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David Reynolds: Tony got it right

Column by David Reynolds
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Before I get hit by an 18-wheeler on 81, I would like to leave this world with a little truth.

It has been 94 months since the United States, Great Britain and our allies decided that there was no recourse but to get rid of the regime that governed Iraq. Before March 2003 a multinational decision was brewing for years. Yet, for those of us who don’t read People Magazine, we know that the decision to wage a military attack was neither an easy nor a popular one.

Those opposed, including our current president and his party, were very vocal. However, their bark was louder than their bite. Their views – often with full explanations – can still be found on bumper stickers.

Some stickers refer to “Bush’s War.” But it was also Tony’s. Tony Blair, then the Prime Minister of Great Britain and the head of the Labour Party, remains the most elegant spokesman for a decision which has cost so much.

As for its benefits, history’s verdict is not yet in. However, Iraq’s absence from today’s front pages and breaking news is a positive sign. So, too, are the revised opinions coming from those who once were so negative. My goodness, what one can accomplish in the political arena when the blame game is discarded and success can be pinned on your new suit! 

American public opinion has not kind to George W. Bush. But unkindness is not how you would describe how the Brits have treated Tony Blair and his role in going to war. Across the pond they are not timid. In London there have been three inquiries into the Iraq war. The British media loves to rage – from both sides – at the former premier. So, isn’t it time to consider what Tony Blair had to say in his defense? It will only take a few minutes of your life to learn why it was necessary for others to shorten theirs.

“The decision I had to take was, given Saddam’s history, given his use of chemical weapons, given the over one million people whose deaths he had caused, given 10 years of breaking U.N. resolutions, could we take the risk of this man reconstituting his weapons program?

” What we know now is that he [Saddam] retained the intent and the intellectual know-how to restart a nuclear and a chemical weapons program when the inspectors were out and the sanctions changed . . . .

“Today we would be facing a situation where Iraq was competing with Iran, competing on both nuclear weapons capability and competing more importantly perhaps than anything else . . . in respect of support of terrorist groups … If I am asked whether I believe we are safer, more secure, that Iraq is better, that our own country is better, with Saddam and his sons out of office and out of power, I believe indeed we are.

“The decision I took – and frankly would take again – was, if there was any possibility that he [Saddam] could develop weapons of mass destruction, we would stop him.

“The lesson from the Iraq war isn’t to avoid action for fear of unanticipated consequences, which are inevitable in any war (italics mine). It is to take action to prevent the most foreseeable of disasters, namely the combination, in a single regime, of fanaticism, links to terrorism and nuclear weapons.”

These are a few of the words fired back at the war inquiry commission designed to shame the former prime minister. Allow me to add a few of my own with these questions. What would you do if you saw and smelled smoke in your home and you knew that the house had not been inspected by the fire marshall for years and you heard about some interesting experiments being conducted in the basement? And after you called the fire department and they discovered no flames, would you apologize?

Decisions are seldom easy, whether they are about going to war or where fifth-graders should go to school. But they need to be made. Tony Blair knows this. He said that the decision to go to war “was not about a lie, or a conspiracy, or a deceit. or a deception. It was a decision.”

Yet the rest of us seem so afraid to make decisions. We keep hiring and electing people to make decisions for us – both right and wrong ones – and they constantly tell us that they don’t make decisions. They populate every commission, council, board and committee in paradise. Tony Blair and other democratic world leaders – as individuals – made a decision. Thank you, Tony and friends.