Friday, May 11, 2007

Blair Blare

[posted by Callimachus]

Matt Yglesias notes something true about Tony Blair, but he gets the story wrong. Here's Matt:

[Blair] was more significant in selling the Iraq War in the United States than is commonly recognized. Lots and lots of Democrats who would never in a million years have taken George W. Bush's word for it that there was this huge Iraqi WMD threat and a reasonable American military plan to take it out, were perfectly prepared to be convinced by the fact that Blair, who one would think had access to more detailed information than any of us sitting at home reading the newspaper. In retrospect, obviously, this turns out to have been a terrible heuristic, but I think it was one that influenced a lot of people at the time.

Absolutely right about Blair being more convincing than Bush, and making his case more persuasively, and being the leader many thoughtful Americans -- and not just Democrats -- were willing to heed in the painful choices of 2003. But it wasn't his WMD dossier that convinced us. Rather, the convictions and conversions wrought by Blair's WMD assertions have been a longstanding canard of the American anti-war movement. Blair himself labored in vain to correct the record on that point:

"We have seen one element -- intelligence about some WMD being ready for use in 45 minutes -- elevated into virtually the one fact that persuaded the nation into war. This intelligence was mentioned by me once in my statement to the House of Commons on 24 September and not mentioned by me again in any debate. It was mentioned by no-one in the crucial debate on 18 March 2003. In the period from 24 September to 29 May, the date of the BBC broadcast on it, it was raised twice in almost 40,000 written parliamentary questions in the House of Commons; and not once in almost 5,000 oral questions."

Instead, it was Blair's humanitarian justification for the war to overthrow Saddam that appealed to the idealism in me and many others. Perhaps the best short summation of it I've seen is this fair reading from the generally hostile and anti-war "Guardian," in a leader from March 31, 2003:

Mr Blair has invaded Iraq for different reasons from Mr Rumsfeld. In Mr Blair's world, Saddam is a moral outrage, both for the way that he treats his own people and for the threat that he poses to others, especially if he were to use weapons of mass destruction or to put them into the hands of terrorists. Putting Iraq to rights, in Mr Blair's view, should be the whole world's business. The more that all the nations make common cause to do this, the better. The less this happens, the more vital it is to balance any absence of common cause with a series of equitable and humanitarian initiatives - on the Middle East and on reconstruction in particular - which can help to establish what Disraeli, seeking to justify the British invasion of Abyssinia in 1867, called "the purity of our purpose".

P.S.: I'm pretty sure Matt's used heuristic wrongly here, if it means, as I think it does, "serving to discover or find out." There's no value judgment in it.