Politics & Prose April 2007

Casualty of War

Tony Blair has been "the most disastrous and dishonest" prime minister in Britain's modern history, a new book argues.

Tony Blair, who is about to step down as Prime Minister of Britain, has been called the "Prime Minister of the United States" for his unblinking support of Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, in fact, no friendly foreign leader has done more harm to this country than Mr. Blair. If Blair had spoken out against it, the Iraq war would not have happened — so many of us believe. In the run-up to Iraq one heard, "If Tony Blair is for it…" more often even than "If Tom Friedman is for it…" Blair lent his fatal glibness to the case for war, as well as reassuring solidarity ("If the Brits are with us…").

From the archives:

"Suez in Retrospect" (April 1960)
Chalmers Roberts reviewed Anthony Edens memoirs and speculated on Eden's true motives at the time of the Suez crisis.

Blair’s best chance to stop the war came in the summer of 2002, when he received the "Downing Street memo." Reporting on secret talks in Washington, security advisor Matthew Rycroft wrote: "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." Moreover, "there was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action." The memo was leaked in May 2005. What if it had leaked in 2002? What if Blair had declared that Britain wanted no part of a preventive war based on deceit and planned without thought? The "special relationship" between Britain and the United States survived President Eisenhower’s ultimatum to Prime Minister Anthony Eden to end the Anglo-French intervention in Suez in 1956. If Britain persisted in forcibly trying to achieve regime change in Egypt, Ike warned, "all of Asia and Africa would be consolidated against the West to a degree which, I fear, could not be overcome in a generation." Blair could have spoken Ike’s lines to Bush. Instead, Blair’s PR man, the sinister Alastair Campbell, took twelve-year-old information on Iraq’s WMD off the Internet, combined it with "sexed up" British intelligence, and issued this farrago in a "dossier" marred by typos (the bloggers had nodded). Among other sensational claims, it asserted that Saddam could deploy his WMD in forty-five minutes. You’d think so brazen a deception would have won the respect of Donald Rumsfeld, but you would be wrong. Rumsfeld showed his contempt for the country formerly known as "Great" when he let drop that British troops were not needed for the invasion of Iraq.

Blair favors the cliché "the hand of history." History fairly smote him with it in 2002. Why did he ignore it? Why did he imbibe the folly of the witless pol who greeted him at the 2006 St. Petersburg G-8 summit with "Yo, Blair!"? To one journalist Blair confided that he did it to "keep the U.S. in the international system." He later amplified the point: "It would be more damaging to long-term peace and security if the Americans alone defeated Saddam Hussein than if they had international support." An outlaw U.S.—"outside the international system"—was unthinkable. "Tony Blair has taken a brave decision, that the only hope of influencing American behavior is to share in American actions," Max Hastings wrote in the Daily Mail. That does sound like a brave decision. But was it in Britain’s national interest? In his biting, mordantly witty book, Yo, Blair! (Politico’s, London), Geoffrey Wheatcroft plunges a forensic knife into Blair’s logic: "You don’t say, ‘My big brother is a crazy kind of guy. On Saturday night he likes to get blind drunk and ride through town at ninety. It would be bad for peace and security if he acted alone, so I’ll go along with him for the ride.’" Operating on the disloyal maxim, "Their country, right or wrong," Blair took his country into our war, a step that achieved the opposite of Blair’s intent—that of "binding the Bush administration into the international order."

Presented by

Jack Beatty is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the editor of Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America, which was named one of the top ten books of 2001 by Business Week. His previous books are The World According to Peter Drucker (1998) and The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1992). More

Jack Beatty"The Atlantic Monthly is an American tradition; since 1857 it has helped to shape the American mind and conscience," senior editor Jack Beatty explains. "We are proud of that tradition. It is the tradition of excellence for which we were awarded the National Magazine Award for General Excellence. It is the tie that binds us to our past. It is a standard we won't betray."

Beatty joined The Atlantic Monthly as a senior editor in September of 1983, having previously worked as a book reviewer at Newsweek and as the literary editor of The New Republic.

Born, raised, and educated in Boston, Beatty wrote a best-selling biography of James Michael Curley, the Massachusetts congressman and governor and Boston mayor, which Addison-Wesley published in 1992 to enthusiastic reviews. The Washington Post said, "The Rascal King is an exemplary political biography. It is thorough, balanced, reflective, and gracefully written." The Chicago Sun-Times called it a ". . . beautifully written, richly detailed, vibrant biography." The book was nominated for a National Book Critics' Circle award.

His 1993 contribution to The Atlantic Monthly's Travel pages, "The Bounteous Berkshires," earned these words of praise from The Washington Post: "The best travel writers make you want to travel with them. I, for instance, would like to travel somewhere with Jack Beatty, having read his superb account of a cultural journey to the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts." Beatty is also the author of The World According to Peter Drucker, published in 1998 by The Free Press and called "a fine intellectual portrait" by Michael Lewis in the New York Times Book Review.

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