While President Obama has been at pains in recent days to declare the Iraq War over and done with, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been loudly defending the enterprise, and addressing the broader threat posed by radical Islam, in language that must be causing the most penitent, deferential, and morally ambiguous leader in America’s history to wince.
Blair’s memoir, A Journey, was published this month, thrusting him back into the media spotlight and rekindling hostility towards him from opponents of the war. In Dublin, anti-war campaigners, their ranks swollen by pro-IRA thugs, laid siege to a store where Blair was signing copies of his book, hurling eggs and, in the latest tiresome homage to the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George Bush, assorted pieces of footwear (they missed). The sight of self-proclaimed peace protestors standing shoulder-to-shoulder with supporters of terrorists would have seemed odd to anyone not familiar with the left’s high degree of moral flexibility when it comes to choosing their allies.
Following the protests, Blair cancelled a book signing in London and a private event at an art gallery, saying he didn’t want the public to be “inconvenienced” by protestors. Predictably, anti-war groups claimed victory. “It shows he is running scared,” gloated Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition. “The people who say we should not protest are denying us the right to persist in asking questions about the war and denying the rights of Iraqis who are still suffering because of Blair’s policies.”
The irony is that while the anti-war crowd prefers to shout down its opponents rather than engage in debate, Blair is more than happy to answer what are necessarily difficult questions about the war. He’s faced plenty in recent days — albeit from more civilized inquistors than the Stop the War Coalition — and he’s been eloquent and impassioned in defense of his decision to support the invasion.
In Britain, much of the interest in Blair’s book has focused on domestic politics. For observers outside the UK, and particularly in the U.S., interest is centered on Iraq, and by extension on Blair’s relationship with President Bush. Blair has always been able to defend the decision to go to war, and fit that war into the bigger global picture, with an eloquence that Bush could seldom muster. In both the book itself, and interviews given to coincide with its release (including this one with the Guardian), Blair is unwavering on the need to counter the threats that were posed by Saddam and are still posed by radical Islam. He’s equally resolute in his defense of President Bush. In A Journey he writes: “One of the most ludicrous caricatures of George is that he was a dumb idiot who stumbled into the presidency.” He also says Bush had “genuine integrity, and as much political courage as any leader I ever met.”
His arguments will be familiar to many: If al-Qaeda could have killed 300,000 instead of 3,000 on 9/11, they would have done so; after 9/11 the calculus for dealing with rogue states changed; Saddam had made and used WMDs in the past and wanted to produce them again; the war was legal because Saddam was in breach of UN resolutions; al-Qaeda and Iran were responsible for much of the bloodshed that followed the invasion, and could not be allowed to fill the power vacuum in Iraq. Blair also raised the spectre of Saddam, left in power and enriched by rising oil prices, competing with Iran for nuclear supremacy, a scenario envisioned recently by David Frum and Daniel Henninger among others.
Blair’s most impressive performance came in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr. If you’re outside the UK you won’t be able to watch it at the BBC’s website, but at the time of writing at least one recording was available on YouTube. The parts dealing with Iraq and the War on Terror are here and here.