03 February 2010

Iraq: The Unapologetic Tony Blair

And with good reason. The logic he and President Bush used to invade Iraq and take down Saddam was sound and based on the best available information.

In the wake of his testimony before yet another UK inquisition, the WSJ cribbed a few of his best quotes and reminded us all of what we knew, what we didn't know, and why Iraq was and remains important.

Mr. Blair offered a ringing defense of the decision to invade Iraq, and a very different set of lessons for the present. "This isn't about a lie, or a conspiracy, or a deceit, or a deception. It is a decision," Mr. Blair told a packed room that included relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq. "And the decision I had to take was, given [Saddam's] history, given his use of chemical weapons, given the over one million people whose deaths he had caused, given 10 years of breaking U.N. resolutions, could we take the risk of this man reconstituting his weapons program?"

That's a point worth remembering over all the Monday-morning recriminations about "dodgy dossiers" and missing WMD. We have never for a moment believed that the British or U.S. governments deliberately misled their publics over what they thought they knew about Saddam's weapons. Every Western country, including those opposed to the war, believed Saddam had WMD.

But the important point was never so much about what Saddam did or did not possess so much as it was about what he intended. And as Mr. Blair pointed out Friday, "What we now know is that he [Saddam] retained the intent and the intellectual know-how to restart a nuclear and a chemical weapons program when the inspectors were out and the sanctions changed, which they were going to do. . . .

"Today we would be facing a situation where Iraq was competing with Iran, competing both on nuclear weapons capability and competing more importantly perhaps than anything else . . . in respect of support of terrorist groups. . . . If I am asked whether I believe we are safer, more secure, that Iraq is better, that our own security is better, with Saddam and his two sons out of office and out of power, I believe indeed we are."

Mr. Blair was no less clear-eyed about the threat posed today by Iran and its nuclear program, against which he counseled that the international community had to take a "very hard, tough line." Iranian interference was a large reason why the Iraq war "very nearly" failed. Iran remains a sponsor of terrorism and a cause of instability from Afghanistan to Lebanon. The lesson from the Iraq war isn't to avoid action for fear of unanticipated consequences, which are inevitable in any war. It is to take action to prevent the most foreseeable of disasters, namely the combination, in a single regime, of fanaticism, links to terrorism and nuclear weapons.

"The decision I took—and frankly would take again—was, if there was any possibility that he [Saddam] could develop weapons of mass destruction, we would stop him," Mr. Blair told the commission. Listening to him, we are reminded why he ranks with Margaret Thatcher as a pre-eminent statesman of postwar British politics, an achievement unlikely to be matched by the Lilliputians who seek to embarrass him.
Polite British academic company (including my supervisors, etc.) requires that I keep my admiration of Blair (at least on this point) to myself. The shroud of semi-anonymity (at least enough that I can plausibly deny and they can plausibly ignore) allows my full confession of guilt here: I reluctantly endorsed the decision to invade all the way back when (when all the Democrats voted for it and the public heavily supported it) and stand by that decision now.

Things could and would be a heck of a lot worse.

(h/t Scott L.)

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