For Anti-War Lobby, Gordon Brown May Be a Disappointment

A generalized warm feeling toward the U.S. need not translate into backing for the Bush administration’s foreign policy, of course. And divining Mr. Brown’s intentions is, as ever, a risky business.

During his years in charge of his nation’s purse-strings, he seemed to be ruled by pragmatism above all else.

The war in Iraq is immensely unpopular with British voters, Mr. Blair has been routinely derided as Mr. Bush’s poodle, and a recent survey suggested that only one-third of Britons now believe that America is a force for good in the world.

It would be politically foolhardy for Mr. Brown not to take these realities into account as he plots his first days as prime minister.

But creating an impression of greater independence and fundamentally changing policy toward the U.S. are two very different things.

The notion that Mr. Brown is significantly more left-wing than Mr. Blair often seems to be based on his ascetic, rumpled image rather than anything he has actually said.

Even when he admitted late last year that “we could have done things better” in Iraq, he denied that he had had any serious personal doubts about the invasion. Whatever mistakes were made, he emphasized, came “after the liberation of Iraq – and it was the liberation of Iraq – from Saddam Hussein.”

Such sentiments sit uneasily with those on the Left who have invested their hopes in Mr. Brown. But perhaps they should know better. After all, when the former (and now deceased) British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook published his memoirs in late 2003, he noted that in the immediate run-up to war Mr. Brown had delivered a “long and passionate statement of support” for the prime minister’s strategy in a cabinet meeting.

Mr. Brown is perhaps the shrewdest politician in Britain. He knows the electoral benefits to be gleaned from carving out a sense of distance between 10 Downing Street and the White House.

On matters of substance rather than style, however, he is unlikely to demand real change. And rumors of the death of the special relationship should, in time, prove to be greatly exaggerated.