Tony Blair Bombshell: How It Reshapes the Iraq War Debate

Article excerpt

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's remarks about the Iraq war move us away from a legal debate to a moral one.

I was implacably opposed to the war in Iraq, yet I would like to thank Tony Blair, former prime minister of Britain, for saying days ago that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the "right" thing to do.

Why? It isn't because I have changed my mind and now accept that the Iraq war was a good thing. It is because in speaking the language of "right" and "wrong," and in airing his moral convictions in public, Mr. Blair has helped to elevate the debate about Iraq from the legalistic quagmire it was sinking into, and to return it to where it belongs: the realm of morality and politics.

Blair's comments, made in a TV interview shown on Sunday, have caused a storm here. The interviewer asked Blair: "If you had known then that there were no WMD, would you still have gone on?" Blair replied: "I would still have thought it right to remove him [Saddam Hussein]."

Significantly, Blair added: "I mean, obviously you would have had to use and deploy different arguments about the nature of the threat."

This has led some people to argue, quite rightly, that Blair in 2002 was clearly looking around for "evidence" that might help to justify a course of action he had already decided on. He chose the "evidence" of WMD, but if he had known that those weapons did not in fact exist then he would have "used and deployed" different arguments to justify the war.

This suggests Blair did not actually have the courage of his convictions. He may have considered it "right" to remove Saddam - yet instead of trying to win public support for war on that basis, he cynically searched for some legalistic fig-leaf with which he might doll up his invasion.

However, it was not the slippery "different arguments" part of Blair's interview that most riled observers here - it was his use of the r-word: "right." This, commentators argue, shows that Blair is arrogant, deluded, and dictatorial.

In fact, Blair's utterance of the r-word gives us an opportunity to move beyond the legalistic nitty-gritty about whether it was legitimate to go to war, and instead to discuss whether it was morally right or wrong.

For too long, the debate about Iraq has been conducted at a legalistic level. In Britain in particular, the war has become almost the exclusive concern of lawyers and legal advisers to the government, who bicker endlessly, sometimes in private, sometimes in public, about whether the war was acceptable under the stringent international rules governing military action. …