This is pretty strange. The charge that the prime minister is Washington's poodle is nonsense: He differs with the Bush folk on global warming and steel trade; his terrific aid minister has traded public insults with the U.S. Treasury; last week his foreign secretary differed with the Pentagon on biological and chemical weapons. Many Britons preemptively complain that Blair is backing Bush's ambition to unseat Iraq's dictator. But Blair hasn't promised his support yet and won't until he sees a plan of action. Besides, if Bush can come up with a way to rid the world of a prime menace, why should Britons object?
The answer is there's no good reason, beyond that wretched sulkiness. And yet, though there is still too much of this in Britain, there's probably less than there once was. The staid old Britain lives alongside pockets of entrepreneurial energy; the country is more a meritocracy and more a melting pot. And Blair, after all, enjoys record poll ratings, despite the gripes one hears about him. As his campaign slogan said five years ago, the success of New Labor perhaps portends a New Britain.
Now consider the challenge of Iraq. Pretending that Saddam Hussein does not pose a threat is like pretending that global warming or global poverty poses no threat: It involves ignoring the evidence. Hussein has amassed biological and chemical weapons and seeks nuclear ones. He has proven his willingness to use this arsenal against Iran and against the Kurds. He has demonstrated his massive attachment to massively destructive weaponry by withstanding a decade of international pressure to get rid of it. The threshold question on Iraq is the same as the threshold question on climate change: Are you willing to acknowledge the threat and do something about it?
The Bush administration, again to its enormous credit, is willing to engage this problem. And engagement means facing up to the next point: All responses short of war have been attempted. The Clinton administration tried diplomacy, sanctions, air strikes and support for the internal opposition; none of this stopped Saddam Hussein from keeping his weapons. If you take the Iraqi threat seriously, it's hard to avoid the unpleasant conclusion that war may well be necessary.
This doesn't clinch the case for war. If you think Hussein's successor will be just as bad, it doesn't make sense to sacrifice thousands of lives in an effort to unseat him. If you think new concentrations of al Qaeda in Iran pose a more immediate threat, it doesn't make sense to tie up military resources in an Iraqi venture. What's more, the administration has handled the Iraq issue badly. It should have been clear from the start that it would seek the support of Congress and its allies.
All that said, however, the worst silliness in the Iraq debate comes from those who write off the war talk as an example of Bush's blinkered attitude to foreign policy. It is the critics who are blinkered, for it is they who refuse to see a real threat. And it is the critics, in many cases, who have called repeatedly upon the administration to engage in the world -- and who now pout and sulk because their calls have been answered.
Creating such a fund is worth the trouble because Iraq won't be the last challenge in the wars of preemption.
And the Quiet American (well, Brit, actually) offers up his mea culpa, 04/12/04:
Which brings us to Iraq. In a technocratic sense, the war was right: Saddam Hussein was an America-hating monster. But the war, unfortunately, enjoys little legitimacy. We are not back in the Vietnam era, when demonstrating students enthusiastically waved posters of America's enemy, Ho Chi Minh. But there's a sense that the Iraq war violated the principles America is admired for. This country stands for the rule of law, but the Bush policy of unilateral preemption appears lawless. This country stands for the democratic conviction that a broad cacophony of voices must be heard, however much that slows the wheels of government. But in the lead-up to Iraq, the Bush team treated international opinion contemptuously. And in assembling the provisional authority in Iraq, it thought it could sideline awkward but powerful voices such as that of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
This was a mistake. The lesson the aid people learned applies to global strategy as well: Legitimacy is crucial. Precisely because American ideals have triumphed and authoritarianism has been discredited -- precisely because no demonstrating students wave posters of Hussein -- America needs broad popular consent for its actions.
Everyone should pray for American success in Iraq, and it's too early to pronounce success impossible. But our troubles there are paradoxically the product of our success. America won the contest against communism because its ambition is not to rule the world but to create a world of rules; it is not simply to be right but to stand up for the rights of others. You cannot win the Cold War on the strength of these ideals, then expect to win in Iraq by ignoring them.