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