The Blair Era / He Also Didn't Know When to Quit

Tony Blair finally announced the date of his retirement. He was only 30 when he was first elected to parliament - the youngest delegate of defeated Labor. Soon his youthful star rose in the geriatric party. Blair infused new blood into Labor's clogged arteries and 14 years later he was elected prime minister by an overwhelming majority.

No one could have been more promising - young and intelligent, innovative and ambitious. He was elected twice more, becoming the first Labor leader in history to be prime minister three consecutive times.

This month he turned 54 and his career is furrowed with wrinkles; not much is left of the great promise. In these parts prime ministers don't survive 10 years in office, yet their entrance is similar - "a new dawn is rising" - as is their disappointing exit.

The most recent survey shows that only six percent of Britons have confidence in Blair, while most have lost their belief in him. Never has a British premier sunk so low. Only an Israeli premier could sink lower - and survive.

During his ten years in office Blair has had achievements, too: the economy thrived, relatively, education and health improved, and his social democracy blocked the vulture Darwinism of teacher Thatcher and her student Benjamin Netanyahu. That is no mean feat. And only a few days ago he lived to see his greatest accomplishment: peace in Northern Ireland.

He could have gone down in his country's history as one of the most important leaders of the new era. He could have entered the national pantheon together with Winston Churchill, Clement Atlee and Thatcher. He could have but won't, because one calamity he caused will not be forgotten or forgiven. It's called Iraq. Had he admitted that he erred, his leaving might have evoked appreciation for his work, despite everything. But since he won't admit to having made a mistake his departure raises a sigh of relief. The English are saying good riddance. The Scots and the Welsh have also spoken out loud and clear.

Blair not only joined George W. Bush in the war on Iraq, he also took part in all the president's lies. In his memoirs Blair will write that the war's major failure was its length, as though the length is not a function of the war's imaginary, unattainable goals. He will try to shift the responsibility to his army, intelligence and national security council, but a prime minister's responsibility doesn't shift. Any prime minister who embarks on a war-of-choice based on such flimsy foundations is committing political suicide.

As Israelis we have no reason to regret Blair's premature departure. He showered both us and the Palestinians with promises of his personal commitment to seek a solution to the conflict, but here, too, he followed Bush, the turkey, like a lame duck.

There is also another reason - perhaps the main one - for his shamefaced retirement: Like most politicians, Blair simply didn't know when to quit. They cling to their seat, desperately hoping for a last minute miracle to save them and their heritage. No such miracle saved Blair, and none will save Olmert. Only Peres could still get lucky.