which will be held on June 7th. And these charges of wishy-washiness will certainly be used -- they seem almost designed to be used -- by Blair's Tory opposition.
Now, a few points. The British and American governments simply don't speak to each other like this. It's just not done. During an election campaign it's almost a provocation. True, there is an inherent awkwardness in the relations between the Bush and Blair governments since the Blair and Clinton governments were extraordinarily close -- sharing advisors, consultants, political theorists, various personal friendships, etc. But the bonds between the countries still put this sort of jaw-boning beyond the pale.
What's more striking is the broader context: No one expects Blair to lose this election. Blair has already been bending over backwards to keep the door open to missile defense. And, most important, no one is more open to missile defense than the Brits.
There's simply no logic to this.
What's troubling about this isn't so much that it's mistreating an ally as it shows the continuation or even quickening of two troubling trends in Bush administration foreign policy.
Fist is the over-reliance on braggadocio over diplomacy or policy -- even to the point of isolating us from our closest ally.
Second is the Bushies' increasingly chaotic foreign policy, with what looks very much like administration in-fighting being played out in public in the form of apparent gaffes ("whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan ... then maybe not) and quickly switched policies (sever military ties with China ... no, sorry, drop that).
Isn't this what's happening? Who's in charge here exactly? Who's exercising control? There's only one thing more dangerous than effective and able war-hawks: it's incompetent ones.