Why single Tony Blair out for protest?
Tony Blair made a tentative return to politics last week as an advisor to the Labour Party. For a number of people on the left, including your humble servant, this did not sit particularly well. Many of us had hoped that under the stewardship of Ed Miliband the Labour Party would move beyond the privatisation and political cowardice of the “triangulation” years to a more confidently social democratic outlook. The political rehabilitation of a man whose politics many have dubbed ‘Thatcherism-light’ left a number of us with a palpable sense of unease.
Much of the anger directed at Mr Blair, however, has focused not on his domestic record but on the foreign policy of his government. “He should have no place in British politics and should be tried as a war criminal”, the national officer of the Stop the War Coalition John Rees told Press TV at a protest outside a Labour fundraising event last week. Mr Rees added that those protesting “want to make it clear that somebody who took this country into war that cost hundreds of thousands of deaths , that wasted billions of pounds illegally, should have no place in British politics.”
To be fair to Mr Rees, the human cost of the war in Iraq has been so high that a degree of anger is more than justified. While Iraqis now have a political system which is more democratic (not to mention much less dangerous) than anything that existed under Saddam Hussein, to get to that point the country has been through nothing short of a bloodbath. Since the intervention in 2003 the Arab Spring has also offered a political lesson to those constitutionally incapable of believing that people can overthrow tyrants without outside help. One of the lessons of Iraq, Pascal Bruckner says in his book The Tyranny of Guilt, is that “People who hope to see local versions of the Parliament in Westminster established in Kabul, Riyadh, Algiers, and Moscow will have to be patient and learn to accept necessity.” Dictators can be overthrown using force quite easily, but bringing functioning democracy to a country is another matter altogether.
The point missed by those who follow Mr Blair around demanding he be tried for war crimes is that whether one supported the war in Iraq or not one was still wrong. Some of you may need to read that sentence again: There was no right answer to the question of whether or not Britain should have gone to war with Iraq. Just as those who favoured military action calculated that a certain number of civilian losses would be “worth it” if it brought democracy to the country, so the anti-war crowds that took to the streets in February 2003 were unwittingly calling for the prolongation of one of the worst dictatorships in the Middle East. Simply reeling off the casualties of war without considering the possible consequences of not going to war shows little more than a desire not to follow one’s thoughts beyond the point at which they are politically useful.
It is worth for a moment contrasting the level of vitriol directed at Mr Blair with the general indifference shown towards former Conservative Prime Minister John Major. Mr Major was the leader of the Conservative Government at the time of the infamous Srebrenica massacre, Europe’s worst war crime since 1945. During the Bosnian war, 8,000 Bosnian Muslims from the town of Srebrenica were rounded up and killed by the Bosnian Serb army under the command of Ratko Mladic. In classifying the massacre as an act of genocide, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia described the events as follows:
“They [members of the Bosnian Serb army] stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity.”
Nato did eventually intervene in Bosnia, but not until a good deal of blood had already been spilled. Robert Hunter, the US ambassador to Nato from 1993 to 1998, believes the government of John Major was partly to blame for the massacre for obstructing intervention by the UN or Nato. “The failure of Nato to reach agreement on serious military action,” Mr Hunter says, “can be attributed to the efforts of one allied nation: Great Britain.”
“Britain,” he adds, “has a huge burden of responsibility for what happened at Srebrenica.”
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Defence Secretary under the Major government until July 1995 and thereafter Foreign Secretary, was one of the architects of Britain’s disastrous policy in Bosnia. Responding to a proposal by the US Senator Bob Dole to lift the arms embargo and allow the Bosnian government to defend itself, Mr Rifkind told him that “You Americans don’t know the horrors of war”, not realising Dole had fought in the Second World War and been left permanently disabled.
As far as I am aware, none of the events that Mr Major has attended as a prestigious after-dinner speaker have ever been besieged by placard-waving anti-war protesters. The first question which strikes you then is: is war only bad when the Americans and the British actively intervene? That certainly appears to be the position of the Stop the War Coalition, who forget a lesson most of us learned as children in the school playground: inaction is often the same as intervention on the side of the aggressor and against the victim.
Getting this point across to anyone who considers a bullet from a British or American gun to be the world’s greatest abomination will undoubtedly be like trying to fill with water a bucket that has a hole in it. But then it is quite possible that a concern for human life is not the main motivation for those screeching obscenities at Tony Blair anyway, in which case an argument like this will always be wasted.
Follow James on Twitter: @ObligedtooffendTagged in: Blair, ed miliband, george bush, iraq, labour, Stop the War Coalition, Tony, War
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