In "The Tragedy of Tony Blair" (June Atlantic), Geoffrey Wheatcroft's reference to David Trimble's backside hanging out a window because Tony Blair refused to punish Sinn Fein for IRA violence beggars belief. What planet is Wheatcroft writing from?
What (Provisional) IRA violence? Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA are in full compliance with the Belfast Agreement. The PIRA guns are completely silent, and have been for years. Trimble, the Ulster (sic) Unionists, Tony Blair, and the British government have violated the Belfast Agreement ad nauseam, and loyalist violence, complete with British army and police collusion, carries on without mention.
Whether Trimble ever intended to honor the spirit and the letter of the Belfast Agreement only he will know; but after pocketing the Nobel Peace Prize money, he found the intransigence within his own party too hard to take, and Blair has had to save Trimble's neck—sorry, backside—time and again, with completely illegal suspensions of and modifications to the Belfast Agreement. The men within the Ulster Unionists (and the Democratic Unionists) who are determined to destroy the Belfast Agreement include some of the very men who ordered the RUC, the B-Specials, and the Orange mobs to attack the Irish in 1969 for daring to ask for the right to fair elections and a fair allocation of jobs and housing—thus starting this latest violent episode in the British occupation of Ireland.
Auckland, New Zealand
Geoffrey Wheatcroft thinks that Tony Blair's support for the invasion of Iraq was the culmination of his moral disintegration. But that's in fact what convinced me that Blair is the greatest moral leader of our time. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for him to follow the majority of his party, his country, and the world in opposing the war. And he would have been widely praised for high courage in standing up against the United States. But Blair saw with Churchillian clarity that after 9/11 the world was changed, and that in an era of weapons of mass destruction and global terrorist networks we cannot tolerate the risk of a despot with the clear means and motivation to create such weapons and support terrorism. Blair saw early that a war to remove Saddam, if not inevitable, was highly probable, and should be prudently prepared for. And when the war seemed necessary, he bravely and indefatigably persuaded his country to join in the heroic venture.
Was the war on Iraq prudent? I think it's too soon to tell. Success is not yet assured—but neither is failure. Was the war just? I say there can be no doubt that it was. Saddam's weapons program may have been less advanced than almost any expert thought, but his human-rights abuses were worse than most people thought. Three hundred thousand corpses in sandy mass graves cry out that the war was just.
What Geoffrey Wheatcroft actually described, in an agonizingly pseudo-analytical and patronizing intellectual style, was the heroics of Tony Blair. He put Blair's warts, as he saw them, under a microscope, and then magnified them in his story, but managed to put Blair's strengths and the light he has shown to Britain and the world under a bushel basket. In essence Wheatcroft's article proclaims that the British people on the whole prefer isolationism, so that they can tend their gardens in peace; and Wheatcroft, perhaps unwittingly, endorses this irresponsible posture.
He also gave us a picture, backhandedly, of a Prime Minister who recognized his duty to support the United States in the beginning of a titanic struggle to overcome a worldwide threat—already implemented on 9/11—with horrific potential.
There is much more to say on this subject, and on the subtly meanspirited aspect of Wheatcroft's article (not to mention his spineless posturing as an arbiter between good and evil). However, I will leave you with my most vivid thought, while examining the man behind his rhetoric: that Blair's performance resembles that of Abraham Lincoln during the difficult and personally painful days of 1864, prior to his re-election.
People who make decisions that are necessarily unpopular in the short term but bring about lasting change in the world for the better can only be shown by history to be the true, and too few, heroes.
Thomas J. Ryan
Bethany Beach, Del.
In his floppy attempt at character assassination of Tony Blair, Geoffrey Wheatcroft misrepresents the pivotal error of the BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan. Gilligan's infamous report on the BBC didn't merely say that the British government had "exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction," as Wheatcroft claims. Gilligan accused the government of having deliberately "sexed up" intelligence with information it knew to be false. That is entirely different from a benign clumsiness of expression, which, Wheatcroft tells his readers, is all that the BBC report could be accused of. Wheatcroft's disregard of the point of the whole affair becomes parodic when he subsequently asserts that the BBC report "was in itself an elementary statement of fact." Not even the BBC today shares that point of view.
Wheatcroft also has his own exotic version of events regarding the government's alleged determination to "out" Andrew Gilligan's secret source, Dr. Kelly. The official and independent investigation into the Kelly affair concluded that there never was any underhanded government strategy to name Dr. Kelly.