What Tony Learned

Posted: Jun 27, 2007 12:00 AM

They call him "Bush's poodle." Headlines scream "Good Riddance." They're saying he was thrown out of "10 Downer Street." After that, they get mean.

It's easy for some of his countrymen to jeer at Tony Blair as he leaves office as prime minister of Britain. But not by us, and not by friends of civilization. He has been a staunch friend of the United States, and he looks at the world with a visionary's eye. He didn't accomplish everything he tried to do, and sometimes he seemed a little eager to spin his "celebrity," but he has his values on straight.

Like George W. Bush, he couldn't foresee all the problems that would follow September 11 in the United States or "July 7" in his own country. "If you had told me a decade ago that I would be tackling terrorism," he wrote in the Economist magazine, in an essay titled "What I've Learned," not long ago, "I would have readily understood, but would have thought you meant Irish terrorism."

Actually, what he learned was that getting the Irish Republican Army to put down its guns and renounce violence was considerably easier than getting the Islamists to do the same. He learned that "international politics should not be simply a game of interests, but also of beliefs, things we stand for and fight for." Not an easy sell in a spectacularly fractured world.

Sad but true, Tony Blair is more admired in this country than in his own, and the Brits who dislike him dislike most his firm friendship with the Americans. Just as Churchill understood early on the menace of the Nazis and later of the Soviet Union, Tony Blair understands the deadly Islamist jihad, that we ignore the Islamist "will to win" at our peril. He boldly accuses his critics of naivete when they argue that removing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein has enabled terrorism to grow.

"This is a seductive but dangerous argument," he writes. "It means that because these reactionary and evil forces will fight hard through terrorism to prevent those countries and their people getting on their feet after the dictatorships are removed, we should leave those countries and their people getting on their feet after the dictatorships are removed." That's an accurate description of the logic of those who advocate cutting and running from Iraq: "It means our will to fight for what we believe in is measured by our enemy's will to fight us, but in inverse proportion."

Hitler thought exactly that after Munich. He was shocked when Britain didn't crumble under the Blitz. Osama bin Laden was shocked (and awed) when America retaliated strongly after 9/11. After all, we all but virtually ignored the terrorist attacks on embassies in Africa, on the USS Cole and the first bombing of the World Trade Center.

I read Tony Blair's defense of himself and country at the same time that Queen Elizabeth bestowed a knighthood on Salman Rushdie. My first thought was that it was a terrible decision, that the fatwa would be reprised calling for the murder of Rushdie. But that was a craven response to bullying, an internal self-censorship. We can't start basing literary awards on how thuggish certain Muslims will react. No award to a "fallen away Muslim" will be applauded by the madmen.

Tony Blair knows the power of a strong offense, and he understands that the brute power of violence plays well in the propaganda war. Islamist terrorism in a Madrid railroad station three days before Spain's parliamentary elections in 2004 changed the dynamics of the election -- and changed the government. The Spanish voters threw Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar out of office for joining George Bush's "coalition of the willing," holding the PM personally responsible for the terrorist retaliation. Spain quickly dropped out of the coalition.

Tony Blair is right to acknowledge that the terrorists have warped the thinking in the West, and right to warn against the coward's impulse that "makes us blame ourselves." He calls this a "dulling of the senses," creating a strong public demand to withdraw from Iraq. Who gets blamed for the lack of progress in the Palestinian problem? Inevitably, the West. When the crisis in Lebanon is provoked by these same malignant forces, who gets the blame? Inevitably, Israel.

He stresses the crucial importance of fighting the terrorist menace wherever it threatens us, and argues that the West must do better in making Western values more accessible to the darker regions of the world. "But this won't happen unless we stand up for our own values, are proud of them and advocate them with conviction." Hear, Hear. We'll miss you, Mr. Blair.