In many ways, Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair has recalled no one quite so much as Bill Clinton - a leftie of dubious moral heft with a wife intellectually stranger still. Lately, his Winston Churchill side has emerged.
Churchill was Britain's greatest prime minister. A relatively highborn liberal, he switched parties seemingly as casually - and as often - as most people change their socks. He leaned left domestically, but hawked right in military policy - knowing that a Britain vigorously armed and defended was its only course to survival. He loved France but in the early stages of World War II was repeatedly dismayed by French actions.
Also early on, Churchill understood Britain could not defeat Hitler without America's entry into the war - without overwhelming support from America in manpower as well as armament and logistics. His diligent efforts to persuade President Roosevelt to bring in the United States ultimately succeeded and keyed the allied victory. Those efforts also secured Britain's second-fiddle wartime status. Churchill spent most of the war - before America's entry, and after - rhetorically rallying the British people. No sooner had he almost single-handedly rallied them to success than they threw him out of office.
These days Tony Blair may be looking at a similar fate - a fate certain were there any political opposition in Britain worthy of the name.
As Churchill did, Blair nourishes a keen sense of Britain's changing - even diminishing - role in the world; like Churchill, Blair clearly understands and embraces the values Britain historically represents - justice, virtue and the rule of law. That understanding not only binds him to America and President Bush regarding the removal of Saddam Hussein, but also now has put him in conflict with a majority of his own people.
Churchill sought, through alliance with America, to be a bridge to Europe. Likewise, through alliance with America, Blair seeks to strengthen Britain's continental role. Churchill saw that without America in the war, Britain likely would follow the fate of France and fall to the Germans. Blair sees that without Britain as a steadfast (military) friend in Iraq, America would go it alone and likely win - and Britain's post-war role, as e.g. France's and Germany's are destined to do, would reduce to making noisome catcalls or importunate huzzahs from the peanut gallery.
So Gandalf-like, Blair is appealing to the Hobbitesque Britons to energize themselves and do what is necessary to destroy the power of today's Sauron.
Blair terms the disarming of Saddam a "life or death issue." He says: ¶
- "I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honor. But sometimes it is the price of leadership and the cost of conviction."
- "People who want to pull Europe and America apart are playing the most dangerous game of international politics I know." And: "I actually believe that some of the rhetoric I hear used about America is more savage than some of the rhetoric I hear about Saddam and the Iraqi regime."
- "Ridding the world of Saddam would be an act of humanity. It is leaving him there that is in truth inhumane." While it is his duty to understand and listen to the concerns of anti-war demonstrators, he also must listen - as the demonstrators themselves should - to the voices of the 4 million Iraqi exiles that want Saddam overthrown. And: "If 1 million marched against forcefully disarming and removing Saddam, that number still is smaller than the number killed in wars he started."
Without Blair's Britain, the United States probably would not have the support of the dozen other European countries aligning themselves with the U.S. (e.g., Spain, Italy, Denmark, Holland, Poland, and most of the former Soviet Balkan satellites). The United States well might not have the support of Turkey - dissed by the Hamlet-like, seemingly anti-Muslim Germans and French. And the United States probably would not have the support of crucial British Commonwealth countries.
By seeking yet another UN resolution when he has the one he needs (No. 1441, passed unanimously by the Security Council in November), President Bush may be frittering the advantage he had last fall. In truth, he probably should have begun moving troops in August, and initiated hostilities by December. But he may be seeking yet another resolution to help save Blair's bacon with the deeply dissenting British people, all the while positioning troops for the assault. As Macbeth said, "If a deed is worth doing, it is best done quickly."
And so it may yet be done: Iraq liberated and rid of its weapons, and the region stabilized for yet a while longer. America and Britain - Bush and Blair - redeemed. Justice, virtue and the rule of law re-established as the way the world should work.
And, for Messrs. Bush and Blair, it's all in the Churchillian mode: Even when the odds and popular sentiment (the polls) are running against you, "Never flinch. Never weary. Never despair."