This week, Tony Blair departed office after ten years, the British Labour Party’s longest-serving prime minister, the only person to have led the party to three consecutive general election victories, and the only Labour prime minister to serve more than one full consecutive term. He leaves office with 61 percent of the British public judging him to have been a good prime minister. Add to that the high popularity that he enjoyed through much of his tenure and it becomes difficult to reconcile it with his earlier than intended departure under compulsion from his own party. What happened?
To say the Iraq war happened, with Blair’s stalwart support and involvement, is the lion’s share of the answer, but that in turn poses other questions. Opposition to the war generally splits into two: those who revile the Western powers as motivated by all manner of avarice and aggression, and others who know that good is intended but who doubt or reject the means used to achieve it. No argument will sway the former, but the latter have been listening and many in the end have found the argument wanting. Why?
It used to be customary for the war’s supporters in America to bemoan President Bush’s inarticulateness while breathing a sigh of relief when Blair stepped into the breach to make a rousing case for removing Saddam Hussein and reviving Iraq. That he led a British Labour government was only to be marveled at, just as his defiance of popularity at home over a matter of conviction was only to be admired in a man often held to be manipulative and media-obsessed. (Even by his own recent admission, he devoted “inordinate attention in the early days of New Labour to courting, assuaging and persuading the media.”) Yet in the end Blair’s argument failed to sway enough of the British public and even his own party.
Partly, this is bad luck. There was no reason to assume that the post-Saddam epoch would be one of prolonged American mishandling and several, not easily reversed, mistakes. The operational decisions being American ones, Blair was to that extent at the mercy of events. A swifter and more decisive outcome would have caused much of the criticism to wither away. There is little point complaining about liberating Iraqis from tyranny.
But on-going bloodshed is another matter, say the critics. They are right, but only if one accepts the premise that a failure to bring tranquil democracy to Iraq is the decisive test of the war’s merit.
MANY, PERHAPS MOST, SUPPORTERS of the war, including me, did not subscribe to that view. Instead, we cited Saddam’s chronic violations of the 1991 Gulf war ceasefire; his retention of the technology, toxins and research infrastructure to achieve it; the massive human toll of his rule (eclipsing today’s casualty figures); his past genocide, aggression and patronage of terrorists. The problem is that Tony Blair, the war’s most effective spokesman, did subscribe to the democracy litmus test. What possessed him to set the bar to such heights and to invite a negative verdict on his own conduct?
Blair believes that democracy is a cure for terrorism. In a sense he is right. But in an important sense he is mistaken. That which militates against democracy — religious fanaticism, ideological totalitarianism, tribal loyalties trumping civil society — also produced the repression that Blair sought to cure. Yet he failed to understand that there is no democratic silver bullet, that a society devoid of democratic traditions and memory cannot become democratic in the short space of a few years.
To think otherwise exposes a confusion of democratic processes (elections, parliaments, constitutions, referenda) with the characteristics of democratic society (separation of religion and state, contractual, law-abiding, pluralistic, tertiary educated) that alone permit democratic processes to have meaning. The nature of the society in question, not assemblies and documents, is the deciding criterion.
Failure to understand this leads to polices that stress democratic processes at the expense of democratic purposes — something witnessed last year when the Bush Administration foisted legislative elections upon Palestinians, thereby bringing to power the doctrinally genocidal Hamas movement. Similarly, in Iraq, making democracy a higher priority than security, at least until now, has thwarted efforts to bring either to Iraq.p>Yet Blair understood this no better than Bush, to judge by one of his fullest statements on Iraq — his July 17, 2003 address to a joint session of Congress, as these excerpts show: br> /p>
“There is a myth that though we love freedom, others don’t; that our attachment to freedom is a product of our Western values; that Afghan women were content under the lash of the Taliban; that Saddam was somehow beloved by his people.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
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In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
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It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
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