When British Prime Minister Gordon Brown delivered his maiden speech on foreign affairs last month, the first thing that some of the reporters noticed was the formal tail coat he chose to wear for the occasion. When chancellor of the exchequer in former prime minister Tony Blair's government, Brown was considered a chippy outsider who insisted on wearing plain suits even when the rules of protocol demanded fancy tailoring. The fact that he has now brought a "penguin outfit" with a white tie out into public view - there are those who said "power dressing" - seemed to signal that the new prime minister of Great Britain wants to be taken seriously in the international arena.
However the new message - which a few saw as extreme - that the "penguin" delivered in his speech was far more significant than the small revolution in his wardrobe. The first inkling of this message came during Brown's visit to Camp David back in July. His chilly body language signaled: The era of Bush's "poodle" has ended. The dog is no longer wagging its tail. It is turning its back on its master and setting out on an independent path.
This was evident in Brown's decision to withdraw 1,000 British soldiers from Basra in Iraq as well as in his decision to bring Lord Malloch-Brown - formerly Kofi Anan's deputy at the United Nations and a harsh critic of the American administration - into his cabinet.
In the speech itself, the prime minister did declare that the relationship with the United Sates is still Britain's "most important bilateral relationship," but this statement was seen as mainly lip-service, swallowed up in the central vision he wished to present: Under the heading "hard-headed internationalism," Brown talked about a global society without borders; about a world of strong and modern international institutions that are suited to dealing with the challenges of the 21st century and about a world of nations that are united and not setting out on unilateral adventures.
If Blair was United States President George W. Bush's nippy poodle who embarked with its master on a crusade against the Sons of Darkness of international terror, Brown is seen as the pragmatic nerd who looks toward United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and reserves his moral zeal for more practical matters:
In Brown's new lexicon, one says fighting poverty and cluster bombs - instead of radical Islam; multilateralism - instead of a single-power world and "a network of alliances" - instead of "a special relationship" with the United States.
In Israel no one is upset by this analysis. First of all, it is said, the difference between Brown and Blair boils down to style, not essence. Brown's foreign policy speech was intended only to stroke, and win points with, a public opinion that has not forgiven Blair for his involvement in Iraq. On the question of the Iranian nuclear program, Brown is evincing consistent determination, supporting the European sanctions initiative and not dismissing the military option.
Finally, while Blair continues to stand out in the international arena as the Quartet's envoy to the region, presumably Brown - who at the moment is in any case bothered by scandals at home that are shaking up his party - will also in future leave his Foreign Secretary David Miliband more rope than was left to his predecessors.
As far as Jerusalem is concerned, this is good news: Miliband visited Israel recently and left "an excellent impression" on his hosts, who define him as "serious" and "brilliant." The Jewish minister told his interlocutors here that it is his intention to take the opportunity of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state to protest the disgrace of the boycott initiative by British academics and labor unions and to upgrade the strategic relations between the two countries.
Miliband, and ultimately Brown as well, are faithful to the British tradition of Euro-skepticism and pro-Americanism. Their administration, together with that of President Nicolas Sarkozy in France and Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, has created in the trinity of the main capitals of Europe a rare constellation of support for Israel.
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