As U.S. forces close in on Baghdad, the world's attention has been momentarily diverted from the lingering effects of America's rift with some of its staunchest Western allies.
Throughout the diplomatic battle over whether the war with Iraq was necessary, one world leader fought harder than any other to close the ever-widening chasm between the United States and longtime allies France and Germany: British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair gambled everything on his ability to personally bridge the gap between America and key players in Western Europe -- and he failed. Now, political observers are questioning whether NATO, the United Nations -- and Blair himself -- will survive the aftermath of war with Iraq.
In "Blair's War," FRONTLINE examines the roots of discord within the Western alliance -- particularly America's all-too-public disagreements with France and Germany. Through interviews with key insiders in Paris, Berlin, London, New York, and Washington, the documentary tells the inside story of the failure of diplomacy in the months leading up to war -- and what that failure may cost not only Tony Blair but the United States and the international order.
"Europeans believe they are moving beyond power into a world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation," says Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of the influential new book Of Paradise and Power: American and Europe in the New World Order. "The U.S. believes, though, in a world where international security depends on military might and international institutions are unreliable." [Read a Web-exclusive email debate between Robert Kagan and British journalist Will Hutton on the U.S.-Europe divide.]
"Blair's War" recounts the British prime minister's struggle to walk a tightrope between America's determination to remove Saddam by whatever means necessary, and France and Germany's conviction that Iraq should be disarmed through peaceful means.
"Blair was confident that his relations with the main other leaders in Europe were of such a good quality that he could persuade them," says Matthew D'Ancona, deputy editor of London's Sunday Telegraph. "I think he found it very difficult to believe that anyone could be resistant to his persuasion."
But Blair underestimated just how intransigent the French would prove, observers say.
"This [French] aide said to me, 'You know the problem we have with the American position?'" says Keith Richburg, Washington Post correspondent in Paris. "'On Monday, it's to disarm Saddam Hussein. On Tuesday, it's because he's linked to Al Qaeda and terrorism. On Wednesday, it's because you want to make Iraq into a democracy. On Thursday, it's because you want to make the entire Middle East into a democracy. On Friday, it's because you want to jump start the Arab-Israeli talks -- you know, which is it?'"
Ultimately, as the trans-Atlantic division over Iraq widened, Blair found himself forced to take the gamble of his political life by pledging to support President Bush's policy on Iraq, come what may.
"This pledge was extremely important," says Christopher Meyer, former U.K. ambassador to the United States. "I think it was important at the level of government. I think it was important to the president that he had a fellow leader in London whom he could truly trust."
Now, as U.S. and British forces fight virtually unaided by the rest of the global community, many are trying to calculate the impact the Iraqi standoff may have on Blair, U.S.-European relations, and the political alliances that have shaped and governed the world for more than half a century.
"What [the Americans] are losing today is this ability to convince," says Guillaume Parmentier, former head of external relations at NATO. "The Americans haven't tried to convince the leaders of Europe. They've just said, 'You're not useful. We're not interested.' Of course, the United States has, on the whole, benevolent intentions. But you know, power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. That is true in the domestic field. It is true in the international field."
"Both the Europeans and the British," says historian Tony Judt, "will look very hard now, once this crisis is over, at the price they pay either for being with the Americans or for being against the Americans. That's not a question they have asked themselves in the course of the last generation."