There was a very good case to be made for Tony Blair's handling of the Iraq issue. His critics never sufficiently acknowledged his efforts to play a difficult hand in a difficult game. He is nobody's poodle. It was wise, rather than craven, not to isolate the Americans, still smarting from the affront as well as the horror of 11 September. And if it was important to encourage them to work through the UN, does anyone suppose that this could have been achieved simply by hectoring them, whether in English or in French? A hawkish American President was persuaded, by a process of coalition building in which the Prime Minister was a key player, to seek UN support for forcing Saddam Hussein to comply with his international obligations. And does anyone suppose that - unforced - any compliance would have been forthcoming? So Blair's approach should fairly be credited with more successes than failures, even at the time when millions took to the streets to denounce him. Right up to the end of February, he seemed to have the better of the argument. Who would have thought that Iraq's benighted regime would submit to this degree of containment by a peaceful UN process, backed by the credible sanction of force? Whether his critics liked it or not, was it not Blair's policy that had actually done most to stop a war in Iraq?
LRB 11 September 2003 | PDF Download