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"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Britain's Blair Announces His Resignation

Britain's Blair Announces His Resignation
Long-Serving Labor Party Leader to Step Down on June 27

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 10, 2007; 8:24 AM

LONDON, May 10--Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of Britain's most influential and long-serving leaders in a century, announced Thursday that he will step down on June 27, leaving behind a legacy of economic and political achievement mixed with deep public anger over his partnership with President Bush in the Iraq War.

"On the 27th of June I will tender my resignation as prime minister to the office of the queen," Blair said at the Trimdon Labor Club in his home constituency of Sedgefield, speaking to Labor Party supporters in the building where he launched his political career as a 30-year-old lawyer almost 24 years ago to the day. "I've come back here to Sedgefield to my constituency, where my political journey began and where it's fitting that it should end."

Blair's long-anticipated announcement clears the way for his political partner and rival Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, to replace Blair as prime minister in June. Brown, the country's successful and longest-serving finance minister, is expected to easily win a party leadership battle in the coming weeks then assume a premiership he has coveted for a decade.

In a sometimes emotional speech, Blair expressed pride in his domestic efforts to shore up Britain's economy and health care systems, reduce crime and unemployment, and guide the United Kingdom from the post-Cold War doldrums into the 21st century. He also defended his strong alliance with the Bush administration in Afghanistan and Iraq, saying in a tight voice that he still believed in the controversial U.S.-led fight against global terrorism even as he understood the growing unpopularity of the conflict in Iraq.

"For me, I think we must see it through. The terrorists who threaten us here and around the world will never give up if we give up. It is a test of wills, and we cannot fail it," Blair said, to applause from the crowd packed into the room. "Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right . . . I may have been wrong. That's your call. But believe one thing, if nothing else. I did what I thought was right for our country."

Blair's decision sets the stage for what local media say will be a six-week, six-nation farwell tour, including a visit to Washington next week, that will mark the end of a historic era which brought Britain new optimism and opportunity but also anger, fear and war. Blair, who took office in May 1997 promising "a new dawn," outlasted every other European leader in power at the time, and established himself as one of the world's most visible and senior statesman, even though he will leave office at just 54.

"He's going out on his own terms, with his head held high and a tremendous record of achievement behind him," said Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain, just after a 15-minute cabinet meeting Thursday morning at 10 Downing Street where Blair advised his cabinet of his intentions. Hain said the meeting's mood was light, and that "Tony cracked a few jokes."

A memo written by Blair aides, which was disclosed in September, set out a strategy for Blair's final days, saying, "He needs to go with the crowds wanting more. He should be the star who won't even play that last encore."

In the coming weeks, Blair, who is famous for his showman's panache, plans a final global lap that will take him away from disillusioned Britain and out into Europe, Africa and America, where his star is far less dimmed. According to British press reports, Blair will travel Friday to France to meet with president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy, who embodies a shift toward more conservative leadership that has swept across Europe, in countries such as Germany and Poland, in Blair's later years in office. British media have reported that he also intends later this month to visit Africa, a continent where Blair has worked insistently to fight poverty and disease. The trip will include a stop in South Africa, the land of a personal hero, Nelson Mandela, whose photograph Blair keeps on his desk alongside family portraits.

Grayer and thinner than on his early trips to see President Bill Clinton, Blair also plans to travel to the White House to make a final call on Bush, a man who is inextricably tied to Blair's legacy. His relationship with Bush, which many in Britain see as a sort of subservience that has not benefited Britain, and his steadfast defense of the Iraq war, has come to largely overshadow his other achievements. Despite leading Labor to three national election victories, presiding over a decade of unbroken economic growth and exerting strong global leadership on issues such as climate change and poverty, Blair has not been able to escape widespread and caustic criticism in Britain that he is "Bush's poodle."

Blair was under no legal obligation to leave office; he won reelection in 2005 and could have served until the next national election, which must be held no later than 2010. But even before the last election, in September 2004, Blair made a surprise announcement that he would not run for a fourth term. The speculation that followed came to dominate political discourse in Britain. Finally, in September 2006, battered by fading approval ratings and the resignation of eight junior members of his government who said the prime minister had lost the party's confidence, Blair announced that he would leave office by September 2007 "in the interests of the country."

"I would have preferred to do this in my own way," said an uncharacteristically glum Blair. Blair has been silent on his future plans. He and John Major, who was also 54 when Blair defeated him in the 1997 elections, are the youngest former prime ministers in at least a century. There has been much speculation that Blair, whose wife, Cherie, is a successful lawyer, will follow the lead of Clinton, who was also 54 when he left office, and start a private foundation to work on issues he considers vital, perhaps including Middle East peace.

Anthony Charles Lynton Blair came to power in a landslide victory in 1997 as a charismatic 43-year-old offering Britain a jolt of electricity after the Conservative Party, under Margaret Thatcher and Major, had run Britain since 1979. Along with the cerebral Brown, Blair set out to shake the dusty cobwebs from the Queen's England and create a more hopeful, energetic and forward-looking nation that was soon being called "Cool Britannia."

