The long-anticipated resignation of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the election of Nicholas Sarkozy as the new president of France, along with the recent death of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin dramatically underscores the ending of one era in the politics not only of those specific nations, but of the world stage. Tony Blair became prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1998, and his election brought in a wave of enthusiasm for his youthful dynamism and political savvy.
Blair almost immediately bonded with President Bill Clinton, with whom he shared a liberal/centrist politics, and a keen ability to respond to many crises. From the outset of his premiership, Blair made it clear that he intended to continue and nurture the “Special Relationship” between the United State and Great Britain that had been forged to the greatest extent by the World War II leaders, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and continued through the positive relationship between Presidents Ronald Reagan and President George Herbert Walker Bush and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Blair provided crucial support to Clinton in finding the means to quell the mass murders and violence in the former Yugoslav areas of Bosnia and Kosovo, and later, after the horrific Al Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, in supporting President George W. Bush in the military mission in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime, which had habored Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
Blair also provided strong support to Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, and his continued support of the Iraq war after its initial success in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, very likely ultimately forced him to resign. Whether he was misguided or mistaken in what Margaret Thatcher, his Conservative Party opponent praised as his “unswerving” support of Bush foreign policies, it seems clear that his primary movitvation was to uphold and maintain the historic partnership between the United States and Great Britain, which has held fast since at least the U.S. involvement in World War I. It should be noted that Winston Churchill, considered by many to have been the greatest statesman of the 20th century, was turned out of office in 1945 by a war-weary British public, but Churchill returned six years later to No. 10 Downing Street to serve until 1955. It is not out of the question that Blair, who is still relatively young as world leaders go, could make a political comeback some time in the future.
As to British Jewry, Blair was described as a “friend and ally” by Henry Grunwald, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who was quoted in a Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) story last week. Grunwald cited the establishment, under Blair, of 14 government-funded Jewish schools and expanded Hololcaust education programs. Blair was also praised for his consistent support for Israel. Jane Kennedy, chairwoman of Labor Friends of Israel, according to totallyjewish.com., in speakaing to supporters at the parliamentary constituency of Sedgefield in northeast England, said, “Tony Blair has demonstrated a deep personal commitment and has been hugely courageous in defense of Israel, doing the right thing even when it has lost him support among the British public.”
In announcing his resignation, Blair said, “I ask you to accept one thing: Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right. I may have been wrong. That’s your call. But believe one thing: I did what I thought was right for our country.” On that note, we join the British Jewish community in expressing gratitude to Blair for his support of Israel and other issues of concern to the Jewish community, as well as for his steadfast commitment to maintaining the “special relationship” among the leaders of the English-speaking peoples of the world.
Meanwhile, as Tony Blair exits the stage in Britain, Nicholas Sarkozy prepares to take up his post as the new president of the French Republic, succeeding the controversial Jacques Chirac, who often clashed with the United States and Israel on foreign policy issues. Frederic Encel, a political analyst in Paris, described Sarkozy, the grandson of a Hungarian Jew, as “by far the most pro-Israeli French presidential figure Israel could have hoped for.” Sarkozy defeated his Socialist opponent, Segolene Royal with 53 percent of the vote to Royal’s 47 percent, in a hard-fought campaign. Time will tell whether or not Sarkozy will be as effective and as positive a leader as his admirers claim. In the meantime, we hope the optimistic statements about his likely policies will prove to be accurate, and we wish him well as he takes up his duties.