Friday, January 29, 2010

Blair Defends Decision to Support the US

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared in front of the Chilcot Inquiry on Friday, his first appearance in front of the commission set up by Great Britain to investigate the 2003 Iraqi War. Blair, facing tough questions over the legality of the war and the lack of WMD’s found in Iraq, admitted and apologized that his decision had been so divisive. Yet, Blair defended his government’s final conclusion to support the US, stressing that Saddam posed a threat not only to the region but to the world. He said it was important to analyze where Saddam and his Ba’athist regime would be today vis-à-vis their neighbors, particularly Iran, given that country’s current pursuit of nuclear weapons and support for terrorist groups.

Particularly relevant comments to the idea of a just or unjust war were the British and American governments’ attitude to the post-9/11 threat environment. Blair said that, despite there not being a direct link between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, the threat matrix changed demonstrably by the existence of an agent, Islamist terrorists, who sought to kill as many people as possible. He contrasted them with the IRA, a group seeking to achieve a short-term and narrowly defined political goal.

Blair’s comments make a distinction between threats constituted by intentions and those constituted by resources. Did Iraq have the capability to threaten the US or Europe with WMD’s? Did they have the intention? If an intention to act also requires the capabilities, we can have a subset category, desire or the desire to gain the capabilities. Blair seems to be throwing in this third category which he combines with the new terrorism Weltanschauung to ask: How does the new threat environment change the capabilities and the intentions of Iraq? Walzer also makes the distinction but says we not only have to come down on the side of intentions, but that “it isn’t really prudent to assume the malign intent of one’s neighbors; it is merely cynical…”. He goes on to clarify what constitutes an intention to attack and therefore can legally allow a pre-emptive strike: “a manifest intent to injure, a degree of active preparation that makes that intent a positive danger, and a general situation in which waiting, or doing anything other than fighting, greatly magnifies the risk”.

According to Walzer’s definition, it’s probably difficult to come down on the side of legality based on the arguments made by Blair at the commission. Delving in to the murky water of pre-war intelligence may bring up some golden chest of exoneration, but those treasures will always be hotly disputed. Much focus was also placed on the British Attorney General and his decision to declare the war legal. I think Blair was operating on a different level of analysis than Walzer because he felt the threat contained an emergency clause he was forced to exercise. Such situational arguments always bring up difficult questions because they leave space for others to break well-defined principles in similar situations. For Mr. Blair, his justifications will likely be ill-received by the British public at large, some of whom protested at the commission, calling him a liar and war criminal. While Blair’s credentials as a prophet may be a matter for the commission to decide, he’s already being received without honor in his home country.

1 comment:

Mackinder said...

That man would be more credible if he ironed his cuffs.