Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Echoes Of Oran
The recent European Union meeting in Brussels should have been friendly territory for EU power brokers France and Germany. The EU is certainly more amenable to the French and German way, and traditionally Britain has always courted a disadvantage versus the continentals. It was France, even more than the Germans, which walked into a hornets’ nest.

However, the emergence of the former Soviet satellites from the East and British PM Tony Blair’s brave stand against the Franco-German bloc resulted in a tougher EU stand on the Iraq than I had even considered possible. French President Jacques Chirac and his country’s diplomatic corps overplayed its hand in trying to assert its will over eastern European states Romania and Bulgaria, offering up naked threats to those countries’ bids for EU membership.

And, for once, let me challenge the conventional wisdom on the status of Blair’s leadership in Britain. Ignore the poll numbers, and ignore the hotheaded know-nothings that comprise the far left of Britain’s Labour Party. Blair’s position as PM allows him more strength in quelling a political insurrection and no one, no one, in the Labour stable could effectively govern the country.

Indeed, given the total disarray of the opposing Tories, Blair is the only viable politician in all of Britain. In terms of Europe, Blair towers over the scrupulous, oily Chirac and the weak-willed Schroeder of Germany. He serves as a bulwark, supporting pro-U.S. leaders such as Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and Spain’s Jose Maria Aznar. Blair occupies a sort of mainstream left-center-mainstream right zone. And he is hawkish in a way that I didn’t think Labour PMs could be hawkish. Here sits the advocate of using ground forces in Kosovo. Here sits the man who unflinchingly offered his backing of the U.S. after 9.11.
Even though his poll numbers are slipping hard, Blair scored a hard-fought victory at the EU meetings in Brussels. The Brits won’t appreciate Blair’s gustiness during the Saddam winter until long after it is over.