Embattled Blair Urges Allies to 'Tough It Out' in Iraq

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair's views on Iraq and the important global role played by the United States brought applause from conservatives in the Australian parliament on Monday, but his comments did not please the Labor opposition -- the party historically allied to Blair's.

Opposed to the war from the outset, the Australian Labor Party has long called for the country to withdraw its armed forces from Iraq, and party leader Kim Beazley is now pushing for the troops' return at the end of their current rotation in May.

Blair tackled the issue head-on in a major speech delivered to a joint sitting of the federal parliament in Canberra, only the fourth ever by a foreign leader.

"Every reactionary element is lined up to fight us [in Iraq and Afghanistan]," he said. "They know if they lose, a message is sent out across the Muslim world that strikes at the heart of their ideology. So they are fighting hard.

"We must not hesitate in the face of a battle utterly decisive in whether the values we believe in triumph -- or fail," he said. "If the going is tough, we tough it out. This is not a time to walk away. This is a time for the courage to see it through."

The comments were greeted by stony silence from the Labor benches, in contrast to applause from members of Prime Minister John Howard's conservative coalition.

The British, Australian and New Zealand Labor parties have strong historic ties but are far apart on Iraq and have differences over the war against Islamist terrorism.

Blair was due to hold a private meeting with Beazley on Tuesday before leaving for New Zealand, where again his position on Iraq will clash with that of the Prime Minister Helen Clark's ruling Labor party. Like its Australian counterpart, her party opposed the war.

Blair's trip comes as he faces a continuing political crisis and plummeting polls at home. He has weathered internal party rifts over the war, security legislation and education reforms, but now a corruption scandal has fueled calls for him to hand over party leadership to his heir apparent, Finance Minister Gordon Brown.

'Don't always agree with US'

During his speech in Canberra, Blair also addressed anti-U.S. sentiment.

"I want to speak plainly here. I do not always agree with the U.S.," he said. "Sometimes they can be difficult friends to have.

"But the strain of, frankly, anti-American feeling in parts of European politics is madness when set against the long-term interests of the world we believe in.

"The danger with America today is not that they are too much involved. The danger is that they decide to pull up the drawbridge and disengage. We need them involved. We want them engaged.

"The reality is that none of the problems that press in on us can be resolved or even contemplated without them."

Downing Street said the address was the second of three major foreign policy speeches planned by Blair. The first, last week, dealt with what was at stake in Iraq and more broadly on the struggle against Islamist extremism.

The third speech, due to be delivered in Washington, will focus on "how international institutions need radical reform."

Some political analysts in Britain believe the trio of speeches may be valedictory.

Blair is under fire after it emerged that prominent businessmen who had given private loans to his party were recommended for seats in the upper House of Lords.

The loans were secret, because a loophole in the law allows a party to accept loans without disclosing them, unlike the case with outright donations.

The row has fueled speculation in Britain that Blair, who has won three consecutive elections since 1997, will have to step down soon.

"He may be a lame duck, but Blair still has impact," a commentator wrote in The Australian Tuesday.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow