The King is Dead – Final Notes from London


I seem to have a weird premonition about when to come to Europe. The last time I was here was 1999, and I was able to witness the end of the Kosovo war, the transition of the German government from Bonn to Berlin, the debt relief rally with Bono in Cologne, and the visit of President Clinton to the G-7 summit in Cologne. It was a momentous summer, and I felt as though I had witnessed history in the making.

This time I was in London when British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that he would resign in June. Perhaps this was more monumental and meaningful to me than it would be for others because Tony Blair has long been my favorite politician. He has all the great intelligence and talent of Bill Clinton but largely without the personal failings that compromised Clinton’s effectiveness. Blair also is a person of deep faith, and it is this faith that has drawn him toward policies that emphasize tolerance, inclusion and diversity rather than away from those ideals (like our current President).

It is unfortunate that Blair will be remembered most by his support of President Bush and the war in Iraq because there is much more that history will record and that is commendable. It is true that Blair supported the war, but his support was for all the right reasons as far as I can tell. He actually was the one who convinced me to support the war initially, as I listened to his speech before the Parliament on the evening before the operation began. Blair believed that free and democratic societies have the responsibility to end evil regimes and genocide wherever it can, and that is the reason he also supported peace talks in Ireland, the Kosovo war, and then the war in Iraq. It was the defiance of Saddam Hussein against 16 UN resolutions and his human rights atrocities that drove Blair to support the war, and to this day I still believe they are convincing reasons. Planning for the building of Iraq after the war was a failure by Bush and by Blair from which we will not easily recover.

But Blair should be remembered for much more. Along with Clinton, he brought peace to a long and violent conflict in Northern Ireland. He signed a civil unions bill for homosexuals in Britain. He led the campaign for intervention against genocide in Bosnia, Kosovo and now Darfur. He has been the leader of an international coalition against AIDS and environmental destruction. He also has made modest but measurable improvements in Britain’s schools and medical care. But more than anything, Blair rescued the Labour Party in England, rescued Britain’s middle class from Thatcherism, and gave Britain a new role in the modern world. For that, he should be remembered, and he deserves my deepest respect.

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