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British Anti-Americanism

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Britainís major military role in the US-led war to disarm Saddam Hussein and remove him from power has brought the issue of British attitudes towards America once more to the fore. Tony Blairís government allied itself closely to the USA both under the Clinton and Bush administrations. This would not appear to be merely a matter of political expediency. Blairís actions and his pronouncements on Anglo-American relations seem to reflect a widespread British perception; namely that Britain and the USA have a close cultural, historical and ideological affinity and share many common interests and concerns. There are, however, also strong currents of British public opinion that are very critical of the United States and deeply sceptical of US intentions, especially under a Republican administration.

Blairís decision to militarily support the USA on Iraq even without a new and specific United Nations resolution was thus a very controversial one in the UK and carried major political risks for him. These risks were compounded by the fact that many on the left of his own party had already opposed, or at least felt very uneasy, about Blairís earlier decision to militarily participate in the campaign to remove Al-Qaeda and the Taliban from Afghanistan. Going to war with Iraq made Blair deeply unpopular with the left of his own Labour Party and, amongst sections of the wider public, especially many of those who might under normal circumstances be expected to support a government led by a party traditionally of the left. In the decisive vote in the House of Commons on whether to support British participation in the war with Iraq, 139 Labour Party Members of Parliament, out of a total of 410 Labour MPs, voted against their own governments decision to send a 45,000 strong military expedition to Iraq. This was the largest active rebellion in the House of Commons by members of a governing party in over a century. This underestimates the extent of opposition within the parliamentary Labour Party to Blairís policy on Iraq as many Labour MPs only supported their government under severe pressure from the party leadership.1

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