The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]
Letters in response to firstname.lastname@example.org 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 ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ + Fay Dowker Physics Department + + Queen Mary, University of London + + E-mail: email@example.com Mile End Road, + + Phone: +44-(0)20-7882-5047 London E1 4NS. + + Fax: +44-(0)20-8981-9465 + + Homepage: http://monopole.ph.qmw.ac.uk/~dowker/home.html + ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ 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 position." 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 that." 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 that." 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 world." 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. Intervention "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 nothing." 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 urgent. 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 spinning. _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk