Tony Blair will likely go down in history as a star that blew it. A young, energetic opposition leader that found his opportunity to end 18 years of Tory rule, who went on, with Bill Clinton and the United States, to save millions of lives in the Balkans and Sierra Leone. But then came Iraq, and so the story goes the star which was Blair was extinguished in a spectacular supernova. A similar tale can be told of George W. Bush, who reached astronomical levels of popularity before invading Iraq.
But unlike Bush, who has chosen a post-presidency life of relative obscurity, Blair has remained in the public eye, opining on issues ranging from social policy to combating AIDS and poverty to the recent European elections to Western foreign policy. We should be thankful, because he’s a voice well worth listening to, as he demonstrated again this week, to the unlettered scorn of Britain’s reactionary press.
Mr. Blair has written an essay on the recent events in Iraq that’s worth taking a look at. Or not, because the point is essentially so obvious that I’m surprised he took time out of his schedule to write it. (And no, it was not an intern who wrote it. We Blairites have a taste for his writing and speaking style.)
Here’s the key excerpt:
“The […] argument is that but for the invasion of 2003, Iraq would be a stable country today. Leave aside the treatment Saddam meted out to the majority of his people whether Kurds, Shia or marsh Arabs, whose position of ‘stability’ was that of appalling oppression. Consider the post 2011 Arab uprisings. Put into the equation the counterfactual – that Saddam and his two sons would be running Iraq in 2011 when the uprisings began. Is it seriously being said that the revolution sweeping the Arab world would have hit Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, to say nothing of the smaller upheavals all over the region, but miraculously Iraq, under the most brutal and tyrannical of all the regimes, would have been an oasis of calm?
“Easily the most likely scenario is that Iraq would have been engulfed by precisely the same convulsion. Take the hypothesis further. The most likely response of Saddam would have been to fight to stay in power. Here we would have a Sunni leader trying to retain power in the face of a Shia revolt. Imagine the consequences. Next door in Syria a Shia backed minority would be clinging to power trying to stop a Sunni majority insurgency. In Iraq the opposite would be the case. The risk would have been of a full blown sectarian war across the region, with States not fighting by proxy, but with national armies.”
Blair also defends his decision, as he always has, to invade Iraq. I believe in retrospect that the decision was in error. But that’s not important, as counterintuitive as this sounds. What is important, is that by misreading the current upheaval in Iraq as a direct result of our intervention there in 2003, we have excused the actual decisions that led up to this, which were made, surprise surprise, as an irrational fear of “repeating Iraq” in Syria. (Irrational because a ground invasion was never proposed). We will learn nothing from our decisions in Syria if we re-litigate the Iraq War.
What’s happening in Iraq is not our fault, certainly not in the moral sense of the term. We should never relieve even a modicum of responsibility from the terrorists who kill and maim innocents in the name of extremism. And my own sense of moral integrity doesn’t allow me to lament the loss of Saddam Hussein as a paragon of stability.
If we continue to ruminate on 2003, we will continue to make poor decisions. It’s time to stop.