- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2001

British Prime Minister Tony Blair once again has transformed a supporting role into a star turn as the United States prepares for war.

Mr. Blair, who publicly and privately prodded the Clinton administration to escalate NATO's 1999 campaign in Kosovo, now is the Bush administration's most eloquent and effective advocate as it organizes an international military and economic response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Mr. Blair's trip to Russia, Pakistan and India this week was just the latest foray in a frenetic round of shuttle diplomacy designed to rally global support for a strike against the terrorist network of Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the attacks.

British commentators say the crisis has proven a godsend in Mr. Blair's efforts to cultivate a strong relationship with President Bush and cement Britain's reputation as the United States' most reliable ally.

The prime minister's address Tuesday at the annual conference of his Labor Party in which he warned Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime to "surrender bin Laden or surrender power" was hailed in London and Washington as perhaps the clearest, most forceful expression of the anti-terrorism coalition's aims.

While saying the West should try to understand the roots of the hostility behind the terrorist network, Mr. Blair declared there could be no "moral ambiguity" about the evil of the attacks. "Nothing could ever justify the events of [Sept. 11], and it is to turn justice on its head to pretend it could," he said.

"He's Sundance to our Butch Cassidy,"John Hulsman, senior European analyst for the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said of Mr. Blair. "He's showing that he'll come out by our side when the Bolivian army starts shooting at us, that the idea of a 'special relationship' between the United States and Britain is more than just talk."

Several hundred British citizens are believed to have died in the destruction of the World Trade Center, and public support in Britain for a military response matches levels seen in the United States.

Addressing the House of Commons on Thursday before leaving for Moscow, Mr. Blair laid out a detailed case for bin Laden's guilt and vowed, "His terrorism must be eliminated."

"We act for justice, we act with world opinion behind us and we have an absolute determination to see justice done and this evil of mass international terrorism confronted and defeated," Mr. Blair told lawmakers.

Mr. Blair, 48, had enjoyed a close personal, generational and ideological bond with President Clinton. Both were "Third Way" politicians, liberal internationalists who revived the sagging fortunes of their left-of-center political parties.

The prime minister at first seemed to struggle to find a similar personal chemistry with Mr. Bush, 55. Unlike the Oxford-educated Mr. Blair, who took the traditional way up the party ladder to the top of British politics, Mr. Bush had not aimed for his nation's highest office despite his family's political traditions and his Yale and Harvard degrees.

White House and State Department officials praise Mr. Blair's stands against terrorism. The prime minister got a prime seat next to the first lady when Mr. Bush detailed the war on terrorism in his Sept. 20 address to a joint session of Congress.

"America has no truer friend than Great Britain," Mr. Bush, looking up at Mr. Blair in the gallery. "Once again, we are joined together in a great cause [and are] so honored the British prime minister has crossed an ocean to show his unity of purpose with America. Thank you for coming, friend."

Elected in 1997 after 18 years of Conservative Party rule, Mr. Blair won a sweeping re-election victory in June. But many attributed his margin to disarray among the Conservatives, and he faced a daunting, unglamorous series of domestic challenges before the terrorism crisis intervened.

Britain's press, normally quite critical of the prime minister, now gives mostly rave reviews to his diplomacy.

"There is no disputing that over the past two weeks he has grown in stature, and it is hard not to be impressed," columnist Stephen Glover wrote in the London Daily Mail. "There is something almost messianic about his utter commitment to the cause."

Mr. Blair's Labor Party address was "the most truthful, heartfelt, least-manufactured speech he has given but Afghanistan was only the start," Hugo Young wrote in the Guardian. "The entire Blair worldview came into focus … , a sight as impressive as it is, even in these times, unfashionable."

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