American Enterprise Online
June 16, 2004
By Alan W. Dowd
Ronald Reagan seized the momentum of the 1980 election with the famous phrase, “There you go again.” It was his way of reminding us that President Carter was, ahem, confusing the Medicare debate. Perhaps it was all those wonderful clips and sound bites of Reagan that filled the airwaves over the last week or so, but as British Prime Minister Tony Blair left the G-8 Summit in coastal Georgia, that phrase kept echoing my mind—but for a wholly different reason.
President Bush is a plain-spoken man, which is both a blessing and curse. While most Americans find it endearing, Bush’s bluntness is not always well received. But more often than not, Blair has been able to translate Bush’s words for the European ear, smooth and soften them for the British public, amplify them for the American media, and deliver them from an unexpected direction to the American left. In a word, Blair has been Bush’s voice.
Take, for example, how the PM reacted at the G-8 Summit to French President Jacques Chirac’s less-than-supportive position on the peacekeeping force in Iraq and the prospects for a wider NATO role. According to Blair, "The next step in this is going to be for the new Iraqi government to sit down with a multinational force and work out how, over time, the Iraqi capability for security can be established and built up.” Speaking pointedly about the regional revolution that could be set off by a democratic Iraq, he added, “This is a process of change and we have got to help people manage it." In other words, the peacekeeping force is in Iraq for the long haul; and since it’s mostly comprised of NATO troops, NATO is going to play a central role as guarantor of Iraq’s security and perhaps midwife of Iraq’s democracy—like it or not, Jacques.
“There you go again, Tony.”
It all began on September 14, 2001, when Blair addressed the House of Commons about September 11 and its many consequences. There was no ambiguity or moral equivalence: “Whatever the cause, whatever the perversion of religious feeling, whatever the political belief,” Blair observed, “to inflict such terror on the world; to take the lives of so many innocent and defenseless men, women, and children, can never ever be justified.” Instead, there was a call for common cause and unity. “This is a moment when every difference between nations, every divergence of interest, every irritant in our relations, are put to one side in one common endeavor. The world should stand together against this outrage,” he intoned. Perhaps he knew what would soon be emanating from Paris and Berlin.
And there was something else—a preview of what was to come from his partner in the White House, a bold, unapologetic declaration about the nature of the enemy and the nature of civilization’s response to it.
Bush grabbed all the headlines when he divided the world in two on September 20, 2001: “Any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” At other times, he was even blunter: “You are with us or with the terrorists.” Most observers concluded that Bush was aiming his rhetoric—and America’s military might—at the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which he indeed was. However, Bush was also laying the groundwork for something far more revolutionary than simply rolling back terrorist organizations and the states that harbor and fund them. In early 2002, the president began to unveil a doctrine of preventive self-defense. “The United States will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons,” Bush declared in the 2002 State of the Union. “As a matter of common sense and self-defense,” Bush later explained in a national-security whitepaper, “America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed.”
But it was Blair who sounded these themes first. A full week before Bush outlined the first phase of his doctrine, Blair declared, “Those that harbor or help [terrorists] have a choice: either to cease their protection of our enemies, or be treated as an enemy.” And he didn’t stop there. Foreshadowing the proactive elements of the Bush Doctrine, he warned that terrorists and their sponsors “would, if they could, go further and use chemical or biological or even nuclear weapons of mass destruction.” As a consequence, Blair continued, “we need to rethink dramatically the scale and nature of the actions the world takes to combat terrorism.” Sounding positively Churchillian, he concluded his remarks with an ominous footnote. “We have been warned by the events of 11 September. We should act on the warning.”
Which led Bush and Blair to Iraq.
