In the latest installment of the Monkey See, Monkey Do game between the British and the U.S., Tony Blair followed the Bush administration's reshuffling of key positions with his own changes at 10 Downing Street. Most surprising was the axing of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. You'd think that a government experiencing serious credibility problems would hang on to those if its members who were speaking sense. But I guess Blair had had enough of Straw's realistic point of view.
Straw had warned his boss against following Bush into Iraq. But after the damage had been done, Straw played the good soldier, defending his chief's reckless foreign policy. Most recently, however, he has been quite vocal about the impossibility of an American/British attack on Iran, despite Blair's warnings to the contrary. So it was time to go.
Frustrated Brits, in need of some good cheer, will get just that in a few days time. Guess who's coming ashore to exploit Blair's political struggles? That's right! Hugo Chavez.
Against Blair's wishes, London mayor Ken Livingston has invited the Venezuelan president to England. While there, Chavez will be feted by a gallery of politicans and celebrities, including Harold Pinter, Labor MP Tony Benn, Tariq Ali, Bianca Jagger, and Bono. And in a strange development, Oxford University will supposedly present Chavez with an honoaray PhD in law.
Chavez and his cronies wasted no time in cranking-out propoganda for the visit, publically snubbing Blair by stating that Chavez had no interest in meeting with him. In the past, the two leaders have exchanged nasty words about one another. Most recently, Chavez labeled Blair a "pawn of imperialism," and derided him as "the main ally of Hitler" (apparently in reference to Bush). When Blair suggested that Chavez had no respect for international law, Chavez responded by pointing out that Blair does "not have the morality to call on anyone to respect the rules of the international community."
Hopefully, we'll be treated to more verbal battles of this sort leading up to Chavez's arrival. The visit is clearly meant to take advantage of Blair's increasingly weak standing as British PM. Said Livingston:
Hugo Chávez ... was rescued from an illegal military coup by mass popular resistance. [He] has achieved this unprecedented electoral popularity because ... he introduced the first effective health service into Venezuela, commenced a mass literacy programme, and is paying for 250,000 people to have eye operations. We are proud to have such a figure visit London. Those seeking to isolate [him] show commitment not to democracy or the welfare of the Venezuelan people but to the anti-democratic policies of George Bush.
Blair's political standing has gone down the tube's over his willingness to follow Bush into the depths of hell. It will be interesting to see if Chavez can further inflame Brits' disgust with their government.