The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Blair in 2003

On March 18, 2003, Tony Blair spoke before the House of Commons. The full text of his remarks can be found here. He had to explain to his own party, which holds a comfortable majority, why he felt it worthwhile to risk their popularity and power on this venture.
So: why does it matter so much? Because 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 brutalised 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.
Blair then begins a discussion of unconventional weapons, which occupies most of the first half of the speech, with a gradual segue into the long history of United Nations resolutions. He describes clearly the perfidy of the untenable French position:
Then, on Monday night, France said it would veto a second resolution whatever the circumstances. Then France denounced the six tests. Later that day, Iraq rejected them. Still, we continued to negotiate.
Last Friday, France said they could not accept any ultimatum. On Monday, we made final efforts to secure agreement. But they remain utterly opposed to anything which lays down an ultimatum authorising action in the event of non-compliance by Saddam.
Just consider the position we are asked to adopt. Those on the security council opposed to us say they want Saddam to disarm but will not countenance any new resolution that authorises force in the event of non-compliance. That is their position. No to any ultimatum; no to any resolution that stipulates that failure to comply will lead to military action.
So we must demand he disarm but relinquish any concept of a threat if he doesn't.
And, a little later:
Now the very length of time counts against us. You've waited 12 years. Why not wait a little longer?
And indeed we have.
1441 gave a final opportunity. The first test was the 8th of December. He failed it. But still we waited. Until January 27, the first inspection report that showed the absence of full cooperation. Another breach. And still we waited.
Until February 14 and then February 28 with concessions, according to the old familiar routine, tossed to us to whet our appetite for hope and further waiting. But still no-one, not the inspectors nor any member of the security council, not any half-way rational observer, believes Saddam is cooperating fully or unconditionally or immediately.
Our fault has not been impatience.
The truth is our patience should have been exhausted weeks and months and years ago. Even now, when if the world united and gave him an ultimatum: comply or face forcible disarmament, he might just do it, the world hesitates and in that hesitation he senses the weakness and therefore continues to defy.
What would any tyrannical regime possessing WMD think viewing the history of the world's diplomatic dance with Saddam? That our capacity to pass firm resolutions is only matched by our feebleness in implementing them.
International law with no policemen is no law at all; and Blair has always clearly understood, and clearly articulated, that the alternative to an invasion of Iraq was acquiescence to the de facto demise of that law. Those who are quickest to invoke the vague ectoplasm of multilateralism to condemn America's actions, are the slowest to realize that a toothless law is worst than no law at all. In a geopolitical equivalent of Gresham's Law, they advocate a comfortable illusion of law which would fill its place, and which would prevent the emergence of any true law. (More here.)

Blair anchors his case with a moral plea:
The brutality of the repression - the death and torture camps, the barbaric prisons for political opponents, the routine beatings for anyone or their families suspected of disloyalty are well documented.
Just last week, someone slandering Saddam was tied to a lamp post in a street in Baghdad, his tongue cut out, mutilated and left to bleed to death, as a warning to others.
I recall a few weeks ago talking to an Iraqi exile and saying to her that I understood how grim it must be under the lash of Saddam. "But you don't", she replied. "You cannot. You do not know what it is like to live in perpetual fear."
And she is right. We take our freedom for granted. But imagine not to be able to speak or discuss or debate or even question the society you live in. To see friends and family taken away and never daring to complain. To suffer the humility of failing courage in face of pitiless terror. That is how the Iraqi people live. Leave Saddam in place and that is how they will continue to live.
We must face the consequences of the actions we advocate. For me, that means all the dangers of war. But for others, opposed to this course, it means -- let us be clear -- that the Iraqi people, whose only true hope of liberation lies in the removal of Saddam, for them, the darkness will close back over them again; and he will be free to take his revenge upon those he must know wish him gone.
And if this house now demands that at this moment, faced with this threat from this regime, that British troops are pulled back, that we turn away at the point of reckoning, and that is what it means - what then?
What will Saddam feel? Strengthened beyond measure. What will the other states who tyrannise their people, the terrorists who threaten our existence, what will they take from that? That the will confronting them is decaying and feeble.
Who will celebrate and who will weep?

Really, the most surprising thing is how unsurprising the past three years have been. We were surprised in September 2001, and again in February 2005; but the time between was like a slow middle game in chess. The world's terrorists, tyrants and appeasers played their part; and, thankfully, we played ours faithfully in return.