The last time I had seen Prime Minister Tony Blair was on July 7, 2005, the day terrorists left a spray of glass and bodies across Tavistock Square in London. Blair, presiding over a Group of Eight summit at a golf resort in Scotland, was at first shaken and subdued. But as he gathered information on the attacks, he visibly gathered resolve. Before heading down to London, he showed me the speech he had written for that evening -- concise, elevated, with a perfect pitch of restrained emotion -- which I was powerless to improve.
On Wednesday, sitting in shirtsleeves by the pool at the British Embassy in Washington, Blair recalled that day, along with Sept. 11, 2001, as evidence of a movement with "completely unnegotiable demands" that is "prepared to visit unlimited destruction."
"They are prepared to play a long game," he told me, "and they believe that we are not." Blair's impending departure from the game makes that terrorist belief more plausible.
The prime minister's staff, over drinks, will complain that he cares too much for the views of the press and that he makes decisions at the last possible minute. But they also describe an active intelligence and a rare ability to see the logical essence of things.
More than that of any other world leader, Blair's foreign policy approach is a rigorous, logical argument. Like advancements in communications and the global economy, political challenges, Blair contends, have "immediate impact, an ability to cross frontiers." Irresponsible and failing states become bases of operation for terrorist, crime and drug syndicates. This chaos is tamed, in his view, by promoting economic development, treating killer diseases, fighting global warming and achieving peace in the Middle East -- an agenda of exhausting idealism. "Justice," he says, "is the thing that is most powerful in its appeal to people."
But Blair's liberalism not only purrs, it bites. When distant chaos grows too intense and threatening, Blair has advocated military interventions from Kosovo to Sierra Leone to Afghanistan to Iraq.
His muscular internationalism might best be described as half globalization theory and half Gladstone -- the Victorian-era, Liberal prime minister who symbolizes high-minded, humanitarian intervention. Blair speaks a neon language of right and wrong and sees Britain as a global force for good. And he has little patience for a trendy moral equivalence:
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