LONDON - British Prime Minister Tony Blair is no Margaret Thatcher, but he sounded like her clone when he took to the floor of the House of Commons last Wednesday (Jan. 15) during the weekly Question Time and gave a spirited defense for the necessity of toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Responding to criticism of Blair's Iraqi policy from within his own party, as well as from the Conservative opposition, Blair delivered a formidable oration that combined the intense anti-Communist rhetoric of Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and a substance reminiscent of Winston Churchill's warning about a "gathering storm " created by another dictator in the last century.
Blair was asked by Member of Parliament Dennis Skinner whether, during his forthcoming meeting with President Bush in Washington, he will "tell George Bush that there is almost certainly a majority of the British people against the idea of a war with Iraq. Will he (cq) tell him that a lot of the British people are against the war because they see it is all about America getting its hands on the oil supplies in the Middle East? "
Skinner added the familiar slander that this President Bush is vain and is "concerned more about finishing the job that his father failed to complete 10 years ago."
Leaping to his feet, Blair responded that if oil were the reason for war with Iraq, "it would be infinitely simpler to cut a deal with Saddam, who would ... be delighted to give us access to as much oil as we wanted if he could carry on building weapons of mass destruction. The very reason why we are taking the action we are taking (has) nothing to do with oil or any of the other conspiracy theories put forward. It (has) to do with one simple fact: the United Nations has laid down - indeed, it has been laying down for 10 years - that Saddam Hussein has to disarm himself of weapons of mass destruction and that he poses a threat because he used those weapons, and I believe that we have to make sure that the will of the United Nations is upheld."
So much for getting one more U.N. resolution, as some have requested. What good would another resolution do when Saddam has failed to heed all the others?
Later, Blair returned to the subject in response to another member's call to allow the U.N. weapons inspectors to "do their job" and that member's contention that if President Bush takes "unilateral action against Iraq, he will be defying the United Nations."
Blair said, "... the only reason we have U.N. weapons inspectors back in there is the firm stand that has been taken. Does anyone seriously believe that we would have U.N. weapons inspectors back in Iraq if there were a possibility of disarmament happening in a peaceful way? Does anyone really believe that they would be there if we had not sent the clearest possible signal?"
Then came the Churchillian part: "It is also important ... to ensure that we continue to send that signal of strength. If Saddam believes for a single instant that the will of the international community has abated - that the international community does not have the solidity of purpose that it needs to see this thing through - the consequences of either conflict or prolonged conflict are increased .... If we can avoid conflict we should, but the choice is Saddam's .... Does anyone believe that, if we do not take a stand as an international community now in respect to weapons of mass destruction, some terrorist group is not in the future going to get hold of that material and use it? " Blair added ominously, "... the threat is real, and if we do not deal with it the consequences of our weakness will haunt future generations."
The British press is awash in breathtakingly virulent anti-American rhetoric because of U.S. policy on Iraq. President Bush is mocked as an ignoramus, and America is excoriated in ways usually reserved for enemies, not friends.
Into this breach has marched Blair, who has been a consistent supporter of the president's policies, because he knows terrorism also affects Britain, which is now home to an unknown number of terrorists who wish his nation as much harm as they do the United States.
Blair's steadfastness has been his finest hour. One can hear Lady Thatcher giving a "hear, hear!" for his not "going wobbly."