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[casi] Blair in the Guardian

Letters in response to

Include your name, full address, phone number and say if you
don't want your email address published.
Refer to the article by title and date.
Keep it short -- very difficult when there's so much to respond
to I know -- but much better chance of being published.
Try to include some information, e.g. a quote from a UN report
or past UN weapons inspector. We have this stuff at our fingertips.

best wishes,
+  Fay Dowker                       Physics Department               +
+                                   Queen Mary, University of London +
+  E-mail:       Mile End Road,                   +
+  Phone:  +44-(0)20-7882-5047      London E1 4NS.                   +
+  Fax:    +44-(0)20-8981-9465                                       +
+  Homepage:          +

No moving a prime minister whose
mind is made up

Jackie Ashley meets Tony Blair amid a flurry
of diplomacy and drama
Saturday March 1, 2003
The Guardian

The prime minister is tired and he has a cold. His
voice is failing, but he's determined to push it to
the last croak to make his case on Iraq; there is a
sense of overwhelming determination. As we sit,
scrunched together in a hastily arranged
commercial flight to Spain, he says he feels the
echoes of the 1930s in the arguments of those who
would appease Saddam Hussein. In the end, people
will just have to trust and believe him, or not.
History will be his judge. He has not budged a jot
in his views on Iraq despite that stunning
Commons vote.

It had not been an easy day, or an easy week. A
failing jet engine had sent the prime minister's
entire entourage circling west London for 20
minutes before a hurried and dramatic return to
RAF Northolt.

Mr Blair had been in Kent for the Archbishop of
Canterbury's enthronement, so missed the
fire-engines, ambulances and men in breathing
apparatus, but he had to be taken by helicopter to
Heathrow. By the time we spoke, he was running
very late. Alongside the public dramas of
parliamentary votes and diplomatic dinners, the
hassle and fiddle of life as prime minister is always
there. As we talked, Mr Blair was wearily
contemplating a late-night dinner with his
Spanish counterpart, Jose-Maria Aznar, which
was due to begin at 11. He did not look as if he was
relishing the prospect.

Labour MPs, even supportive ministers, worry
that he is out of touch, that Iraq has drawn him
closer to a cabal of rightwingers around the world
- Mr Aznar, Silvio Berlusconi of Italy and, of
course, President Bush himself - as well as making
him a hero for Tory rightwingers at home.

He shrugs it off. Feelings about Iraq, he said,
"criss-cross the political divide" and indeed the
politician he quoted most to me was Ann Clwyd,
who favours intervention. She is hardly a
rightwinger, though she was also the first person
he sacked from the frontbench, ironically, for her
views about the Iraqi dictatorship.

The recurring charge against our prime minister is
that he is George Bush's poodle. It's quite the
reverse, he insists, pointing out that he had been
the one to raise the issue of weapons of mass
destruction at his very first meeting with Mr
Bush. So it's not Bush egging him on:"It's worse
than you think", he says, "I believe in it. I am truly
committed to dealing with this, irrespective of the
position of America.

"If the Americans were not doing this, I would be
pressing for them to be doing so."

Price of responsibility

Mr Blair still believes there will be a second UN
resolution, and he won't speculate about what
might happen if an agreement can't be reached.

When I suggest that the French still look to be
stubbornly set against signing up, he simply
replies: "Well, it is up to France, that is their

In his view, more time for the inspections will
serve no purpose: "It's all very well to say put in
more inspections, but it's a pointless exercise."
Why? Because Mr Blair is convinced that nothing
will change unless Saddam Hussein cooperates.
That, he thinks, is not going to happen. "Well, he
hasn't for 12 years, and I don't believe he will, but
he's got a chance now."

Labour, and Guardian readers generally, were
worried, he said, because war was a serious thing.
"But in a situation such as this, you have to do
what you believe to be right because that is the
price of having responsibility." He is under no
illusions about the strength of feeling against him:
"I am sufficiently well versed in politics now to
realise the strength of the opposition and the
difficulties it can put me in. I am not oblivious to

Some people are even talking of a threat to his
leadership, which seems to exasperate him:
"People will speculate, but I don't want to get into

He recognises that those on the other side feel as
passionately about their views as he does about
his. "And what is more, I don't take issue with
people who feel strongly on it, you know, lambast
them or say their arguments aren't sound. I totally
understand why people feel this. But I simply say
to them, this is a real danger and a real threat; this
regime has done terrible things to its own people."

So he wasn't moved or worried about the rebellion
of the 122 and the vehement arguments against
war in the Commons?

