WASHINGTON, D. C. — As my colleagues are aware, the committee will take the opportunity of its being assembled this morning to take up and pass legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the prime minister of Great Britain, the Honorable Tony Blair. This is not an honor that we take lightly. Throughout our history, only 17 foreign nationals have been so honored. Such individuals as Simon Wiesenthal, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, and Pope John Paul II have been recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal. Today, we can add the name of Tony Blair.
The price of greatness," Winston Churchill wrote, "is responsibility." Tony Blair has led his nation, against considerable political opposition, into the greatest and most tragic of human endeavors – the act of war. In fact, since September 11, 2001, he has truly demonstrated heroism in shouldering enormous responsibility. In the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, sympathy and support for the United States, while certainly greatly appreciated, was nevertheless easy. Thousands of innocent lives suddenly and violently ended in an unprovoked attack cannot help but elicit such sympathy and support.
Support for a cause that runs against the prevailing political winds on a matter of such gravity as the war against Iraq, however, demonstrated a degree of personal courage the likes of which is all too rare in politics. The leader of the Labor Party of Great Britain, at the potential cost of his political future, cast political calculations aside and acted with the strength and determination characteristic of his Conservative predecessor from an earlier era. It would have been relatively easy for Tony Blair to take a less difficult course. Great leaders, though, recognize those critical junctures when politics must take a back seat to the greater interests of the nation and the world. A recent article in the Financial Times summarized the prime minister's approach to important foreign policy issues as follows:
"Deep inside he appears to believe that sometimes a leader needs to look at a situation not with reference to political exigencies, or even by the standards of the day, but as it will be judged on a higher plane at a later date."
Out of his own moral center, Prime Minister Blair emerged as a steadfast and articulate advocate for the policy of removing the horribly brutal regime of Saddam Hussein from power. And I, for one, have absolutely no doubt as to his sincerity. I am still moved by his comment before the House of Commons as the British Parliament began its debate on the looming war in Iraq: "Tell our allies," the prime minister admonished, "that at the very moment of action, at the very moment when they need our determination that Britain faltered. I will not be a party to such a course. This is not the time to falter.
And falter he did not. When the time for war had arrived, British soldiers once again stood side-by-side with our own. That is something many of us do not take lightly. It is easy to be a friend and ally in the absence of adversity. The sign of true friendship, though, is what happens when the true life and death decisions must be taken. Tony Blair proved himself a true a friend of this country, and to the cause of freedom.
Operation Iraqi Freedom was not the Second World War. It was, as such things go, a brief if violent culmination of a long process of sanctions and resolutions and Iraqi recalcitrance. It was, though, a defining moment in post-Cold War world history. The actions of Prime Minister Blair should be seen through that prism. And the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal honors that leadership. As another citizen of Great Britain, Edmund Burke, once noted, "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Tony Blair is a good man, and he deserves this honor.