The Blair Factor

Apparently, Tony Blair's in all kinds of trouble and will leave office soon. Isaac Chotiner sees this as some sort of tragic turn, and I suppose there's a sense in which he's right. Still, I can't help but feel that, in the USA at least, Blair has tended to escape his fair share of the blame for the Iraq mess. I'd forgotten about this myself, but a little while back I was having dinner with my grandparents and my grandfather mentioned that he'd been against the Iraq War but turned out and decided to support it on the strength of Blair's endorsement. I can't totally reconstruct what my thought-process was at the time, but once he mentioned it it seems to me that similar considerations played a role in my own (badly wrong) thinking about the issue.

People tend not to be up front about this kind of thing, but clearly in the real world decision-making is highly heuristic. When leaders you think of as smart and admirable get behind a bad idea that ought to reflect poorly on the leader, but what it often does is make you think better of the idea. In that sense, I tend to think Blair was more influential than is often recognized in terms of moving American public opinion in Bush's direction.

Of course the same thing could be said about many of the congressional Democrats. They backed the war in large part out of perceived political expediency. But the fact that the Democratic leadership -- Daschle, Gephardt, etc. -- was supporting the war served to make the anti-war position look marginal. So the politics of the issue became largely circular -- the leaders of the opposition were supporting the war because it was the politically safe bet, but it was the safe bet in part because the leaders of the opposition were supporting it.