IS THERE A NEW TONY BLAIR? Last year the British prime minister and leader of the left-of-center Labor Party was known for his slavish devotion to the advice of opinion pollsters (and the landslide election victories that the polls showed him how to achieve). Now he is known for steadfastly supporting the liberation of Iraq, even though until the war began British polls showed substantial popular opposition to military action.
Mr. Blair's steadfast support for President Bush's plan is impressive, particularly in light of the massive political pressure brought on him. A record 2 million marched through London to protest his position. He suffered the biggest-ever parliamentary rebellion when he sought approval from the House of Commons for war with Iraq. Despite Labor's large majority Mr. Blair could win the vote only with the support of Conservatives, who honorably passed up the opportunity to toss from power the man who has inflicted more damage upon them than any modern Labor leader.
Right now President Bush has no more important ally than Mr. Blair, who stands by him within the great tradition of American presidents and British prime ministers. The special transatlantic relationship has not been so strong since Churchill and Roosevelt stood together against Nazism, and Margaret Thatcher stood with Ronald Reagan against the evil Soviet empire.
And yet, Mr. Blair was also a faithful supporter of his political mentor Bill Clinton, whose do-nothing policy on Iraq and international terrorism from 1997 to 2001 set the stage for our current crisis. It's no surprise that Mr. Clinton was guest of honor at Labor's most recent annual conference. Mr. Clinton stood beside a smiling Tony Blair and received a standing ovation for his attacks on compassionate conservatism.
So what should American conservatives think of this leader who dominates Britain's political landscape now as Mrs. Thatcher did two decades ago? Many people explain Mr. Blair's support for Operation Iraqi Freedom by pointing to the Christian faith that Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair both claim. Mr. Blair's pro-war rhetoric has certainly been characterized by a persuasive moral earnestness. But if Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush's motivation on Iraq is rooted in a shared Christianity, the Anglican prime minister generally interprets Christian teaching through a much more liberal lens than his Oval Office friend.
Tony Blair's government has expelled from the tax system all recognition of marriage. It has passed more tax increases than any other modern British government. Mr. Blair's administration, fearing the growth of "American-style telly-evangelists," maintains a ban on national religious broadcasting. Most deplorable is Mr. Blair's record on pro-life issues. He has never voted to protect unborn human life, and has instead supported extension of abortion to the moment of birth for a "handicapped unborn child." His government has enacted the world's most permissive laws on stem-cell research on human embryos.
This domestic liberalism may not undermine Tony Blair's ability to be Mr. Bush's most loyal international ally, but Labor's attitude to Europe and Israel should concern the White House. Tony Blair continues to sink huge efforts into a deeper relationship with the European Union. He still wants Britain to join the Euro currency zone, and other losses of sovereignty would rapidly follow a surrendering of the pound. It may only be a few years before Britain lacks the necessary independence from France and Germany to support an American-led war.
The second danger is that Mr. Blair's blindly pro-Palestinian Labor Party will push him hard toward a "Middle East peace settlement." The Palestinians deserve better than the despair produced for them by Yasser Arafat, but President Bush must not allow Israel's security to be compromised by Tony Blair's domestic political pressures.
Tony Blair appears to be a good follower but not the best of leaders. By following opinion polls he has-at least until now-triumphed on the domestic political scene. By following George W. Bush's moral lead on the war on terrorism Mr. Blair has enjoyed his finest hour.
America should be grateful for his help but not starry-eyed. We should remember how Tony Blair followed Bill Clinton's do-nothing policy on Iraq and international terrorism from 1997 to 2001, and how he released hundreds of convicted Irish Republican terrorists from prison without the decommissioning of a single bullet. Mr. Blair can be an effective advocate in great causes, but his personal moral compass is not totally reliable.