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Published: Thursday, 5/17/2007

Blair, a friend and ally

THE United States next month will lose an ally, a friend, and a supporter in troubled times. On June 27, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a Laborite who nonetheless stood shoulder to shoulder with Republican President George Bush, will step down after 10 tumultuous years.

Mr. Blair's resignation had been long expected. His alliance with this country in the war on terror and the Iraq campaign had cost him dearly. Attacked from within his own party and by a resurgent Conservative Party, Mr. Blair sometimes seemed beset on all sides, standing at the dispatch box in the House of Commons, pledging support for the transatlantic alliance that has been a cornerstone of both nations' foreign policy for so many years.

He grew to be out of sync with his country. Voters rebuffed his party in recent regional elections, and Labor is trailing in the polls.

Mr. Blair announced his departure with expected bravado and flourish, saying that after a decade in office he sees a Britain that is a leader and "at home in the 21st century."

In that, he is undoubtedly correct. Mr. Blair has dragged his own party into the modern age, and has tried to bring up to date several moribund British institutions, including public education and health care.

Under his watch, peace was brought to Northern Ireland. The economy has strengthened, and the capital city, London, is a center of international finance and business. For the first time in its history, Labor won three consecutive elections as the Tories struggled to find a connection with the British people's changing views and circumstances, and a party leader who could be the modern face of Conservatism.

Mr. Blair knows that in standing by the United States, he put his own political career in harm's way. He acknowledged as much in his resignation remarks, observing "I did what I thought was right for our country."

In saying that, Mr. Blair also displayed what may be seen as an inherent contradiction from Labor's left-of-center perspective. He was a close friend and ally of Mr. Bush and, as the leader of a party that contains more than a few members who would like to ditch the monarchy, he stepped in to set the right tone, and possibly to save the Queen and the royal family from themselves, after the death of Princess Diana.

Less tangibly, there is today a greater air of confidence in Britain than when Mr. Blair took office. It is a strong legacy to leave his anointed successor, Gordon Brown, who administers fiscal policy as the chancellor of the exchequer.

Mr. Brown asserts there will be no sea change in British policies in Iraq, although it remains to be seen whether he will be as ardent a supporter of U.S. positions as Mr. Blair, or as willing to chart a course on principle rather than polling numbers.

As Mr. Blair prepares to leave 10 Downing Street, his official residence, Americans have reason to be grateful for his tenure in office. He has been a good friend and a stout supporter of this country. His mettle has been proven in standing tall for what he believed when the easy route would have been to capitulate to party pressure.

Mr. Brown will find him a tough act to follow.



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