WHEN BRITISH Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed fellow Labour Party members less than three weeks after 9-11, he made a solemn pledge on behalf of his people to the United States. "From this nation goes our deepest sympathy and prayers for the victims and our profound solidarity with the American people," Blair said.
"We were with you at the first. We will stay with you to the last."
At the time, it was an easy commitment to make. Shocked by the horrors of the September attacks, the leaders of most every country not on the State Department's list of terrorist-sponsoring states rushed to offer similar sympathies and assurances of support. But in short order, most of America's "allies" in the War on Terror proved themselves less than wholly worthy of the title.
But not Great Britain, and not Prime Minster Blair. A year later, as most of the international order bristles at the prospect of taking the war to Iraq, Blair stands alone in resisting the weak-kneed, appeasement-minded ways of fellow European elites.
At his joint press conference with President George W. Bush at Camp David last weekend, Blair spoke with a moral and intellectual clarity otherwise lacking among the other leaders of his country and his continent. Iraq, he warned, "is an issue we have to deal with, and…the policy of inaction, doing nothing about it, is not something we can responsibly adhere to."
In a rebuke to the hate-America-first crowd, Blair added, "It's not Britain nor America that's in breach of United Nations resolutions, It's Saddam Hussein and Iraq." And then, "the U.N.'s got to be the way of dealing with this issue, not the way of avoiding dealing with it."
Take that, Kofi Annan-the U.N. secretary general recently said that "it would be unwise to attack Iraq now," as though it might somehow be wiser to postpone an invasion until after Saddam Hussein has developed nuclear weapons.
And pooh-pooh on you, Jacques Chirac, the French President who has been doing what French politicians do best-cowering-denouncing a "unilateral solution" to the Iraq problem as "unacceptable."
The list of international leaders lobbying for Hussein's long and uninterrupted reign also includes Canada's Jean Chrétien, who thinks the world still needs more proof of the Butcher of Baghdad's malfeasance. Former KGB mucky-muck and current Russian president Vladimir Putin has, through a spokesman, expressed, "serious doubts that there are grounds for the use of force in connection with Iraq from the standpoint of international law or from a political standpoint." And German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, seeming insufficiently grateful for a U.S.-sponsored "regime change" in his own country a half-century ago, continues to beat the anti-war drum, joined, of course, by those renowned pacifists in the Chinese Communist leadership.
Blair's assessment of such carping? "Straightforward anti-Americanism," he says.
In a world community full of skeptics, Blair alone comprehends that the War on Terror is a war of self-defense, one that the U.S. and its true allies are not only entitled, but obligated to wage. He dismisses the popular European depiction of Bush as a war-mongering dolt, calling it, "a parody of the George Bush that I know and work with."
In the two months immediately following the 9-11 attacks, it was Blair who traveled world over putting together an international coalition in support of the war's first phase, the liberation of Afghanistan. The BBC estimates that, in total, the prime minister held 54 meetings with world leaders, traveling more than 40,000 miles total from Russia to Pakistan to Syria and to the U.S.
Even now, with international support far more difficult to come by, Blair continues his mission. He has met with Saudi, Spanish, and Italian officials to make the case against Iraq, and he has telephoned both Chirac and Putin. In October, he will travel to Moscow to meet with Putin personally.
He does so at a great political risk. Polls in Britain show a majority of the public opposing any use of British troops in Iraq, especially without U.N. approval. A BBC survey of 100 Labour Members of Parliament found that close to 90 believe there is insufficient evidence to justify an invasion. Even in Blair's own Cabinet, a number of ministers have publicly taken odds with his position.
Across the continent, a joint survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the German Marshall Fund found that 55 percent of Europeans believe that, at least to some degree, the blame for 9-11 belongs with American foreign policy. Only one in ten Europeans supports unilateral U.S. action against Iraq.
By siding with Bush and the U.S., Blair puts himself at odds with the European leaders he must work with regularly and the very members of his party on whom his office depends. That's an amazing display of principle for a leader once widely dismissed as Britain's Bill Clinton. But while Clinton makes headlines by questioning Bush's direction on the war, Blair has become the President's most steadfast and eloquent defender, vowing that his country is willing to pay a "blood price" to help rid the world of the threat posed by radical Islam.
In the year since 9-11, Blair has repeatedly demonstrated that Bush was right, when, in that historic address before Congress and the world, he declared that "America has no truer friend than Great Britain."