A Profile In Courage

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair leaves his official London residence, 10 Downing Street, Wednesday Jan. 28, 2004.
AP
This commentary from the Weekly Standard was written by Irwin M. Stelzer.

If you're interested in a modern profile in courage, keep your eye on the press conferences that will be a part of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's visit to America later this week. After a few days in Bermuda for much needed rest and recreation, and some time for detailed briefings on the situation in Iraq, Blair will sit down with President Bush to review what some are calling the current crisis, and to discuss how to manage the handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis, due to occur just a few months from now.

This is very much a meeting of friends as well as allies, perhaps not in the Roosevelt-Churchill sense, but in the sense of mutual admirers. Bush admires the prime minister because "he does what he says he is going to do." Blair, in turn, makes no secret of the regard in which he holds the president, lapsing into the colloquial style he uses when campaigning in pubs to call Bush "a clever bloke" (American translation: "an intelligent man"). Blair especially admires Bush's ability to see issues quickly and clearly, unburdened by what the prime minister considers the tendency of intellectuals to see so many sides of every problem that they are paralyzed into inaction.

It is not revealing a confidence to say that Blair worries daily that "today is the day when terrorists will hit Britain." So far, the United Kingdom's superb antiterrorism forces have managed to foil several plots -- and to round up the plotters -- to the consternation of the civil liberties claque that tends to elevate the rights of Muslims planning to blow up central London over the rights of the terrorists' intended victims to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Blair has played the roles of both tough cop and good cop. He has defied the civil libertarians by pushing through tough antiterrorism laws, while at the same time repeating that Islam is a peace-loving faith, thereby rallying the sensible elements in the Muslim community to his side. Last week he persuaded Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council, to urge all mosques to call upon their members to report known Islamofanatics to the authorities, a move that prompted several young Islamic firebrands to burn the Union Jack in Hyde Park, and to warn anyone who might "rat" on the bomb builders that they would be dealt with harshly.

Meanwhile, Blair's advisers tried to persuade him not to come to America. George W. Bush is the third rail of British politics, and the prime minister has been shown surveys reporting that British voters view Bush as a greater threat to Britain's safety than bin Laden. Make no mistake about it: The only thing more unpopular in Britain than the war in Iraq is the American president, with Blair a close third when he is seen to embrace the American president, or, as it is put here, when he acts as "Bush's poodle."

Blair finds all of this somewhere between puzzling and outrageous. He claims to be unable to comprehend why many in Britain and most in Europe just don't understand that we are in a war with an enemy that seeks to destroy the West and all its values. This enemy, he feels, places no value on human life, either its own or those of innocent civilians, and must be destroyed if the West is ever again to live without fear of wholesale slaughter. His nightmare is an enemy armed with biological or nuclear weapons, with the primary goal of destroying the West, and the secondary goal of obliterating Israel. In his view, these jihadists are not interested in the two-state Israel-Palestine solution for which he has fought; they want Israel erased from the map of the Middle East. Blair knows he gets no brownie points from the terrorists for having persuaded Bush to sign on to the now-aborted "road map" to peace in the Middle East.

He also finds it frustrating that so many people fail to see the importance of Iraq in the war on terror. Win in Iraq, establish a stable, self-governing and prosperous nation where once one of the world's most sadistic dictators held power, and all the charges made by bin Laden against the West are disproved. The coalition forces leave -- so much for the charge of imperialism. Iraq is left with all of its oil -- so much for the charge that the Americans went in to seize Iraq's most valuable resource. Iraqis decide their own fate -- so much for the charge that we seek to impose Western values on an Islamic country. The fear of an Iraq that stands as living, daily repudiation of all of the Islamofascist rants, reasons Blair, is why the terrorists are now so desperate to prevent a coalition victory there.

Madrid, of course, made things worse for the prime minister. For one thing, it converted Spain from an Aznar-led ally into a Zapatero-led appeaser, and to a supporter of the Franco-German axis that is attempting to build a new Europe on anti-American foundations. Blair finds it truly astonishing that so many Spaniards think that their future safety lies in withdrawing their troops from Iraq. He is astonished that there has been so little press attention to the fact that new terror plots were uncovered even after the new government made it known that its troops will come out of Iraq, unless the United Nations takes over the reconstruction and pacification effort -- which that organization, having fled the country immediately upon being attacked, is unlikely to do, even though it has now discovered that its casualties were largely the result of its own smug and lax attitude towards security.

Blair has to tread warily this week, of course. He is leaning against making any set-piece speeches, lest he seem to be interfering in the American elections. But he will hold press conferences. And, not in fact being Bush's poodle, he will urge the president to adopt a more conciliatory tone towards allies, potential allies, and even the Europeans who are hostile to him. It is a good guess that a bit less Donald Rumsfeld and a bit more Colin Powell would suit him just fine. Best of all would be a European tour by Condoleezza Rice, whom the cynics in the Blair entourage see as useful because she is a black woman, and whom the prime minister admires for her clarity of vision and expression.

America may not have many friends left in the world. Fortunately, with Blair willing to put his formidable rhetorical skills and his fine troops where his convictions are, we may not need a lot more.

Irwin M. Stelzer is director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute, a columnist for the Sunday Times (London), a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard.

By Irwin M. Stelzer By Irwin M. Stelzer ©