“You are the most ungodly lot I have ever . . . ” Tony Blair’s words fade away into the makeup artist’s flannel.
Outside Downing Street there is much discussion of where Tony Blair’s certainty about this war comes from. Is it from the realpolitik requirement to follow an American president (the poodle principle)? From religious concepts that he and George Bush share, even if his advisers mostly do not? Or the thoughtful weighing of argument (weapons of mass destruction held by dictators of mass destruction versus the unavoidable bombing of children)?
The answer, if there can yet be an answer, is “all of the above.”
Advisors will only say that the prime minister is less patient than before, less ready to make time for the consensual approach, more confident, more ready to take some risks before he moves on. He believes that Bill Clinton’s error, which went far beyond the absurdities of the Monica Lewinsky affair, was to shy away from his big domestic and overseas ambitions, not least a tougher pursuit of Osama bin Laden.
For everyone on Tony Blair’s team, an explanation for his certainty is much less important than the certainty itself. The prime minister regularly takes small pieces of advice: the broadcast to the nation ends not with God but on a lame “Thank you.” But knowledge that the boss is not going to change his mind on the big issue provides the concrete on which everything else is built.
FRIDAY, MARCH 21
Morning headlines: Ground attack begins... Baghdad bombed for second night... Two U.S. marines killed in action...
News of the first dead Britons comes while the prime minister is asleep in Brussels. There has been a helicopter crash in Kuwait. Tony Blair comes down to breakfast looking troubled. The blackest rings around the prime minister’s eyes have gone, but he is very pale.
SATURDAY, MARCH 22
Morning headlines: “Shock and Awe” over Baghdad . . . Chirac attacks “illegal” assault . . . U.S. 3rd Infantry overcomes Iraqi defenders at Nasiriya . . .
Today there is to be the biggest protest in London since the war began. Politicians may find it harder to criticize Tony Blair when British forces are fighting, but tens of thousands of voters feel under no such constraint. The cries of “Not in my name” have begun well before breakfast.