Michael Gerson

"The reason why the stance of a lot of public opinion is quite defeatist in my view is because we are still saying, 'Well, they've got a point, we understand their grievance, maybe it is our fault.' . . . We get rid of two of the most brutal and terrible dictatorships, who've killed hundreds of thousands of their people, we then say you can have a United Nations-backed process of democracy -- and you say that provoked them to terrorism. I mean, explain that one for me."

In our conversation, Blair would not be drawn into second-guessing on failures in early stages of the Iraq war -- troop levels, de-Baathification and the like. Those debates, while "perfectly legitimate," do not account for decisive factors beyond the control of the coalition, particularly the bombing campaign of al-Qaeda and Iran's strategy of "containing America" by seeking to "bog them down in Iraq."

"If those two external elements were not there, this thing would be very nearly manageable," Blair told me. "Sometimes you have to come to a very simple conclusion, which is that your enemies decided to fight you."

In the conventional wisdom, Blairism has been buried under the debris of Iraq. Yet Blair insists there is no substitute for an active internationalism. "The alternative, in the end, comes down to a combination of either hope that it [terrorism] doesn't come after us, which after 9/11 isn't very sensible, or alternately in certain parts of Europe, leave that to the Americans."

Whatever the outcome of the Iraq war, the world Blair describes is not going away. Will the next prime minister and the next U.S. president serenely accept the proliferation of terrible weapons to unstable regimes? Will they ignore the pleas of dissidents and the suffering that comes from treatable disease? Perhaps. But those leaders would find that there are moral consequences to inaction as well as to action and that retreat can lead to some nasty and dangerous places.

Predicting a legacy is a tricky thing, but Blair's is clear. Thirty years ago, Harvard political theorist Harvey Mansfield mockingly asked, "Who today is called a liberal for strength and confidence in defense of liberty?" By this high standard, Tony Blair is a liberal.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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