"I think it was a very good debate in the House of
Commons; there were powerful speeches made on
all sides of the argument. I think we can be quite
proud of the House of Commons in the way it
conducted itself. In the end people have got to
vote how they feel. But my job is also to say how I
feel ... why I believe that what we are doing is
right, and why I believe that to do what the
opponents of my position want us to do, would be
very, very dangerous for our country and the

He takes some comfort from the fact that a
(small) majority of Labour backbenchers voted
with the Government, something that could
change, of course, if he does not achieve the
second UN resolution.

He would like all Labour MPs to be with him, "but
on issues like this it is difficult, it is hard, because
there are very, very tough choices. There are no
easy choices in this".

In a rebuke to the left, he warns of "mixed
messages" being sent to the Iraqis. "They will get
reports of the House of Commons debate, the
demonstrations, the criticisms ...and I am not,
incidentally, suggesting that is a reason why they
shouldn't do that, people are perfectly entitled to
do that, but at the moment the world is giving him
a very mixed message, and I have always said the
only way you ever deal with him is through a
strong message."

Decision to make

Throughout the interview we return time and
again to a simple proposition: he believes Saddam
Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and that
unless he is disarmed, there is a grave danger to
Britain and the world.

Does he know something we don't, I ask. He says
he can't disclose all the stuff that comes to him,
but scorns those who question the veracity of the
intelligence services. "I know there will be people
who read the Guardian and say you can't believe a
word the British intelligence says, it is all made up.

"Look, I know these people, I work with them. The
evidence we get out of Iraq is absolutely
overwhelming that there is a systematic campaign
of intimidation of the scientists ... that if one of
them goes along and talks freely to the inspectors,
then they and their families are at risk."

In the end, the public has a decision to make.
"People have just got to make up their minds
whether they believe me or not, I'm afraid."

Despite the fading voice and the noisy plane, there
is no mistaking the passion with which he makes
his case. When others are beset by doubts and
anxieties, I ask where his conviction comes from.
He clearly sees historical parallels. "I've never
claimed to have a monopoly of wisdom, but one
thing I've learned in this job is you should always
try to do the right thing, not the easy thing. Let
the day-to-day judgments come and go - be
prepared to be judged by history."

He doesn't want to make glib comparisons with
the 1930s, but suggests that despite many obvious
differences, there are some similarities.

One is that "although with hindsight the decision
that this was a real threat we had to confront was
obvious, at the time it wasn't so obvious".

"A majority of decent and well-meaning people
said there was no need to confront Hitler and that
those who did were war-mongers. When people
decided not to confront fascism, they were doing
the popular thing, they were doing it for good
reasons, and they were good people ... but they
made the wrong decision."

Hitler's appeasers, he suggests, were also saying,
like today's anti-war protesters: "Well look, this is
ridiculous. OK, this is a long way from us, why on
earth should we be involved in it."

Yet, history had proved them wrong, and clearly,
in this case too, Mr Blair believes history will
judge him right.

Looking less far back, he declares that history had
judged him right in Kosovo, Afghanistan and
Sierra Leone: "I am proud of what we've done on
regime change in Kosovo and Afghanistan, and in
a different way, by supporting the regime, in Sierra
Leone ... if you go back now, for all the problems
they have got, and you ask if we did the right thing,
I believe we did.


"Those who benefited most from military action
had been the people of those countries ... I believe,
if we have to do this in Iraq, the people of Iraq will
be the main beneficiaries."

He appears genuinely baffled that some on the left
do not support military intervention against a
vicious dictatorship. "I am on the left. I have no
problem with intervening", he says. "The fact that
you can't do everything doesn't mean that you do

Any talk of US imperialism is nonsense, he
asserts, because "the US will not stay in Iraq a day
longer than they have to".

There is no doubting that this is a man whose
mind is made up and who wants it over quickly.
"Acting early is better than acting late," he says.
"If you do act early, you have to do less, fewer
people get hurt and you reduce the possibility that
it spreads."

The fear of many who oppose his views is that
instability might spread across the Middle East,
specifically as a result of action against Iraq. He
gives that theory short shrift: "I have spoken to
every single Arab leader and a lot of the people in
the Arab countries. The issue for the Arab world
is not Saddam, the Arab world detests Saddam.
The Palestinian issue, however, is a real cause of
grievance and anxiety, which is why we have to
make progress on this."

The Middle East peace process is something Mr
Blair is "passionately committed to moving
forward", but Mr Bush seems to consider it less

The only time Mr Blair speaks with less than
100% conviction during our interview is when he
tells me that he "hopes and believes" that
American will push the peace process forward,
pointing out that Mr Bush is "the first American
president to commit himself to the two-state
solution, to a viable Palestinian state".

By then the plane was swinging down to Madrid
and a long, late dinner, before the prime minister's
next speech in Swansea. Physically strung out and
grey-looking, his arguments are now well polished
and his mind, on this, is closed.

The dice have been thrown and the wheel is

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