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Tony Blair, the man the British never understood

“The reason that I supported the action in Iraq was not that I thought we simply had to support America. It’s because I thought it was right. I still think it’s right.”

— Prime Minister Tony Blair

AFTER TODAY, Tony Blair is available, and there’s only one thing to do about it: Let’s get busy changing the Constitution so that he can lead this country.

The British just don’t appreciate him. He’s been their prime minister for 10 years. He’s given them New Labor, and peace in Northern Ireland. He’s shown that an intelligent, idealistic and charismatic centrist can still be elected and effectively lead a major Western country, despite all the evidence here to the contrary.

He has done the right things, for the right reasons, and explained his actions and motivations brilliantly, and the Brits have lately responded as though their ears were filled with fried plaice and chips.

Because of “Blair’s support for the U.S. decision to go to war in Iraq,” droned a British accent on NPR Tuesday morning, the “accusation was that Blair was just the poodle of the White House, prepared to do anything that President Bush wanted, and getting nothing in return.”

That, against all reason, is what passes as conventional wisdom in Britain these days, which is why Labor voters seem actually happy — for the moment — that dullard Gordon Brown is about to replace the finest P.M. since Winston Churchill.

The foolishness went on:

“Today, it is a mystery to many Britons how the left-of-center Baby Boomer who had seemed the ideological twin of Bill Clinton could have thrown in his lot with George W. Bush of the American right wing.”

It is indeed a mystery — if you are so simple as to believe that everything has to fit within the dichotomy of left and right. But everything doesn’t. In fact, almost nothing real does. Certainly not Iraq.

To understand how the British feel about Tony Blair — and this is most assuredly about feelings, not thought — see the 2003 romantic comedy “Love Actually.”

Hugh Grant portrays a prime minister who would be popular were he not in thrall to a certain boorish, bullying cowboy (Billy Bob Thornton) who happens to be president of the United States.

Mr. Grant’s pretend premier wins the people back by publicly standing up to this ugliest of American cartoons. Mr. Blair refuses to do the wrong thing simply in order to oppose the American, so he’s out. Ta-ta.

Please, run the tape back. Look and listen. See and hear how Blair was the one who understood why we were in Iraq, and why we couldn’t leave. It was George W. Bush who couldn’t articulate it.

Mr. Bush did not take us into Iraq because he is a conservative. He did it in spite of being a conservative. This is not what conservatives do, people. They don’t take risks like this. They decry “nation-building” in the most certain, isolationist terms — as Mr. Bush himself did in seeking the presidency. Sept. 11 rattled him, and he took actions contradictory to his nature. Perhaps the greatest reason that he has handled Iraq so badly is that deep down, this just isn’t his thing.

And yet everyone defines whether one supports the Iraq enterprise as a matter of “supporting Bush.” We can’t seem to realize that one pursues policies for their own sakes, not according to who else supports them.

Poor John McCain is suddenly cast as the president’s lapdog, when he is the one who said all along that we need more troops over there and it can’t be done on the cheap a la Rumsfeld. Now that the president has moved in his direction with the “surge,” he suffers politically for “backing Bush.”

It would seem that Americans, as a result of that failure of leadership on the part of our president, have reached the same conclusion regarding Iraq as the British. But I suspect — I have no way of demonstrating it, of course — that a man of Tony Blair’s parts could have kept resolve in the American spine. We’re different. The English have never gotten over the Somme.

We are also alike. We are certainly as deluded when it comes to the whole left-right thing. Hypnotized by hundreds of thousands of propagandistic repetitions on 24-hour TV “news” and the blogosphere, we remain convinced that there are but two ways to be in the electoral and policy spheres: “liberal” or “conservative,” with a bit of room for prefixes and modifiers such as “ultra” or “neo.”

These days, the informed, involved, truly knowledgeable and hip political junkie has been thoroughly indoctrinated into the argot of one cult or the other. He gets whipped up by the idiot box, then races to his PC to rant fluently in a way that he deems deep and enlightened, when he is just regurgitating pre-packaged slogans. He thinks he is a thinker, when he is no more than a parrot — and an ill-tempered bird at that.

But back to Britain.

The broadcast segment that set me off on today’s rant ground superciliously toward its conciliatory end with the thought that maybe this man Blair, this singular creature with “his wide-eyed idealism, earnest smile and openly Christian values,” did accomplish a thing or two, despite his having been “seduced by the special relationship”:

“Perhaps what he did most successfully was to move the debate in British politics to the center, away from the ideological divisions of the past.”

That’s right. And in trying to assess what Tony Blair did and why he did it, you’d do best to remember that. It’s not about left and right. Never was.

For more, go to http://blogs. thestate.com/bradwarthensblog/.

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