War On The World: ROUTLEDGE - Chief Political Commentator finds the Premier short of Churchill spirit.
THE war began at 10 minutes to 10 yesterday morning, when Tony Blair sat down after addressing a hushed House of Commons.
He had served notice to the terrorists who attacked America that retaliation - and more - was on the way.
Speaking quietly, his voice occasionally close to breaking, the Prime Minister reminded the fanatics that we hold our beliefs in democracy, reason and tolerance every bit as strongly as they hold theirs.
"Now is the time to show it," he declared. There were few details about how the war would be conducted. Only a warning that it would continue "until this menace is dealt with and its machinery of terror destroyed".
Blair devoted only one sentence to the root cause of the terror - the Arab-Israeli conflict. He argued that the peace process should "if at all possible" be moved forward but later admitted he had no specific ideas on how this should, or could be done.
There you have it. A call to arms, with the imprecise objective of stamping out world-wide terror and - very much in third place - sorting out the causes of terror.
Fortunately for Mr Blair, the nation is not inclined to ask too many questions. Watching crowds observing the three-minute silence, I was struck by their quiet resolve.
If anything, emotions will harden as the body bags come home.
But at some point, Mr Blair will have to demonstrate whether he is a Churchill or an Eden - a winner, or a loser. A man whose conviction shouts from the roof tops, or the quiet chap whose opening line is so easily satirised: "Hey, look, you guys..."
On yesterday's performance, the jury is still out. By contrast with the passionless Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw impressed MPs with his intensity of emotion and grasp of historical precedent. He spoke of the appeasement years of the 1930s, and warned that turning the other cheek to the terrorists would only lead to greater danger.
It was a good day, too, for Iain Duncan Smith, the new Tory leader, who acquitted himself well on his first appearance at the Despatch Box.
As a former Army officer, he was naturally more militaristic than the Prime Minister, and he gave the Government a blank cheque of support.
My real worry is that we are embarking on a long conflict to the sound of an uncertain trumpet from Mr Blair. If he knows where he is going, he is not letting us into the secret.