- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s announcement that he will leave office next month after more than a decade closes the curtain on an extraordinary era in Anglo-U.S. relations. Winston Churchill is thought to have coined the term “special relationship” to describe the connection between the two countries in a March 5, 1946 address he delivered in Fulton, Mo. In the 61 years since Churchill made this speech, there have arguably been two “golden eras” in the relationship: the close ties between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush (1981-90) and the relationship between Mr. Blair and President George W. Bush since September 11.

In the United States, Mr. Blair will be remembered as a stalwart ally who flew to Washington after the September 11 attacks to highlight his solidarity with the United States. In a Sept. 20 speech to Congress, Mr. Bush declared that: “America has no greater friend than Great Britain.” After the president’s address, Mr. Blair embarked on a grueling two-month long mission in which he is estimated to have traveled more than 40,000 miles in an effort to mobilize international support for action against terrorists and their state sponsors. Britain has taken a leadership role in NATO’s Afghanistan campaign, and it has been the second-largest contributor of troops to the Multinational Force in Iraq.

Among the most important and noble aspects of Mr. Blair’s record was his uphill political fight to persuade the British people — particularly his allies on the political left — not to oppose the global war on terror. In the spring of 2002, for example, Mr. Blair traveled to Crawford, Texas, to meet with Mr. Bush to discuss the escalating tensions with Saddam Hussein. In public, British officials were talking about their solidarity with the United States. But privately, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and David Manning, the prime minister’s top foreign policy adviser, and Peter Ricketts, political director of the Foreign Office, were warning the prime minister about the dangers of appearing too close to Washington. Senior Labor Party officials also lobbied Mr. Blair with a memo detailing the political problems he faced in convincing fellow Laborites in parliament that force was legally justified. Yet Mr. Blair stood his ground in support of coercive diplomacy which included the possibility of going to war if Saddam refused to come clean about his efforts to build weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Blair similarly didn’t go wobbly against French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who wanted to use the European Union as a counterweight against Washington’s efforts to leave open the possibility of using force against Iraq. Mr. Blair’s staunch support of Mr. Bush and the fight against terror cost him popular support at home and turned him into a hate figure for many on the left. But for those of us who believe we have no choice but to engage in the struggle against global terrorism, Mr. Blair is an heroic stalwart in fighting for freedom.

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