Tuesday, 31 July 2007

The differences between Brown and Bush

Brown might be pro-US, but he is no Blair.

The world media still seems to be buzzing about the meeting between British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and US President George Bush. While they seemed to agree on many points, their disagreements — no matter how subtle; often on big issues — are coming to light. Bush views Iraq as the central front in the United States-led 'war on terror', whereas Brown sees Afghanistan as where the real battle against terror is and should be.

Iraq is no doubt full of terrorism, but only because of sectarian violence and foreign occupation. There are many factions, and so many battles. Terror networks via militia exist in both Afghanistan and Iraq and reach even to the national level (e.g. allegations of Saudi Arabia and Iran fueling some groups). But Afghanistan is the original site of the GWOT and the occupation there has the backing of the UN and NATO. Iraq, on the other hand, is much less straightforward and, contrasting with the reality of the occupation in Afghanistan, one can make the case that foreign soldiers being there does little in the fight against international terrorism.

Iraq is becoming a hotbed because of the war (blowback) — both the civil one and the one started in 2003 by the US and its allies; Afghanistan would be a terrorist haven regardless. Some view this blunt difference in priorities as Brown's way of appeasing Britain and wider Europe, vehemently opposed to the Iraq war.

Also on Iraq, Brown said that the United Kingdom will stick to plan and withdrawal troops regardless of whether the United States stays. However it does plan to stay there until the job is done. While the leaders are stressing unity, the fact that Britain intends to go its separate way from the US in Iraq is major. The British PM also opposes the language of a 'war' on terror and thinks a military fight against terrorism is not enough. I agree.

Another good move (away from Bush) Brown made was on terrorism. He rightly described terrorism as a "crime", compared to Bush's view that it is an act of pure evil and we must stop it even if we destroy the constitutional foundation of America in the progress and kill many. Brown is not the politicizer of terrorism his Atlantic counterpart is famous for being; I believed he handled the attempted attacks in Britain earlier this summer well, from both a political and a policy viewpoint. He also is right to be worried and want to take action on climate change; Bush couldn't care less.

In politics message, and thus language, is everything. Bush and Blair managed to illustrate their contrasting views pretty well without looking like they oppose each other absolutely.

[Bush and Brown's] words subtly illustrated, not policy differences, but their own policy priorities and approaches.

President Bush's language was, as always, full of phrases like "the war against extremists and radicals" in Iraq and around the world.

Prime Minister Brown deliberately described terrorism as a "crime", in an effort perhaps to demystify it and make it easier for everyone around the world, Muslims included, to oppose it.

And he tried to paint a more complex picture of Iraq by differentiating the factions - the Sunni/Shia split, the "involvement of Iran", the "large number of al-Qaeda terrorists".

However, as Mr Bush said, both agreed that this was "akin to the Cold War".
He called Afghanistan the "front line against terrorism," an honour normally assigned by Mr Bush to Iraq.

The British prime minister also referred a couple of times to the issue of "climate change". Mr Bush did not.

The point about Iraq and Afghanistan is that these are policies that Mr Brown inherited. This relationship has not yet been tested in the development of new ones.

The most difficult one could be Iran. Further sanctions are expected to be discussed at the UN in September but if there is no progress in getting Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, there could be pressure within the Bush administration for military action to be taken before the president leaves office in January 2009.

That would indeed be a test to see if the US and UK stayed together.

Brown also seems to be much more serious on humanitarian issues like Darfur than Bush, who limits his action on such issues to mere rhetoric (unless such issues might relate to his fight against terror, like in Somalia, then he'll even agree to indirectly work with/help the dreaded North Korea). Brown takes a special interest in world poverty and the plight of many in Africa; Bush cares only if terrorists may be involved, and even then the focus is not on the possible source of terrorism support: poverty, plight, and insecurity. Africa has plenty of that, and the Islamist extremists are taking advantage of that.

With all this talk of unity and strong ties, the leaders of America and the UK seem to have plenty of issues on which they disagree.

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