The Independent today has an interesting interview with Tony Blair, on the campaign trail preparing for elections in May. The whole thing is worth reading, as, although relatively short and sympathetically written, it ranges widely over topics such as Iraq, the EU Constitution, pulic trust, his relationship with Gordon Brown (the Chancellor) and his views on the other major parties. There were two points, however, that I wanted to flag.
The first concerns Iraq. Blair will never admit that he got this one wrong - I don't think he actually believes he did in general, although he has acknowledged some strategic errors in presentation. However, his tone is overwhelmingly conciliatory: he respects those who disagree with him, and hopes merely that they understand how hard a decision it was to take. In an intriguing passage, he goes on to state that:
It was the threat of force that got the inspectors back in. Now imagine what would have happened if I had backed away and that the Americans also backed away and the conflict had not happened. Saddam would still be in charge and immeasurably strengthened and there would be no further possibility about enforcing the community's will in regard to UN resolutions.
"Some will say that would have been better than having the conflict. That's a perfectly understandable view. I only ask people to understand there wasn't a middle way."
We must question this argument. Is it really the case that our only options were a) take the action we did, resulting in the removal of Hussein and the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians, or b) do absolutely nothing, strengthening Hussein's grip on power and utterly castrating the attempt to hold him to account for WMD? I have my doubts... As I have suggested on here before, these simple, dichotomous arguments tend to be more strategic than honest, presenting us with none of the nuance that an evaluation of the actual situation demands, and removing many reasonably available options from discourse.
The second is his reaction when questioned on the UK referendum on the EU Constitution - will there be one even if the French vote "no"? Blair's response is decidedly evasive: "There will be a referendum in Britain provided there's a constitution". Given the current UK opinion polls on the subject, I suspect he'd be even happier than Raphael if the French reject it...