Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 5, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BLAIR AND IRAQ....I just read Tony Blair's speech on terrorism, and all I can say is: damn. I wish we had a president like that. And believe me, I say this with my eyes wide open to his plentiful shortcomings and almost maddening obsession with style and spin.

For starters, read this:

The real point is that those who disagree with the war, disagree fundamentally with the judgement that led to war. What is more, their alternative judgement is both entirely rational and arguable. Kosovo, with ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians, was not a hard decision for most people; nor was Afghanistan after the shock of September 11; nor was Sierra Leone.

Iraq in March 2003 was an immensely difficult judgement. It was divisive because it was difficult. I have never disrespected those who disagreed with the decision. Sure, some were anti-American; some against all wars. But there was a core of sensible people who faced with this decision would have gone the other way, for sensible reasons. Their argument is one I understand totally. It is that Iraq posed no direct, immediate threat to Britain; and that Iraq's WMD, even on our own case, was not serious enough to warrant war, certainly without a specific UN resolution mandating military action. And they argue: Saddam could, in any event, be contained.

I can hardly begin to tell you how much I crave hearing something like that here in America. I understand that reasonable people can differ on this, but....

I don't think George Bush has ever said anything like that in his life. There are times when I feel like I'm never going to hear words like that again.

Then this:

For me, before September 11th, I was already reaching for a different philosophy in international relations from a traditional one that has held sway since the treaty of Westphalia in 1648; namely that a country's internal affairs are for it and you don't interfere unless it threatens you, or breaches a treaty, or triggers an obligation of alliance. I did not consider Iraq fitted into this philosophy, though I could see the horrible injustice done to its people by Saddam.

....September 11th was for me a revelation. What had seemed inchoate came together. The point about September 11th was not its detailed planning; not its devilish execution; not even, simply, that it happened in America, on the streets of New York. All of this made it an astonishing, terrible and wicked tragedy, a barbaric murder of innocent people. But what galvanised me was that it was a declaration of war by religious fanatics who were prepared to wage that war without limit. They killed 3000. But if they could have killed 30,000 or 300,000 they would have rejoiced in it. The purpose was to cause such hatred between Moslems and the West that a religious jihad became reality; and the world engulfed by it.

....Which brings me to the final point. It may well be that under international law as presently constituted, a regime can systematically brutalise and oppress its people and there is nothing anyone can do, when dialogue, diplomacy and even sanctions fail, unless it comes within the definition of a humanitarian catastrophe (though the 300,000 remains in mass graves already found in Iraq might be thought by some to be something of a catastrophe). This may be the law, but should it be?

We know now, if we didn't before, that our own self interest is ultimately bound up with the fate of other nations. The doctrine of international community is no longer a vision of idealism. It is a practical recognition that just as within a country, citizens who are free, well educated and prosperous tend to be responsible, to feel solidarity with a society in which they have a stake; so do nations that are free, democratic and benefiting from economic progress, tend to be stable and solid partners in the advance of humankind. The best defence of our security lies in the spread of our values.

This is just an excerpt or two; there's lots more and it's worth reading. It's convincing in a way that George Bush can only dream of, and what's more, it oozes sincerity. I don't think anyone doubts that he truly believes all this.

By now I suspect that my British readers may be smirking a bit at all this. They are, after all, far more sensitive than I am to those shortcomings of Blair's that I mentioned above. All I can say to them is this: if you had spent the last three years listening to George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld every day, your guy would seem like a dream come true.

Then again, I suppose just about anyone else would too.

Kevin Drum 9:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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