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Person of the Week: Tony Blair

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AP

Tony Blair addresses lawmakers in the House of Commons on the subject of Iraq

Confronted by the specter of Saddam Hussein, British Prime Minister Tony Blair thrust his country into an uncharacteristically conspicuous role: he looked around, sensed danger and stepped up to the plate, calling for preemptive military action against the Iraqi dictator. Now he shares said plate with an only slightly less lonely George W. Bush — and they may be standing there, alone together, for a very long time. For this act of brave solidarity (or political suicide), Tony Blair is our Person of the Week.

Tuesday, Blair took center stage in the House of Commons, presenting his much-anticipated 50-page intelligence report on Hussein's weapons stockpile, which includes, according to Blair, both chemical and biological weapons. The PM called for decisive and quick action from the UN, saying, "If the international communityůshrugs its shoulders and walks awayůHussein will carry on, his efforts will intensify, his confidence grow and at some point, in a future not too distant, the threat will turn into reality. The threat, therefore, is not imagined."

The speech was met with general support from the Commons, although while most MPs are in favor of controlling or disarming Hussein, not everyone agrees the U.S. (and now British) methods are the best way to secure the peace. President Bush's strategy of "regime change" garnered some applause from Blair's usual foes, members of the conservative Tory party, including leader Iain Duncan Smith, but prompted jeers from his fellow Labour members, 53 of whom staged a rally Tuesday night, protesting the possibility of military action in Iraq. The Labour rebels were joined by several other MPs, including most of the Scottish Nationalist contingent and four Welsh representatives.

The protesters' ranks included both longtime opponents of war in general and some MPs who believe the U.S. call for military action — and the British response to that call — is a thinly veiled response to threats on oil supplies. Labour MP Alan Simpson told the Belfast News Letter, "Sadly, I think Bush will hit Iraq in much the same way that a drunk will hit a bottle. He needs to satisfy his thirst for power and oil." Simpson then dismissed Blair's report as "deeply flawed, partial and superficial," according to the paper.

And while the rest of the international community might not go quite that far in denouncing Blair, representatives of key countries, including France and Russia, spoke out this week against Blair's compliance with the U.S. mandate for war.

All of which leaves Blair in a very strange position — alone in his party and on the world stage as the sole supporter of Bush's Iraq policy. Is the UK-U.S. partnership worth so much political grief? The days of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan are long gone, and with them the hard-and-fast dictates of Cold War diplomacy. Blair has obviously decided it's better to take his chances alongside the Americans' bravado and bluster than to be folded into the Europeans' ideologically disjointed opposition. Either way, Blair had to know there would be a price to pay — we just haven't seen the invoice yet.