As a political junkie, I love his account of reforming Britain’s Labour Party and government. Labourites viewed themselves as champions of the working class. But, as Blair shows, what eluded them was the human aspirations of working people to rise – to be working for something. Many Labourites were so intoxicated with the idea of working class solidarity they could not abide working people striving to become – ewww – middle class. That was what Blair’s career mainly was about.
And, of course, Iraq.
Blair left office – brought down, really – as a villain. History can be a harsh judge. Also mistaken.
Yes, his memoir is a foresquare defense against the calumnies he’s endured. He starts off saying he won’t apologize, that would be wrong. And yet, I actually found him too apologetic in tone, too generous to his attackers.
Take the legality issue. How often the word “illegal” is paired with “Iraq War.” Blair allows that this could be argued either way. But he states the facts. UN Resolution 1441 in November, 2002, gave Saddam one last chance to comply with previous edicts. It did not specify military consequences, and war critics argued that a “second resolution” would have been needed for that. However, back in 1990, Resolution 678 had already authorized “all necessary means” to enforce the UN strictures that Saddam was flouting; 678 was still in effect; and 1441 expressly reaffirmed 678. Furthermore, 1441’s “legislative history” shows rejection of French and Russian moves to insert a requirement for a further resolution before military action.
The conclusion that the Iraq War was UN-authorized is – excuse the expression – a slam-dunk.
Blair is equally trenchant on the other Iraq issues. The canard that it was “all about oil” he crushes in one line: if so, we could have made an oil deal with Saddam in a heartbeat. (And anyway, oil is vital to the world economy.) Blair acknowledges post-war missteps, but shows how the bloody aftermath – a battle for power within Iraq, exacerbated by outside forces (Iran and Al-Qaeda) – unfolded in ways that could not reasonably have been foreseen. The much-feared disasters did not in fact occur; and what did was not the consequence of our bungling but, rather, a deliberate, wicked and fierce effort to wreck Iraqi society. Blair says we had to fight that. And, to the question, “if you knew then what you know now . . .” Blair answers that his decisions would be the same.
The key reason for that judgment contravenes another verse of the conventional catechism: that, on some misguided idea of making Iraq better, we made it worse. Much worse.
People who think so are people who never had to live in Saddam’s Iraq. It’s a mistake of ignorance. This was not just another garden-variety dictator. The suffering Iraq had to go through to get free – yes, everything – was worth it. As bad as all that was, Saddam’s Iraq was indeed worse. Much worse.*
No, not that Bush and Blair lied. The Big Lie is that they lied.
Here I will do a Blair and acknowledge how widely accepted this lie has become, so you might be forgiven for believing it. But read the book, and if you still think they lied (or cooked the intelligence), your brain is encased in concrete.** Prior to the war, every attentive observer believed Iraq had WMD programs. It wasn’t a fantasy, or a fabricated “pretext” for war. After all, if Saddam didn’t have WMD, why wouldn’t he have come clean and (literally) saved his neck? And – even if the WMD program was subject to doubt – could we have risked being wrong?
But I have more to say. All this “Blair lied” and “Bush lied” stuff is utterly disgusting. You can disagree with policies and decisions, you can loathe the results, but to believe these men were so venal that they lied (sure to be exposed, by the way) to sacrifice lives in a war for (God knows what) bad purposes, then cynicism has totally corroded your soul and destroyed your judgment. This sort of thing has been poisoning our politics.
I have harped on this before. I have strong views on political issues but, by and large, people who disagree I think are honest and sincere and genuinely seek the common good. But I await all-too-predictable comments of a different tenor from people disagreeing with me.
Blair’s book makes painful reading about what hell he’s endured over Iraq. (And his book launch was attended by vicious demonstrations.) Ironically, to have wimped out would have been altogether self-serving and politically expedient, whereas the course he chose was the hard one, and he has indeed paid a heavy price for doing what he believed was right. He should be honored for that – even if you think he was wrong.
Someday there will be a world where horrible choices like 2003’s need no longer be made. I am sure of it. But until then, we must face up to our choices.
* Iraq’s population today is actually almost surely higher than it would be were Saddam still there. And its standard of living far higher.
** The whole “Blair lied” trope was launched by a BBC report that his office had “sexed up” an intelligence dossier about WMD. That report itself was eventually proven false. But, to paraphrase Mark Twain, a lie can run around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.