- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2001

I knew well, I'd hoped that George W. Bush could be eloquent when the occasion demanded it. As he was when he addressed Congress and the world after Sept. 11. It helped to have interviewed the man a time or two offstage, when his strength and ease come through.

I wasn't as sure about Tony Blair, the British prime minister, and how he would respond to the clear and present challenge. I had forgotten his role in the late unpleasantness over Kosovo, when at times he seemed the only political leader in the West who wasn't going wobbly.

Appearances will deceive, as early impressions of George W. Bush as an inarticulate bumbler did. And on Tuesday, Oct. 2, the usually bobbing-and-weaving Tony Blair stepped forward at a conference of his Labor Party yes, that old redoubt of condescension toward us unsophisticated Americans and spoke out with a clarity and conviction that rang around the world, and especially in American hearts.

When an old friend not only rallies to one's side, but goes above and beyond friendship into the realm of vision and conviction, it is a heartening thing to see. And if I hadn't seen it, if I had only read the core of the speech and didn't know it had been delivered by Tony Blair, I would have guessed its author was Margaret Thatcher. His words had that much iron, that much authority, and that much character in the face of an evil the rest of the world has not wanted to face year after year.

Tony Blair's was an expression not only of friendship but of leadership. Once again a British leader had appealed to the essence of what Winston Churchill called the English-speaking peoples. It was good to be reminded that the English tongue is not only a treasure but an armory. With simple words, old words, fit words, Tony Blair faced the inescapable facts and drew the inescapable conclusions.

The queen's first minister not only faced facts but faced down the loony left of his own party, which for once was stunned, or shamed, into silence. He demonstrated that the most eloquent of words can be the plainest:

One by one, Tony Blair went down the list of complicated excuses for not resisting evil and, one by one, he revealed their nakedness with only a word, a phrase, a simple sentence, making clear what all know but some would still hide:

"'Don't overreact,' some say.

"We aren't. No missiles on the first night just for effect.

" 'Don't kill innocent people.'

"We are not the ones who waged war on the innocent. We seek the guilty.

" 'Look for a diplomatic solution.'

There is no diplomacy with bin Laden or the Taliban regime.

" 'State an ultimatum and get their response.'

"We stated the ultimatum; they haven't responded.

" 'Understand the causes of terror.' Yes, we should try, but let there be no moral ambiguity about this: Nothing could ever justify the events of 11 September, and it is to turn justice on its head to pretend it could .

"Listen to the calls of those passengers on the planes. Think of the children on them, told they were going to die.

"Think of the cruelty beyond our comprehension as amongst the screams and anguish of the innocent, those hijackers drove at full-throttle planes laden with fuel into buildings where tens of thousands worked ."

It was about time someone said it: "Nothing could ever justify the events of 11 September, and it is to turn justice on its head to pretend it could." Tony Blair then put a question that is not a question at all, and goes to the essence of what terrorism is, and the kind of enemy we face:

"They have no moral inhibition on the slaughter of the innocent. If they could have murdered not 7,000 but 70,000, does anyone doubt they would have done so and rejoiced in it?"

The unholy glee that greeted this evil says even more about the enemy we face than what they have done.

Before he was through, this British prime minister sounded like the American president during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when John F. Kennedy explained that the most dangerous thing we could do would be to do nothing at all. "Whatever the dangers of the action we take," Tony Blair said last Tuesday, "the dangers of inaction are far, far greater."

And this leader was unswerving in his message to those who have aided and abetted this horror: "I say to the Taliban: Surrender the terrorists or surrender power. It's your choice."

And the Taliban seem to have made it long ago, when they allied themselves with terror. In the days and months and years ahead in the long, often unseen war to come, it will be good to remember, though all the uncertainties and divisions that will surely arise, Tony Blair's clear voice.

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, and Godspeed us all. In the words of another absolutely clear and unyielding British prime minister, Winston Churchill, you have drawn "from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival, and of a victory won not only for ourselves but for all."

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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