No Time for Trophies: Blair Prefers Medal at Mint Not on Mantle

When British Prime Minister Tony Blair swings into Washington, D.C., next week for a bit of a farewell tour as leader of the United Kingdom, he is not expected to swing by Capitol Hill, even though one of the highest honors the U.S. government bestows awaits him there.

It's the Congressional Gold Medal, which was awarded to Blair in 2003 for being a staunch ally of the United States.

Blair's Britain, after all, is a major member of the "coalition of the willing" that joined the United States to invade Iraq and oust Saddam Hussein.

Blair technically accepted the award when he addressed a joint session of Congress that July, when American and British involvement in Iraq seemed to be waning.

He thanked Congress then but said the troops deserved the real credit, for supporting the United States belonged to the troops on the front lines.

"You, like me, know who the real heroes are: those brave service men and women, yours and ours, who fought the war and risked their lives still. And our tribute to them should be measured in this way, by showing them and their families that they did not strive or die in vain, but that through their sacrifice future generations can live in greater peace, prosperity and hope," Blair told the bipartisan gathering.

Medal at the Mint Not on Blair's Mantel

In the nearly four years since then, although Blair did give the speech in which he thanked Congress, he has yet to actually collect the medal itself.

The medal has yet to be made or even designed.

Tony Blair's Congressional Gold Medal is lying, unformed somewhere in the states.

In the time since Blair was awarded his medal and not picked it up, Congress conferred the honor collectively on 300 members of the Tuskegee Airmen.

It took less than two years for the medal honoring African-American World War II pilots to be awarded, designed and made.

But according to a spokesman for the U.S. Mint, Blair's is still in the design phase, even now.

Better Late Than Never

The Congressional Gold Medal has only been awarded 134 times in U.S. history, the first of which predates the United States.

Mike White, spokesman for the U.S. Mint, said the first Congressional Gold Medal was awarded in 1776, before there was a Congress, to George Washington.

And, according to White, Blair's wait is not unprecedented.

Washington did not actually get his medal until 1790, 24 years after he was awarded it, but only one year after the country as we know it today was formed.

By that standard, Blair has a long wait ahead.

But most of the 134 other Congressional Gold Medals awarded have much less time to mint, as Blair's hometown paper pointed out in 2005.

The prime minister was quoted then as saying he didn't know why the medal had not yet been made.

"It's not the biggest thing on my plate at the moment, is it?" Blair retorted.

With no slack in the pace of the Iraq war, it's unlikely the medal has been the biggest thing on his plate since then, either.

But with retirement in his future, perhaps Blair will have more time to discuss a design with the U.S. Mint. After all, each medal is unique.

And, of course, it's possible that Blair will hold off on the medal, raising the question of whether it is more a snub to Americans for not collecting his medal or a snub to the British for collecting a medal from the United States for his support of a war that continues past his tenure?