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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush's War, Blair's Gamble

Gee, thanks, guys. What an odd way Americans have of rewarding Tony Blair. Every day, the British public receives stirring and uplifting news of preparations at the front. The Tornadoes are off to the Persian Gulf. Special Air Service commandoes are rootling the western desert of Iraq. Some 30,000 troops -- a quarter of the British Army -- are waiting to swarm from their bivouacs and join the liberation. And then Donald Rumsfeld, the fellow with the iron quiff and the Scout-leader spectacles, decides to blurt the unmentionable truth: The Pentagon is perfectly happy to polish off Saddam Hussein on its own.

According to the U.S. secretary of defense, it seems that having the Brits in on the operation is a bit like asking Hugh Grant to tag along in a remake of "The Dirty Dozen," to give it some jolly old British class; kind of nice, but not essential. He's fed up, no doubt, with what may now look like excessive British fastidiousness about that second UN resolution. But he must see what a total humiliation it would be for Blair if America went it alone.

What's Blair supposed to do? Go out to the Persian Gulf, get on top of a flatbed truck in his open-necked shirt, and tell the troops they'll have to come home? And thereby tacitly admit that our military contribution is about as valuable as a plastic cup-holder in an Abrams tank. Unthinkable. After so much loyal rhetoric, after all that clanking of British sword on transatlantic breastplate, after all that unpopular work as the unpaid porte-parole of the Pentagon, after selflessly supplying the syntax to President George W. Bush, this is what Blair gets?

He couldn't possibly sit it out and keep his political credibility. And yet if he goes with America, and without a second resolution, then he faces incalculable difficulties at home. Thursday night I received news from the executive committee of the Henley Conservative association. They had decided to take a vote and found that of their 21 members, 16 opposed going to war without a fresh resolution. Now these are Tories. Imagine how much fiercer that emotion is among the nominally socialist backbenches of Blair's Labour government. These folks didn't come into politics to bomb children in third-world countries. More than 120 of his 411 member majority have already revolted, and it seems inevitable that more will follow. They want a second resolution, and it doesn't seem that they'll get one.

Poor Blair has been brilliantly blindsided by President Jacques Chirac of France. Never did it occur to Downing Street that the French would be so devious, opportunistic and, in the end, viscerally anti-American. One is driven to wonder whether Chirac in fact intends directly to topple Blair, after the two had a belting row, full of sacre bleu and zut alors, about EU farm subsidies in October. If that is his aim, I don't think Chirac will succeed.

The American press has been warning of the coming extinction of the prime minister. I would treat these reports with caution, and I write as a Tory member of Parliament, dedicated to the cause of winkling him out. Of course it would be better to have a second UN resolution -- but that is a political question, not a matter of legality. You don't create international law by making the president of Chile a present of new squash courts, or whatever. The UN did not underwrite the Kosovo operation, and the UN did not give Britain leave to recapture the Falkland Islands -- thanks in part, I seem to remember, to the lamentable performance of one Jeane Kirkpatrick, the American ambassador.

Indeed, some might say that America's past treatment of Britain does not deserve to be requited by this slavish devotion. One thinks of Eisenhower's dithering on the Suez, Ronald Reagan's steamrolling Margaret Thatcher on the Grenada invasion, the flow of American citizens' money to the Irish Republican Army. After all, wasn't Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA's political wing, at the White House this weekend celebrating an early St. Patrick's Day? It is not obvious quite how that fits in with the war on terror.

But never mind. We see the big picture. We know that America pulled our chestnuts out of the fire in two hot wars and one cold one. We know that our security is indissolubly linked with America, and Blair will go with America, not Europe.

He will do the Tory thing, not the Labour thing, and he will lose support. He will lose cabinet ministers. But he will not lose office, and I doubt very much that he will lose the war.

Of course, he will be weakened at the end of it all. He will never be forgiven for shaming the doubters, for helping to liberate Iraq from tyranny. His antiwar backbenches will pursue him with special fury if and when he is proved right.

There are also those who predict that the experience will leave the prime minister with a changed view of the world, and that it's finished between him and Chirac. I am not so sure. Never underestimate Blair's protean political personality. I won't be surprised if, in a few months time, this same Blair is urging the British people to scrap the pound sterling and share their monetary arrangements with the "poisonous" Chirac. To anyone of common sense, it looks as though the goal of a shared European foreign and security policy is chimerical. "Mais non!" the Europeans will say, and Blair will smoothly agree that the unhappy experience on Iraq simply shows that we must redouble our efforts to "build Europe."

However strong the anti-French feeling in America, and even in No. 10 Downing Street, it is not remotely shared at the British foreign office. It is magnificent, today's Anglo-American alliance, but other considerations will soon reassert themselves. In this brief, shining moment, therefore, let us end one needless linguistic difference between us. Isn't it about time America stopped this ludicrous and demeaning habit of calling fried, chipped potatoes French fries?

How can any patriotic American use such a term, after the way Chirac has behaved? They tell me some Americans want to call them "freedom fries." Donnez-moi un break. The word is chips. Let's agree on chips, folks, because when the chips are down, Britain is going to stick with America.

Boris Johnson, Conservative member of Parliament for Henley-on-Thames and editor of The Spectator, contributed this comment to The New York Times.