Friday, May 11, 2007

Blair Premiership Ends With Grace and Resolve

This morning's Los Angeles Times had a nice overview of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's announcement that he will step down in June. Blair spent 10 years in office (not at 10 Downing Street by the way; he moved into another ministry residence at 11 Downing, which afforded more space for his family). He departs his post defending the Iraq War to the end, with his impeccable eloquence, as always:

Addressing a roomful of Labor Party members, Blair sought to underline achievements that have brought near-record prosperity to Britain and injected new life into health and education services, even as he quietly but adamantly defended his decision to send British troops to war in Iraq.

"I ask you to accept one thing. Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right," Blair told the supporters, who alternately cheered and wiped back tears, in his home constituency in the northeastern England district of Sedgefield.Blair called up the image of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the decision he made, which was to prove the most fateful of his premiership, to "stand shoulder to shoulder with our oldest ally," the United States."

And so Afghanistan and then Iraq, the latter bitterly controversial, and removing Saddam and his sons from power," he said. "The blowback since from global terrorism and those elements that support it has been fierce and unrelenting and costly, and for many it simply isn't and can't be worth it.

"For me, I think we must see it through," he said. "The terrorists who threaten us here and round the world will never give up if we give up. It is a test of will and of belief, and we can't fail it."
Here's some more:

A baby-boomer politician, Blair ushered in an era dubbed "Cool Britannia," having fronted a rock band at Oxford and becoming the first British prime minister since 1848 known to have had a child in office. Blair also displayed an uncanny knack for capturing the public mood while displaying an equal willingness to ignore it on issues such as Iraq.

"Your duty as prime minister is to act according to your conviction," he said Thursday.

That Blair saw the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks as a global turning point that created an obligation on the part of like-minded nations to act was apparent in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11. His remarks after the attacks were widely regarded as more forceful and eloquent than those of President Bush.

"We need to mourn the dead, and then act to protect the living," he said at the time. "Our beliefs are the very opposite of the fanatics. We believe in reason, democracy and tolerance. These beliefs are the foundation of our civilized world."

More than that, Blair showed he shared Bush's belief that democratic values could be used as agents of change against repressive regimes and ancient hostilities.

"The kaleidoscope has been shaken," Blair said in 2001. "The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder this world around us."

Even before the Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent transit system bombings that killed 52 people in London in 2005, Blair had fashioned his doctrine of an "ethical foreign policy" that would give "new momentum" to arms control, work for a ban on land mines and push the environment and human rights higher on the international agenda.

Blair made the case for international intervention in Kosovo in 1999 and in Sierra Leone in 2000 to curb escalating violence."Tony is your classic liberal interventionist," said Clive Solely, former chairman of the parliamentary Labor Party. "His frustration is that things like the U.N. are unable to deal with your tyrannical regimes, or failing state regimes, because there isn't a structure for enforcement.
I would add that Blair's version of liberal internationalism was particularly muscular. Of course, his foreign policy resolve got him into political trouble with the Labor Party. He lost Robin Cook, his first foreign inister, when he resigned in 2003 over the Iraq War. More recently, Labor has had electoral problems:

Labor's credibility has sunk to the point that this month the party took just 27% of the vote in elections for local councils in England and the parliaments in Scotland and Wales, losing Scotland by one seat to the Scottish National Party. Labor members of parliament had seen the trouble coming, and had pushed Blair since as early as last fall to set a timetable for his departure, which some have labeled "the long goodbye."
For more on Blair's foreign policy philosophy -- and especially his statement of principles on the rightness of the War on Terror -- see my earlier post citing Blair's article in Foreign Affairs, "Islamist Extremism and the Battle for Global Values."

Note also that Gordon Brown, Britain's Finance Minister,
made his formal announcement today that he'll seek the prime minister's post. Brown's expected to weaken the Anglo-American alliance substantially, creating some distance between Britain's foreign policy to that of the United States.

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