You can see the stress in his face. Over the past few months, Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, has evolved from the buoyant, almost boyish persona of his recent past. The eyes have sunk into his forehead; the hair has receded; gray now frames his face, and that arched left eyebrow, once almost playful, has become etched in place. When he rose in the House of Commons last week to defend his precarious political position and urge the rambunctious deputies to go to war, he finally seemed old. A man once derided as slippery in his political pragmatism had become a weathered, unbudgeable rock.
All of which makes one realize how much the war now unfolding is in many respects Tony Blair's war. No, he didn't initiate it. His military forces are only a small part of the operation; Washington remains the unquestioned seat of the hyperpower. But, as his poll ratings revive, the British Prime Minister can reassure himself that he has had more input into the war's evolution, rationale and timing than any other foreign leader and as much influence as many senior figures in Washington.
And this is quite popular among many Americans. In some ways, Blair has become, in a manner of speaking, the American Prime Minister, the foil and adjunct to a President with great strengths but some obvious limitations. Where Bush is formally eloquent but informally brusque, Blair speaks extemporaneously like a skilled prosecutor, nailing down debating points with parliamentary aplomb no former Governor of Texas has ever been required to master. Where Bush is instinctually a believer in American power, Blair understands the dynamics of a Europe bound together by a web of shared sovereignty and an acquired aversion to conflict and risk. While Bush is a conservative, Blair is an old-style liberal, in the mold of Britain's great 19th century imperialist Prime Minister, William Gladstone. Bush is eager to engage the world in order to deter and defeat evil. Blair is a man who looks at the troubled globe and sees also an opportunity to do good.
What brings these two men together is a shared Christian faith. Blair is lampooned in London for having the self-righteous fastidiousness of an Anglican vicar. But his sincere faith forged a bond with a believing President and made Blair more receptive than most nonbelieving Europeans to the clear moral tone in the White House. What soldered the bond was the horror of Sept. 11. Blair's supreme political gift is a swift, intuitive, unerring sense of the public mood. He cemented his hold on the British public by his poignant response to the death of Princess Diana. And he felt, in visiting America in the days after the massacre, that the country had changed deeply. He shared America's grief and rage, recognized that there was no point in resisting its power and set about figuring out how to harness it for the world's good.