The whole world really wants to believe in America," said Gareth Evans, former Foreign Minister of Australia and now president of the International Crisis Group, who was in Davos last week. But as the planet's business and political elite enjoyed fondue and spaetzle, the miserable truth became apparent: most of the world doesn't believe the Administration of George W. Bush has yet made a case for war in Iraq. The talk in Davos was all of America-the-arrogant, America-the-bully, America-the-cowboy. All of which places in sharp focus the character and policies of one man who manifestly does believe in America and its President and who is about to face the biggest test of his career: Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Blair will visit Camp David this weekend as the most significant political leader offering Bush unstinting support. In the past two weeks, he has said again, in language stronger than ever, that although he would prefer clear U.N. backing for a war in Iraq--and he will make that point at Camp David--Britain's troops will fight alongside their American counterparts if Washington judges that Saddam Hussein is not making a good-faith effort to disarm Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Britons are used to his trimming and spinning on domestic issues; but as a senior British official said admiringly, on Iraq he has never wavered. "He is convinced," said another official, "that if we don't tackle weapons of mass destruction now, it is only a matter of time before they fall into the hands of rogue states or terrorists. If George Bush wasn't pressing for action on this, Blair would be pressing George Bush on it."
Blair's commitment to Bush is a huge gamble twice over. He is risking his position as the dominant figure in British political life and placing in jeopardy one of his long-term goals--that Britain should be at the heart of an attempt to make the European Union a dependable, strategic global partner for the U.S. Domestically, the threat comes not from the pitiful opposition Conservative Party but from the fact that many of his own Labour Party members are implacably opposed to a war without U.N. sanction--and even with it would support one only reluctantly. Historically, British Prime Ministers--think Margaret Thatcher--are just as likely to be tossed from office for splitting their parties as they are for losing elections. Blair has never been much loved by the party faithful; if a war were to go badly, his position would become untenable. As to Europe, though Blair (and Bush) have allies there, among them the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, the British leader has been blindsided by the revival of the Franco-German alliance, manifested last week by the joint declaration of French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder of their opposition to military action. If Britain is yoked to the U.S. in an unpopular, messy war, it is France and Germany--not Britain--that will shape the future of the E.U.