blair speaks 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
British Prime Minister Tony Blair had been working for weeks on the landmark address he delivered to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles on Tuesday night. The fact that he wound up giving it at the height of Israel's effort to dismantle Hizbullah's military capability, and at the height of international criticism of Israel for that effort, only served to enhance its relevance.
His critics at home - and they are many and are increasingly vocal - deride Blair as President Bush's poodle, the White House's dependable "yes man" across the pond. The embarrassing open-microphone incident last month in which the US president memorably called him over with a "Yo, Blair," was seized upon delightedly by those critics as proof of the master-servant Bush-Blair relationship.
His most potent critics, however, are those who recoil in horror at the notion that Blair does not back Bush, and thus in turn back Israel, because of his thrall for the might of the world's antiterror superpower, but rather because he actually thinks Bush is right.
For large swathes of the British demographic - notably a goodly proportion of academia, the teaching profession, the church, the trade unions and the media - Bush is a bone-headed, leaden-footed warmonger, stirring up anti-Western aggression by throwing unthinking force at Islamic extremism. And Blair is his earnest little helper. Even the July 7 bombings last year in London - a home-hatched quadruple suicide bombing with no remotely conceivable purported legitimacy - left much of elite British public opinion disinclined to acknowledge that the world is in the throes of a struggle between those who value life and those who have been wooed into an Islamic death cult.
For many of these elites, the world would just be a better, safer place if Israel would only disappear. The Zionist enterprise is regarded as an incongruous colonial growth, an upstart irritant to its Muslim neighbors whose removal would immediately sate Islamic aggression and alleviate the core grievance deemed to be fuelling global Islamic terrorism.
Blair, inconveniently, begs to differ. Because of the ineptitude of the opposition Conservative Party, he has won election after election even as his insistently intelligent attitude to the challenge of Islamic terrorism placed more and more of his own Labor Party faithful at odds with him. But his once-boyish appeal has been waning of late. Corruption allegations have swirled around his government. His Labor rivals are becoming bolder. And the Conservatives have a fresh-faced young leader of their own now in David Cameron.
On Tuesday night, while the UK's state-funded broadcaster, the BBC, was still savaging Israel over the Kana tragedy, and the British "serious" and "tabloid" press was near-unanimous in placing Blair in the wrong for identifying Hizbullah and by extension Iran as the root cause of the latest Middle East escalation, the British prime minister gave a speech of unusual subtlety, wisdom, honesty and courage. It is a speech that underlines how vital a role he has played at Bush's side these past few years, and what a gap he will leave when, sooner or later, he is replaced at 10 Downing Street.