Wednesday, November 7, 2001

British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrives in Washington today after an intensive world tour spent shoring up support for the United States. He will meet with President Bush today, ahead of the meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York tomorrow. Mr. Blair’s performance has been exemplary since the attacks of September 11. It’s not just that Britain was the first to offer definitive military assistance in the retaliatory attacks on Afghanistan. Since September 11, Mr. Blair has traveled through Europe to the Middle East and back, smoothing over criticism against the United States and trying to ensure that the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism is unified.

On Sept. 20, when Mr. Bush addressed Congress and the nation to declare his war on terrorism, it was Mr. Blair who sat next to Mrs. Bush in the visitor’s gallery, providing silent support. It was Mr. Blair who publicized the proof that Osama bin Laden had links to the hijackers and that his terrorist al Qaeda organization had a role in the attacks. In the days following the attacks, Mr. Blair visited Berlin, Paris, New York and Washington. He has since acted as the United States’ emissary in Russia, Pakistan, Oman, Syria and Egypt, to name a few.

In Europe, allies feel underutilized. In the Middle East and even in some European cities, critics are quick to say that the United States is not as involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as they would like. Mr. Blair has sought to respond to their concerns. He even threw a dinner party Sunday with European heads of state to build support for the United States and to try to create a more coherent strategy toward Afghanistan. Among those on the guest list: German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whose people have been hesitant to send their soldiers to war, and French President Jacques Chirac and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose countries previously felt marginalized for not being taken up on their offers of military assistance.

By Sunday, Washington had accepted Italy’s offer of military assistance, and a special meeting of Germany’s security council agreed to a U.S. request for 3,900 troops to go to Afghanistan. Mr. Chirac announced yesterday that 2,000 of his troops will be involved in the fight against terrorism. While Mr. Blair’s charm may not be the sole motivation behind the new concrete offers, his influence cannot be denied. While he has not been unrealistic as to the extent of his powers in swaying the Arab contingent, especially with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalating, his work on America’s behalf in the region lends legitimacy to the United States.

Following the attacks of September 11, Mr. Blair accurately stated that this was not “a battle between the United States of America and terrorism, but between the free and democratic world and terrorism.” Washington welcomes Mr. Blair once again today as a true friend.

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