National Commentary

Helen Thomas: Goodbye, Mr. Blair

WASHINGTON — Good news came in the form of the announcement by British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he will step down next month.

Blair’s departure robs President Bush of his most dedicated ally in the bogus war against Iraq. The president’s war stance will now be severely weakened without Blair’s cheerleading.

The loss of the British leader’s support will make Bush even lonelier in his war leadership. Even some of Bush’s stalwart Republican backers are beginning to think the unthinkable, that it is time to design a U.S. exit strategy and set benchmarks for the Iraqi government to get its own house in order.

Blair defied the antipathy of the British people against the war and consequently saw his approval ratings fall to 26 percent. His defensive farewell remarks repeatedly reaffirmed his feelings that "I did what I thought was right."

No one will miss him more than Bush who could always count on Blair’s loyalty. The Brit’s steadfast support allowed Bush to refer to the "coalition forces," which were in fact almost wholly U.S. and U.K. military units.

There are many theories why Blair became Bush’s enabler on the world stage. Some say he wanted to be a "player." Others insist he was a true believer. In his May 10 farewell address, Blair offered this interesting insight: "Provided you think you’re right, you can get through it."

Even though he has won a degree of sectarian reconciliation in Northern Ireland and can point to other achievements during his 10-year tenure, Blair’s legacy will be inextricably tied to Bush’s historic Iraqi disaster. His blind loyalty tainted his last years in office.

It was Blair who said in the run up to the war that Saddam Hussein could launch his weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes. The prime minister apparently chose to ignore the notorious "Downing Street memo" drafted by the chief British intelligence officer after visiting Washington and meeting with high-level Bush administration officials in July 2002.

The spook returned to London and reported on his trip by writing the memo. Bush was determined to go to war against Iraq, the memo reported, and the U.S. "would fix the facts around the policy."

Now it’s about time for some on the U.S. home front to pay for their misjudgments and incompetence.

First among them should be Paul Wolfowitz, who could be forced to resign from his cushy job as president of the World Bank for promoting and hiking the salary of his girlfriend Shaha Ali Riza. The flap has caused a crisis of confidence at the bank; Wolfowitz can solve the crisis by quitting.

Before winning the World Bank job, Wolfowitz was a key U.S. architect of the Iraqi debacle.

Another person who should leave public service to "seek new opportunities," as the expression goes, is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whose credibility has been seriously shattered with his various explanations and non-explanations to Congress on the firing of nine federal prosecutors.

It’s incredible that President Bush continued to express confidence in Gonzales after the testimony earlier this week of former Deputy Attorney General James Comey.

Picture this: Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was in intensive care at a local hospital where he is being treated for pancreatitis in March 2004. Comey, then the acting attorney general because of Ashcroft’s illness, was in the hospital room with Ashcroft when Gonzales, then Bush’s White House counsel, arrived and tried to pressure Ashcroft to approve the legality of Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program.

Ashcroft refused to do so. But Bush went ahead anyway with the illegal wiretapping, relenting later when Comey and others threatened to resign.

Bush later promoted Gonzales to attorney general.

I’m not making this up.

Gonzales also carries a lot of baggage for his disgraceful endorsement of torture as a means of extracting confessions from detainees while he was White House counsel.

His flip dismissal of the Geneva Conventions on Human Rights as "quaint" and "obsolete" will be long remembered.

White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters that both Gonzales and Wolfowitz have Bush’s full confidence.

The team that the president picked to help run the government was unimpressive. Now, his chickens are coming home to roost.

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  © 2007 Hearst Newspapers

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