BRAIN DRAIN

Please Don't Hire Tony Blair

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By James Forsyth
Sunday, September 10, 2006

Things must be pretty bad for a trip to the West Bank town of Ramallah to seem like a chance to get away from it all. But that is where British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- hounded at home by his own party -- headed this weekend.

America's top defender abroad spent last week pulling knives out of his back, front and sides. Critics within his party insisted that he should announce the date of his resignation-- a move that would make Blair not just a lame duck but a legless one. His statement on Thursday that he would be gone by this time next year isn't enough: The rebels want a precise timetable. Even former Blair loyalists have collected signatures for letters imploring him to stand aside.

One small consolation for the prime minister: He won't be short of job offers once he takes early retirement. As long ago as 2001, the then-popular P.M. mused to the Sunday Telegraph about how "lucky" he was that he'll "get out before my working life is over. I'll have time to do something else."

That something else is likely to be on this side of the Atlantic, where Blair is in greater demand than back home and would probably earn more money -- a real concern for a man who likes the good life and must pay off a mortgage on a $6 million London townhouse. Indeed, if the London papers and rumor mills are to be believed, establishment Washington institutions such as the Carlyle Group or Georgetown University -- where Blair delivered a major foreign-policy speech in May -- could be seeking his services.

But American institutions should issue a moratorium -- a long one -- on hiring Blair. Yes, America's best friend has stood by the nation in times of war and controversy. But for that very reason, the U.S. national interest would be better served if Blair remained in Britain, where his reputation will steadily recover after he steps down, and where he could continue to make the case for the values that unite the two nations.

If Blair takes a big-bucks job over here, he will join a long line of world leaders whose support for American values has landed them in U.S. universities or think tanks. It must be nice to have friendly foreigners on hand to lionize U.S. virtues, but this pro-American brain drain is a luxury the United States can't afford as it wages a battle of ideas worldwide.

As Washington looks south at a rising tide of Hugo Chávez-led populism, it must rue the fact that two of Latin America's most high-profile supporters of free markets now reside at U.S. universities. Former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who tamed his country's inflation and transformed its economy, is now a professor at Brown University. And after serving as Mexico's budget secretary and president during the 1990s, U.S. ally Ernesto Zedillo returned to Yale, his alma mater, to direct its center on globalization. Similarly, as U.S. policymakers contemplate how India's intransigence contributed to the recent failure of the World Trade Organization to reduce trade barriers, they must wonder whether Indian free-trade guru and economist Jagdish Bhagwati could have tilted the balance back home if he still lectured at the Indian Statistical Institute or the Delhi School of Economics rather than Columbia University.

Consider the debate over Muslim radicalization in Europe. The Dutch-Somali politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali -- famous as a writer for the documentary "Submission," about the role of women in Islam -- was making the provocative but important argument that, in the Netherlands, Dutch values should trump Islamic ones when they come into conflict. But now she's at Washington's American Enterprise Institute. And former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar -- who sent his country's troops to Iraq despite deep resistance at home -- isn't spending his time in Europe debating the merits of U.S. policy; instead, he's a scholar at Georgetown and sits on the board of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Hiring friendly foreigners not only cuts them out of the debate in their own countries, but also taints their reputations back home, as former Harvard academic Michael Ignatieff is learning. Ignatieff is running for the Liberal Party leadership in his native Canada, where he supports involvement in the fight against terrorism and ridicules anti-Americanism as the "patriotism of fools." In short, Ignatieff is as good as Washington can get as the leader of Canada's left-wing party.

But his political opponents are using the time he spent south of the border against him. "Michael Ignatieff wants to be prime minister of our country," columnist Paul Wells wrote in the Canadian newsweekly Macleans last week. "And just in case I'm not being clear, I mean Canada ." The many years Ignatieff spent in England don't generate anywhere near as much attention as his five-year stint as a professor in Cambridge, Mass., illustrating people's sensitivity to the notion of their leaders being seduced by the Yankee dollar -- or corrupted by superpower values.

U.S. institutions should not, obviously, bar their doors to foreigners. American universities, in particular, generate goodwill toward the United States; those who spend a few years studying here are more likely to return home and foster empathy for the American predicament. In the short term, however, even the most precocious Fulbrighters are unlikely to reshape their countries' attitudes toward the United States. Leading pro-American politicians and intellectuals from abroad are a rare commodity -- one that shouldn't be wasted here on the homefront.

The United States must export more pro-Americans than it imports. Maybe it's time to round up all these sympathetic foreigners -- and send them home.

jforsyth@carnegieendowment.org

James Forsyth is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy magazine.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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