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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blair Pays Price for Supporting Bush

LONDON -- Prime Minister Tony Blair's moralizing diplomacy, his tough talk on Iraq and his steadfast loyalty to U.S. President George W. Bush have gained him acceptance in the United States and an invitation to Washington this crucial week, but they have cost him popularity at home and hard-won influence in Europe.

In opinion polls of the British public, a majority have been questioning his aggressive posture against Iraq and faulting him for being too subservient to the United States. Britons also increasingly accuse him of becoming distracted from the problems that affect their daily lives, like poor transportation, inattentive health services and rising street crime.

Blair, who has sent 26,000 troops to the Persian Gulf, reiterated his position in an interview with David Frost on the BBC on Sunday. He made arguments for the need to disarm Saddam Hussein and to limit additional inspection time before action might be taken to weeks rather than the months being sought by other European leaders.

In the hours that followed, the network conducted a call-in survey on whether viewers had been persuaded of the need to go to war, and 66 percent said no. A poll in The Sunday Times of London recorded 68 percent giving the same response to the question, "Has Tony Blair convinced you Saddam Hussein is sufficiently dangerous to justify war?"

Abroad, Blair's projection of Britain's power in the world through its alliance with the United States is undercutting his parallel desire to leverage the country's power in its own region.

"The Europeans do not see Britain as a trustworthy partner anymore," said Charles Grant, director of the London-based Center for European Reform. "Nobody wants to be seen holding hands with us in public -- we're not kosher, we're not nice people to deal with."

Despite this damage to his popularity in Britain and across Europe, Blair shows no signs of easing off, and in recent weeks he has faced down critics of his robust embrace of the United States within his party, the country's diplomatic corps and his own Cabinet. He regularly speaks of shared trans-Atlantic values, praises the United States as "a force for good in the world" and denounces anti-Americanism as "a foolish indulgence."

In response to charges that he is Bush's obedient lapdog, Blair has said that if Bush had not acted on Iraq, Blair would have urged him to do so.

A U.S. official who sees Blair frequently said the Bush administration put high stock on his efforts to sway European opinion. "For us, he is the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike," the American said. On Friday, Blair will fly to the United States for an Iraq strategy meeting with Bush at Camp David.

Though Blair was once caricatured as a leader who measured his policies by their popular appeal, another quite different phrase now arises in comments by analysts and officials. "He is a conviction politician," said the U.S. official. "When he gets going, you can tell he really believes in the rightness of what he is doing."

Writing in Sunday's Observer, Andrew Rawnsley, a columnist, commented on this shift in how Blair was perceived. "A man so often in the past depicted as mesmerized by focus groups has supported the United States against the grain of opinion among both the voters and within his party," he wrote. "It is one of the many ironies of his situation that the very same people who used to revile him for being enslaved to opinion polls now lambaste him for not listening to the public."

The most frequent explanation Blair gives for his actions is the simple statement that it is the right thing to do.

Charles Kupchan, professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and director of European studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said he believed that Blair was making a mistake in appearing to turn his back on Europe in favor of the United States. But Kupchan asserted that there was no doubting that Blair was acting out of principle rather than pragmatism.

"I think one can conclude by a process of elimination that Blair is motivated by sincere conviction," he said, "because his stance is seriously imperiling his fortunes at home and perhaps irreparably damaging his relations with the European Union, and no prime minister is going to run those risks unless he deeply believes that attacking Iraq is the right thing to do."

Grant said he had watched Britain's influence on the continent grow measurably during Blair's first five years in office. "But it is striking to me in the past year how that influence has gone down and gone down rapidly," he said. "The political elites on the continent, whether right or left, think that on Iraq, Blair is just sycophantically pro-American and not even using his influence to try to restrain Bush."

James Rubin, a visiting professor at the London School of Economics who was an assistant secretary of state during former U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration, said Blair signaled his moralizing instincts soon after coming to power in 1997.

"He saw Kosovo as a matter of right and wrong, and a lot of people at the Foreign Office did not share that kind of thinking," Rubin said. "British foreign policy in the Balkans until then was to see all sides as bad guys, but Blair didn't.

"So his first major act as a foreign policy figure was to change British foreign policy, and he did it on the principle of right and wrong."