Four years ago British Prime Minister Tony Blair could probably have been voted into any elective office in the United States, had he been born in America. It was then that Blair made his memorable speech before the U.S. Congress on July 17. Britain, like most of our western allies, agreed that going to war with Iraq was justified, and the bond between Blair and George Bush had never been stronger. We and Great Britain had been convinced that Iraq either had weapons of mass destruction, or was about to acquire them. 

Fast forward to last Thursday. Tony Blair announced that he will step down on June 27. He is leaving without having been removed by his own party. As Gary Younge writes in The Nation, “In truth, he jumped before he was pushed.” Blair leaves behind a Britain that is more prosperous and more vigorous than when he took office. He laid the foundation for an enduring peace in Northern Ireland. He helped create separate legislatures in Scotland and Wales. After ten years in office, his country has seen continuous economic growth, low employment, and a cap on inflation.

Yet Blair is viewed as a liability, alienated from his political base – but most of all, tainted by his connection to George Bush whom he followed into Iraq. The Boston Globe quoted a portion of his address to his home constituency Thursday: “Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right. I may have been wrong. That’s your call. But believe one thing, if nothing else, I did what I thought was right for our country.”

There is no doubt that history’s judgment of Tony Blair will be a kinder appraisal than he is now receiving. Britain has been the target of Islamic acts of terror as well as the U.S., and Blair saw that the most effective way to protect his country was to join the U.S. in its fight against the tyranny of terrorism. He assumed, as did many in this country, that the Bush administration’s intelligence operations and military strategy were competent.

This misplaced trust has cost him his political career and has debased many of his accomplishments. Yet, as Peter Beinart of the Council on Foreign Relations notes, “Blair’s analysis of the world today is exactly right. But because of Iraq, few are listening to him. Such is the tragedy of the most visionary leader in the world today.” And this from Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal: “He leaves as he presided, with spirit and dignity, an example to American political figures and, one would hope, an inspiration.”

Great Britain remains a staunch ally of the United States, as evidenced by the many expressions of affection and appreciation when Queen Elizabeth visited Virginia and Washington, D.C. However, it appears unlikely that the relationship will remain as solid under Gordon Brown, Blair’s successor. Peter Brookes writes in the National Review, “(Blair) was a solid ally in the days following 9/11 and in the wars on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. His stepping down clearly marks the end of an era in U.S.-British relations. We’re also likely to see a move away from a personal relationship with President Bush, who has worked well and closely with Blair over the last six years.”

The tragedy of the Iraq war, the loss of thousands of American lives, thousands more wounded, and the trillions of dollars that might have been spent more productively, are misfortunes on this side of the Atlantic. But when a global perspective is placed on the conflict, Britain’s losses and Blair’s personal forfeitures must be added to the mix.

Anyone who has ever watched C-SPAN and Blair’s gleaming performances before the House of Commons cannot deny his political skills, basic strengths, and attributes of sincerity and honesty. Compare these exhibitions with George Bush’s appearances on the nightly news, and one wonders how these two world leaders could ever connect. Yet Blair clearly has set aside any sense of anger and betrayal, and publicly regards Bush as an equal and an effective executive. In fact, Blair has paid heavily for this position, labeled by his own media as “Bush’s poodle or lapdog.”

Thus, Blair must be counted among those victims the U.S. led down the garden path concerning Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and various justifications for launching and continuing the war in Iraq. The U.S. remains friendly territory for Blair, and should he return here again any time soon, he would undoubtedly enjoy a hero’s welcome as he did during his July 2003 visit.

It was then that Tony Blair made these comments, well worth remembering: “Members of Congress, ours are not Western values, they are the universal values of the human spirit. Anywhere, any time ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same: freedom, not tyranny; democracy, not dictatorship; the rule of law, not the rule of the secret police. The spread of freedom is the best security for the free. It is our last line of defense and our first line of attack. And just as the terrorist seeks to divide humanity in hate, so we have to unify it around an idea. And that idea is liberty.”

– Chase.Hamil

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