Saturday, 06 March 2004
Why words matter. In a remarkable speech, Tony Blair shows why I'd vote for him in a heartbeat if I could — and, once again, puts George Bush to shame. Blair's speech is so good that I can't do it justice with an excerpt: Read the whole thing and then come back here.
Blair puts his case for war against Saddam on very solid ground: He acknowledges that some of the intelligence reports he received before the war have turned out not to be true, in particular the claim that Iraq could have WMDs ready for launch on 45 minutes' notice. He refutes the accusation that he'd portrayed Iraq as an "imminent threat:" Her Majesty's Government responds to imminent threats with swift action, not diplomatic lobbying in the Security Council. He can cite his own words from January 2003 to support his position.
And, he anchors his case for war on the premise that Britain was enforcing United Nations resolutions, that the treaty of Westphalia is not the last word in the creation of international law, and that the most effective counter to the spread of WMDs is to spread justice, freedom, democracy, and the rule of law even further.
Blair even acknowledges that there is a rational, arguable case against the war, on the grounds that Saddam's threat truly was not imminent — that he had been contained in his box for twelve years (albeit at great cost to the Iraqi people), and that the smokescreen of defiance around his WMD program was exactly that: A smokescreen to keep his enemies guessing, and hold both internal and external foes at bay. In the post-9/11 world, Blair was unwilling to risk the security of his nation on a question of whether Saddam could be trusted. Others may have weighed the risks of war, and chosen differently; Blair respects that point of view, but he does not share it.
Meanwhile, Bush's case for war continues to rest on false premises, and makes little effort to separate fact from fiction. Compare Bush's State of the Union Address:
After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. The terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States, and war is what they got. (Applause.)
Some in this chamber, and in our country, did not support the liberation of Iraq. Objections to war often come from principled motives. But let us be candid about the consequences of leaving Saddam Hussein in power. We're seeking all the facts.
…to Blair's speech:
The threat we face is not conventional. It is a challenge of a different nature from anything the world has faced before. It is to the world's security, what globalisation is to the world's economy.
It was defined not by Iraq but by September 11th. September 11th did not create the threat Saddam posed.
But it altered crucially the balance of risk as to whether to deal with it or simply carry on, however imperfectly, trying to contain it.
Let me attempt an explanation of how my own thinking, as a political leader, has evolved during these past few years.
Blair's statement is clear: September 11th didn't create Saddam, but it changed the way we perceived him. Bush's statement is fuzzy: Osama bin Laden wanted a war, so we gave one to Saddam Hussein.
If you're sympathetic to Bush, you can try to fit Blair's speech between the lines of Bush's sketchy comments… but the leader of the free world shouldn't need an interpreter. Blair builds his case on the rock that September 11th changed our worldview; Bush builds on the quicksand premise that Saddam was behind 9/11.
Compare Bush's interview with Diane Sawyer:
DIANE SAWYER: Again, I'm just trying to ask, these are supporters, people who believed in the war who have asked the question.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, you can keep asking the question and my answer's gonna be the same. Saddam was a danger and the world is better off cause we got rid of him.
DIANE SAWYER: But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still -
PRESIDENT BUSH: So what's the difference?
DIANE SAWYER: Well -
PRESIDENT BUSH: The possibility that he could acquire weapons. If he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger. That's, that's what I'm trying to explain to you. A gathering threat, after 9/11, is a threat that needed to be de - dealt with, and it was done after 12 long years of the world saying the man's a danger. And so we got rid of him and there's no doubt the world is a safer, freer place as a result of Saddam being gone.
DIANE SAWYER: But, but, again, some, some of the critics have said this combined with the failure to establish proof of, of elaborate terrorism contacts, has indicated that there's just not precision, at best, and misleading, at worst.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah. Look - what - what we based our evidence on was a very sound National Intelligence Estimate. ...
DIANE SAWYER: Nothing should have been more precise?
PRESIDENT BUSH: What - I, I - I made my decision based upon enough intelligence to tell me that this country was threatened with Saddam Hussein in power.
…with Blair on the same subject:
Of course the opponents are boosted by the fact that though we know Saddam had WMD; we haven't found the physical evidence of them in the 11 months since the war. But in fact, everyone thought he had them. That was the basis of UN Resolution 1441.
It's just worth pointing out that the search is being conducted in a country twice the land mass of the UK, which David Kay's interim report in October 2003 noted, contains 130 ammunition storage areas, some covering an area of 50 square miles, including some 600,000 tons of artillery shells, rockets and other ordnance, of which only a small proportion have as yet been searched in the difficult security environment that exists.
But the key point is that it is the threat that is the issue.
Blair concedes, as he must, that we have not found evidence that Saddam actually had WMDs at the time of the invasion — and then proceeds to make the point that not knowing whether Saddam had WMDs or not was an unacceptable risk.
Bush's argument is that, if the Administration said Saddam had WMDs and he didn't, so what? Saddam is gone and the world's better off. The ends justify the means.
Bush's case for war reduces to the premise that Bush is a good guy and you should trust him to do what's right, without actually worrying yourself about little details — such as the idea that America's government should be accountable to the people.
This is why Blair will be re-elected, and Bush will not. Tony Blair offers a case for war that even the most ardent pacifist must consider: He makes his case on sound principles that conservatives and liberals identify with. George W. Bush's case for war is centered on George W. Bush, which isn't compelling to those who distrust him — and there's no guarantee that Bush's gut is an infinite source of wisdom.
Custer had good instincts too, up to a certain point.