Posted: Feb 28, 2003 12:00 AM
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- He used to be dismissed as Tony Blinton, a Clintonesque slave to polls and public opinion. Now British Prime Minister Tony Blair is taking heat for not bowing to public opinion and instead steadfastly supporting George W. Bush on possible war with Iraq. Now he's my hero. And I'm not the only American grateful to Blair for showing true leadership -- he has the courage to take a political risk for the greater good. Which made me wonder how Bob Mulholland, the California Democratic Party bad boy who has served as an adviser to Blair and his Labor Party, was juggling his support for Blair as Blair supports President Bush. Mulholland, you see, loves Blair, but not Bush. Or "Bush Jr.," as Mulholland calls him. So I went to Democratic Party headquarters to ask Mulholland about Blair and his role as the new best buddy of President Bush. Is Blair right to support the United States on Iraq? Yes, Mulholland replied. Is Bush right on Iraq? Mulholland said that he doesn't know. Blair's spot on. Bush is iffy. Blair, Mulholland predicted , will survive politically because it's the end game that counts in military matters. Mulholland added that Bush erred when he walked away from the Kyoto global-warming pact. Bush angered Europe, now America is paying the price -- a split in Euro-think over the Iraq situation. To my surprise, I have come to agree with Mulholland on that. As policy, Bush was right to reject Kyoto. But as a matter of politics, he should have pretended that he really wanted to meet Kyoto's greenhouse-gas reduction goals, while doing as close to nothing as a president can do to not meet them. That's what President Clinton did -- and it worked for him. Then Mulholland faulted Bush for not knowing how to talk in a way that appeals to Europeans. It was mistake, he argued, for Bush to say Osama bin Laden was wanted "dead or alive." White House aide Tucker Eskew responded to Mulholland's dig, saying: "Hard-core partisans will always struggle to find criticism of a successful leader. If that's the best he can do, he's reflecting that struggle." Mulholland's not the first Democrat who knew better than to attack Bush on a war the public supports, so he stooped to saying that Bush failed to sell the use of force against Iraq. It's not what Bush is doing, but how he's doing it. Disappointed Democrats sigh that it's too bad Bush is not as articulate as Blair. Except that across the pond, the same chorus is being sung by Blair's critics. A recent Guardian headline read: "Blair hasn't even convinced his own security establishment" on Iraq. "You cannot just take people for granted," a Conservative Party spokesman complained to The New York Times. The problem isn't Blair's delivery; it's that there are Europeans who won't be persuaded by any argument or fact. Mulholland pointed to a recent poll in Germany by the independent polling agency Forsa. When asked who was the "greatest threat to world peace," 38 percent of Germans said Hussein, 37 percent said Bush. Forsa also found that 57 percent of Germans believe the United States is "a nation of warmongers." Mulholland interprets the poll as saying "that these people have been our friends since the end of World War II. We, with the Marshall Plan, rebuilt them. They became the (world's) third-largest economy. It says that we may be talking (wrong) and doing the wrong things." We're wrong? No, they're ingrates, I retorted. "Typical American," Mulholland fired back at me. Guilty as charged.