Four days after Blair took office, his government granted the Bank of England independence in setting interest rates. It was a bold stroke that helped set the stage for a decade of economic growth, low interest rates and low unemployment in which London emerged as a rival to New York as the world's financial capital.

Less than four months after he took office, Princess Diana died in a Paris car crash and set off an unprecedented torrent of public grief in a country that generally regards public displays of emotion as tacky. While Queen Elizabeth II seemed momentarily, and uncustomarily, out of touch with the British mood, Blair came across as an able young leader with his finger on the popular pulse. Blair gave a speech in which he called Diana "the people's princess," a phrase that came to define the woman and the moment.

Blair took on Northern Ireland's "troubles" with almost evangelical zeal, working with then President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell and Irish leaders to negotiate the landmark Good Friday peace accords of April 1998. It was a deal that envisioned several steps that many said were impossible: the Irish Republican Army and other paramilitary groups needed to disarm, and Catholics and Protestants were told to set aside their fierce hatred and come together in a power-sharing government. The IRA formally disarmed in 2005 and the power-sharing government was created on Tuesday, with Blair watching from the gallery.

Following a foreign policy based on armed intervention in humanitarian crises, which many here regarded as a radical departure, Blair sent British troops into harm's way six times in ten years. He started with Operation Desert Fox, a 1998 joint bombing campaign with the United States on suspected WMD sites in Iraq. Then came the NATO-led campaign to oust Serb dictator Slobodan Milosevic from Kosovo in 1999, a peacekeeping mission in East Timor later that year, an expedition to quell a civil war in Sierra Leone in 2000, the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and, most notably, the commitment of more than 40,000 troops to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Perhaps no event influenced Blair's fortunes more than the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, which brought Blair into a new partnership with Bush. Together they spoke to the world about the need for a "war on terror" that included a new doctrine of pre-emptive war. Together they led strikes on Afghanistan that forced out the Islamic extremist Taliban government, which Americans and Britons generally viewed as an appropriate response to 9/11.

The trouble for Blair began when attention turned to Iraq. Bush faced an American public hungry for retribution against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda; Blair faced a British public that hadn't been directly attacked on Sept. 11, didn't see any connection between 9/11 and Iraq, and was deeply skeptical of a war that many Britons saw as a Bush administration obsession.

Blair was accused of embellishing -- his harshest critics said fabricating -- evidence that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Placards calling him "Bliar" became common sights in London, especially during a February 2003 march of more than a million anti-war protesters. A government inquiry into the use of intelligence concluded that Blair did not fabricate the evidence, but said, "more weight was put on it than the intelligence was strong enough to bear The interpretation was stretched to the limit."

As the Iraq war turned from a military cakewalk to the nightmarish years-long aftermath, Blair's popularity ratings dived; they stand at just 28 percent today, according to the Ipsos/MORI polling firm. However, a poll in Thursday's Guardian newspaper suggested that the country's long-term judgment of Blair might not be so harsh: 44 percent of those polled said Blair's decade in power had been good for the country.

"History will make its own judgment on our policy" on Iraq, Blair said in a letter to Labor Party supporters earlier this week. In the summer of 2005, Blair got a reprieve from the river of bad news when Britain was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games. It was a euphoric moment of celebrations in the streets and a feeling that Britain, an economic basket case just a generation before, had finally arrived at the world's center-stage.

The next morning, Britain's battle with Islamic extremism returned, and transformed into something unexpected. In the worst act of violence on British soil since World War II, four young Islamic radicals blew up themselves and 52 passengers on three London subway trains and a bus. The killers were quickly identified as four young British Muslims, three of whom had been born in Britain. The arrival of homegrown terrorism shocked Britain, and caused Blair to declare that, "The rules of the game are changing."

Blair quickly introduced new anti-terror legislation that made it a crime to "glorify" terrorism and doubled the length of time police could hold terror suspects without charge, from 14 days to 28. Critics complained that Blair was abandoning fundamental civil liberties -- freedom of speech, due process of law -- upon which Britain had been founded. Blair stood firm, even when critics compared his actions to Washington's creation of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which is seen in Britain as a sad symbol of America's rejection of its own core values.

Most recently, Blair has been hurt by the "cash for honors" campaign finance scandal, in which police are investigating whether wealthy Labor Party donors received seats in the House of Lords and other government awards in return for making loans or donations to the party. Blair became the first prime minister ever interviewed by police in a criminal investigation, which still continues.

Even in Sedgefield, the cradle of Blair's political career, where he was greeted by adoring supporters who have known him for a quarter-century, Britain's ambivalence about Blair was evident on Thursday. While he hugged an elderly woman holding a sign that said, "I'm a Blair Babe," he didn't glance across the street where a handful of sullen protesters held up a large sign that said, "Sedgefield Against the War."


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