- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) — Had Tony Blair been fatally struck by a car last November, he would have gone down in the history books as one of Britain's most masterful electoral politicians. Today, and even with the worst of outcomes in the future, his brilliance would still be acknowledged, but the verdict of history would never be written without a mention of Hubris and Nemesis.

Everything in his career up to and including his historic second landslide election victory had been brilliance and triumph. Blair achieved control of a more-than-moribund old socialist party, thoroughly discredited in the eyes of a generation of British voters, and completed a modernization that had been previously half-hearted and unconvincing.

He threw out a cohort of stale and embittered ideologues grossly out of touch with both modern economic reality and the broader electorate. He changed the internal structure of the party to reduce the control labor union leaders had exercised over its policies and candidates. Above all, he threw out the ideological baggage of Clause Four — the Labor Party's commitment to nationalization of basic industry.

Instead, he floated a vision of "New Labor" — a party accepting the discipline of the market but retaining the social solidarity and egalitarianism of the Left. It was moderate in every way — friendly to European integration but still committed to trans-Atlantic solidarity, promising to improve public services but retaining the budget discipline of the Thatcher years, and offering a vision of a multiracial, youth-oriented, dynamic "Cool Britannia" that would seize leadership of modernizing, uniting Europe from the stodgier French and Germans.

Although much of the specific Blairite agenda remained undone, particularly in convincing skeptical Britain about the joys of ceding control of their currency to Frankfurt, still his sweeping constitutional changes in extending autonomy to Scotland and Wales, changing the structure of the House of Lords, and giving London a municipal government with more power gave the appearance of dynamism.

Meanwhile, Blair's strong and timely response to the radical Islamist assaults on the West on and after Sept. 11th, 2001 catapulted the British leader to a central place on the world stage. He gained the trust and confidence of George W. Bush, a person with a radically different background and style form his own, while acting as the bridge between America and Europe he had always claimed was Britain's special destiny.

When he, working with American Secretary of State Colin Powell, steered Bush toward seeking a further Security Council resolution, and shepherded the resolution through the perils of the French veto, these events seemed to validate the fundamental assumptions of Blairite international policy.

The past several weeks, however, appear to threaten all Blair has accomplished. His control over his own party, although still holding, has been shown to be far more shallow than was assumed in the glory days.

Although Blair triumphed over Clause Four in domestic policy, he had never seriously challenged its foreign-policy equivalent: the rampant anti-American sentiment of Labor's "looney left". They are the same sort of people, and often the same people, who marched in previous decades against NATO missile deployments in Britain and other dubious causes.

One might call them transnationalists, but their actions make no sense even from the perspective of one who sincerely believes in building the power of transnational institutions.

Eventually, the dictates of such institutions must be enforced by some means. In this case, the Security Council resolutions on Iraq, which have demonstrably failed to be enforced by sanctions, must eventually be enforced by military strength.

The problem is that, just as in the cases of Kosovo and Bosnia, no enforcement is likely to succeed without the military strength of the United States, which is anathema to the marchers. Their slogan "no blood for oil" encompasses a set of assumptions that, as George Orwell noted in a comment on their political progenitors' beliefs during another war, are so stupid no ordinary person could believe them; it would take an intellectual to give them credence.

Blair is in the ironic position of being opposed by so many who once adored, or at least supported him: the BBC, the radical bishops of the Church of England and many members of his own party in Parliament. A crowd estimated at well over half a million marched through London to protest his war plans; this past week, 122 of Labor's 410 members of parliament rebelled against him on a vote on an anti-war amendment. Ironically, Blair's position was saved by the votes of the Conservative Party.

Blair now faces three possible futures. One is that he rallies support in his own party, defeats the foreign-policy equivalent of Clause Four, obtains a sufficient organizational sanction that he can take Britain into the fight against Saddam on Labour strength alone, and carries through his program in triumph.

The second future is that he is deposed as leader of the Labor Party by an anti-American candidate, effectively ending his future in politics.

The third is that he survives a split in Labor, with the deserters probably ending up in the anti-war Liberal Democrats, but governs in coalition, either formally or informally, with the Conservatives: essentially institutionalizing the patterns of last week's vote on the case for military action.

Obviously Blair would like the first outcome, and hate the second. If he cannot have the first, would he choose the third to avoid the second? That's the interesting question. It would mean having his way on the war, but at the price of abandoning many of his domestic and European dreams. This would be the greatest dilemma for Blair: he would have to choose between two sets of accomplishments, each of which he feels is right.

My guess is that, faced with such a choice, Blair would rather take the coalition than lose the war. A compromise is discernible: postponing any decisions on joining the single currency or deepening European institutions until a definitive election, and compromising on a number of domestic issues, where indeed Blair might be freer to implement some of his market-based social service reforms than with his current Labor base.

At the heart is the sense that the war is for Blair a strongly moral issue, and one on which he realizes history will judge him. He will accept a coalition only as a last resort, but he would take it at that. Coalition with the Tories might be hell for Blair, but my guess is that he, like Milton's Lucifer, would rather reign in hell than serve in the dubious socialist heaven of the anti-American left.


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