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Mary McGrory

Tony Blair in the Doghouse

By Mary McGrory
Thursday, March 13, 2003; Page A23

Tony Blair has been called "Bush's poodle" for his support of the war in Iraq. He may be headed for the pound unless George W. Bush can do some fancy footwork and perhaps eat a little humble pie to rescue him.

Blair would be politically terminal if either his party or the Tory opposition had a horse to run against him. Neither does, and the Tories support Bush and Blair on the war. His devotion to the cause is as fanatical as that of the founders of the curious policy of America the Bully, the doctrine invented in 1998 by some hard-breathing, hard-hat nationalists, many of whom are running the government these days. Their open letter to President Clinton, which urged regime change in Iraq and sounds as if it were written in a treehouse, is a declaration of independence from what Jefferson called "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind": America should do whatever it wants in the world, a formula eagerly adopted by our Texas chief of state.

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Blair has the support of just 19 percent of the British people for military action against Saddam Hussein, a third of his party voted against him in Parliament, and one member of his cabinet is threatening to resign and another is said to be "considering his position." Blair's reputation for being rational is on the chopping block, too. He was the Laborite who persuaded the party to be the voice of moderation and reason. But his fealty to the policy of America-right-or-wrong has led to transports about the need for action and declarations that Britain would go after Hussein if the United States didn't.

Blair is essential to Bush's dream of a war. His staunchness has lent plausibility and respectability to the venture.

Europe has thrown up its hands. Americans abroad say they give "Canadian" as their nationality to avert ugly scenes, and two classy career U.S. diplomats have resigned from the Foreign Service in protest of a policy they say generates hatred and fear. John Brady Kiesling, whose most recent posting was in Athens, wrote an eloquent letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell. A classics scholar, he quoted his reason in Latin, further infuriating the know-nothings who have gone to war against french fries.

The letter was seen by a brother officer, John H. Brown, a diplomat's son with a doctorate from Princeton on assignment at Georgetown's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. He had just about made up his mind to send in his resignation. "I was inspired by it," says Brown. He was turned off by White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, who compared the war to a product that needed to be marketed.

Peaceniks are encouraged by the sight of diplomats putting convictions above careers, but all agree that the one resignation that would shake the warlords at the White House is that of Colin Powell. He is doing penance for plunging the gung-ho's into the U.N. swamp. They feel that but for him they'd be reviewing triumphant troops in Baghdad today.

He is currently consigned to telling the tallest tales of Iraqi infamy, such as that they are making bombs of the type they are dismantling on U.N. orders.

Diplomacy is at a standstill. "Aside from falling on our knees to pray," said one European diplomat, "we don't know what to do."

It's a time for original thinking, for ingenuity and resourcefulness, a time also for the humility that Bush fleetingly praised in the second campaign debate -- and has since forgotten.

His words: "If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us. If we're a humble nation but strong, they'll welcome us."

Someone should quote that to the official bull in a china shop, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He threw another log on the fire under Blair. Seeking to give the bottom line on the situation, he suggested that Britain might not, after all, be in the fight -- although it has dispatched some 45,000 soldiers to the Kuwaiti front. Ten Downing Street exploded, and Blair's critics pounced: "You see, they don't really need us."

George Bush owes Tony Blair. He owes him big time.

Surely seven days is not too much for a man who has immolated himself for another man's obsession. The problem is that Bush knows that a resolution without a war trigger is unacceptable to him and that one with a war trigger is unacceptable to France. Instead of trying to figure it out, the White House is muscling small countries and bribing Turks, who are going to get the billions the nation's governors were denied a share of.

Maybe the trouble is that Bush convinced a large percentage of his countrymen, without producing a shred of evidence, that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. They argue that the stock market needs a war. Wall Street can't stand uncertainty. They don't care if it's war or peace, but they have to know. Tony Blair says he's on for the duration and just hopes he won't be the war's first casualty.


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