"All political careers end in failure," noted British parliamentarian, Enoch Powell, famously observed.
Never has his grim maxim been more poignantly demonstrated than in Tony Blair's announcement that he will resign next month as prime minister of Great Britain.
Blair's decade in office was a long run of successes and brilliant political stewardship that ended in near disgrace. The youthful, silver-tongued Blair transformed the demoralized, Marxist dominated Labour movement into a forward-thinking, centrist, business-friendly party.
Blair's "New Labour" inherited a powerful economic upsurge created by free market Conservative Thatcherites. Blair took advantage of this windfall, transforming Britain into one of Europe's most dynamic, envied economies. Equally important, Blair deserves credit, as he put it, for making Britain "at ease with globalization" and "comfortable in the 21st century."
In the process, Blair raised Britain's living standards and employment, making it a magnet for massive foreign investment and entrepreneurial Europeans and an outrageously expensive place to live. Blair's government helped rescue Sierra Leone from anarchy, Albanians of Kosovo from ethnic cleansing, and even seemingly resolved Northern Ireland's troubles.
Many admiring North Americans wished their own inarticulate leaders possessed even a dash of Blair's charisma, earnestness, and eloquence.
In Europe, the youthful Blair was feted as a modern leader who was showing the humane "middle way" to national prosperity while maintaining social safeguards.
Had Tony Blair quit office on Sept. 10, 2001, he would have been remembered as one of Britain's finest prime ministers. But then came Blair's undoing, his fatal attraction to U.S. President George Bush's war policies. Call it Saddam's curse.
Historians will endlessly debate what impelled the sensible, intelligent Blair to enlist as first mate on Bush's political Titanic. Blair had none of the arrogance and ignorance that led Bush and his Conservative Republicans into war. Unlike Americans, who were gravely misled about the Mideast by their media and special interest groups, the worldly, cynical British knew precisely what was going on.
Yet Blair ended up as a shill for the Bush Administration's grotesque lies about Iraq. He facilitated the Bush/Cheney war by providing Washington with credibility, diplomatic cover, and the pretence of a "coalition."
Britain, as America's premier historic ally, naturally felt pressure to join the war. But a true friend warns when you are about to drive over a cliff. Blair did not. Instead, he encouraged Bush and Cheney's worst crusading instincts, validated their misconceptions and prejudices, and threw British troops into failed neo-colonial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
By joining these wars, Blair enflamed the Muslim World against Britain and aroused violent reactions among a tiny minority of Britain's 1.6 million Muslim citizens. In response, Blair curtailed sacrosanct British civil liberties and brought its esteemed legal system into question.
In the end, Blair had almost no influence over the Bush administration. He was derided everywhere as America's "poodle" and a sort of Jeeves the British butler in the imperial White House. Blair's formerly brilliant reputation was destroyed by Iraq.
A majority of Britons hated the war and resented being seen as dutiful spear-carriers for America's nuclear knights. As Labour's popularity plummeted, a party rebellion forced Blair to announce he would resign and make way for long-time rival, Gordon Brown.
The Iraq debacle, and, to a lesser degree, Afghanistan, became a curse for all politicians involved. Iraq is destroying Bush, Cheney and the Republican Party. It has ruined Blair, and may undo another Bush protege, Australia's increasingly unpopular PM John Howard.
Afghanistan may also ruin Canada's PM Stephen Harper, who has eagerly sought to win conservative merit badges from the Bush administration, but whose warlike undertakings go almost unnoticed in Washington.
Instead of backing away from the Iraq debacle, Blair kept insisting that his ruinous, faith-based policies were still right.
It's tragic watching a brilliant political leader destroyed by a totally unnecessary, dishonest war. Tony Blair met his Waterloo in Iraq. Others will soon follow.
© 2007 The Toronto Sun