By March 2003, after months of transatlantic wrangling, it was apparent that France would block a new UN resolution aimed at disarming Saddam Hussein. Blair had more than Britain’s army and navy at the ready; like earlier wartime PMs, he also had his arguments locked and loaded. First, he described what Hans Blix and his hapless inspectors (not the CIA or British Intelligence) said about Saddam’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
“On 7 March,” Blair explained, “the inspectors published a remarkable document. It is 173 pages long, detailing all the unanswered questions about Iraq's WMD. It lists 29 different areas where they have been unable to obtain information. For example: ‘Mustard constituted an important part (about 70%) of Iraq's CW arsenal ... 550 mustard filled shells and up to 450 mustard filled aerial bombs unaccounted for ... additional uncertainty with respect of 6526 aerial bombs, corresponding to approximately 1000 tonnes of agent, predominantly mustard. Based on unaccounted for growth media, Iraq's potential production of anthrax could have been in the range of about 15,000 to 25,000 litres ... Based on all the available evidence, the strong presumption is that about 10,000 litres of anthrax was not destroyed and may still exist.’ We are now seriously asked to accept that in the last few years, contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence, he decided unilaterally to destroy the weapons. Such a claim is palpably absurd.”
Mincing no words, he went on to conclude that France was gambling with nothing less than the transatlantic relationship. “The outcome of this issue will now determine more than the fate of the Iraqi regime and more than the future of the Iraqi people, for so long brutalized by Saddam. It will determine the way Britain and the world confront the central security threat of the 21st century; the development of the UN; the relationship between Europe and the US; the relations within the EU and the way the US engages with the rest of the world. It will determine the pattern of international politics for the next generation…We laid down an ultimatum calling upon Saddam to come into line with resolution 1441 or be in material breach. Not an unreasonable proposition, given the history. But still countries hesitated.”
And he called them by name. “France said it would veto a second resolution whatever the circumstances. Then France denounced the six tests. Later that day, Iraq rejected them.” That’s right, Blair was reminding skeptics within his own Labour Party and on the continent alike: Jacques Chirac rejected the compromise measure even before Saddam Hussein.
Blair knew that French opposition to the war had nothing to do with better intelligence assets—Chirac conceded that Saddam had WMDs. Blair knew it had nothing to do with French commitment to process and procedure—Saddam was in violation of 16 resolutions spread across 13 years. It was about nothing more or less than French frustration with American power, and to this childish position Blair had a powerful, sobering response: “If our plea is for America to work with others, to be good as well as powerful allies, will our retreat make them multilateralist; or will it not rather be the biggest impulse to unilateralism there could ever be?”
In other words, after luring Washington back to the UN only to deliver a double-cross, the multilateralists were sowing the wind and would one day reap a whirlwind. As historian John Lewis Gaddis has concluded, “There is something worse out there than American hegemony.” Blair understands this. The French have not been so persuaded.
Finally, during the firestorm in Fallujah and in Najaf this spring, Blair added clarity to Bush’s voice yet again, offering perspective and context to the moment. “Let me restate the historic nature of what we're trying to achieve in Iraq,” he began. “It is to take a state that, under Saddam Hussein and his family, was a merciless tyranny that brutalized the country over many decades, that used chemical weapons against his own people … and turn it into a democracy, stable and prosperous, a symbol of hope to its own people and throughout the whole of the Middle East.”
With Bush close by his side, Blair struck that defiant, almost angry pose that we have seen again and again since 9/11: “We stand firm; we will do what it takes to win this struggle. We will not yield.”
He reminded the press that Saddam’s Iraq was not just an American problem—it was an international problem. It was “a state that threatened its neighbors in the wider world, that caused two wars with over a million casualties, that funded and supported terrorism; a country where, already, the remains of 300,000 innocent men, women and children have been found in mass graves in Iraq; a state that under Saddam was without human rights, civil liberties, or the rule of law,” Blair explained. “One of the most interesting things to me is when I go and I actually talk to other leaders out in that region…I'm struck by how much more secure they feel with Saddam Hussein gone.”
And he reminded the world that the pursuit of a democratic peace across the Middle East—emanating outward from a democratic Iraq—isn’t some neoconservative pipedream, unless the leader of the British Labour Party somehow qualifies as a neocon: “Imagine an Iraq, stable and prosperous and democratic, and think of the signal that would send out. Think of the instant rebuttal of all that poisonous propaganda about America, about it all being an attack on Muslims or it being part of a war on civilization—Iraq, run by the Iraqis, the wealth of that country owned by the Iraqis, and a symbol of hope and democracy in the Middle East. Now, for me this is a cause that any person of good will and good heart should be able to support.”
There you go again, Tony.