I imagine former British Prime Minsiter Tony Blair’s book tour must be winding down. He’s used almost every major appearance to tout (as we’ve covered) his selective interpretation of history with regard to the latest Iraq War and his bellicose rhetoric on Iran. If this was a ploy to generate publicity for the book, it’s worked — his more controversial comments have elicited more flashy mainstream headlines than the book’s gossipy assertions about such British personalities as Gordon Brown, the Queen, and even Princess Di.
For foreign policy addicts, it’s worth it to put Blair’s latest blustering in context.In their Race for Iran Blog, Hillary Mann Leverett and Flynt Leverett pick up on Blair’s assertion to PBS’s Charlie Rose that “you can’t rule out military action” against Iran”. In comparing Blair’s rhetoric to the rest of Europe, they wonder about the continent’s value as a bulwark against yet more potential U.S. misadventures in the Middle East:
That Blair would say these things about Iran does not really surprise us—this is the same man who says that he “can’t regret” the Iraq war. But we are struck that, while Blair’s position would put him squarely in the middle of the American foreign policy establishment regarding Iran, it is—in principle, at least—quite “un-European”.
Blair seems to advocate—in terms similar to the arguments of John Bolton, Reuel Marc Gerecht, and other Iran “hawks” in the United States—that the United States engage in “preventive war” against Iran because of a perceived risk that it might begin converting its (internationally safeguarded) nuclear activities into a weapons program and, then, give nuclear weapons to terrorists. (Blair says he believes that, if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would not use it. Why he doubts Iran would be sufficiently rational to refrain from giving a nuclear weapon to others who would use it is not clear. But that’s another issue.) Blair’s “case” for launching a “preventive war” against Iran is certainly not the “mainstream” European declaratory position. Virtually all of the senior “continental” European officials with whom we’ve spoken agree with us that there is only a diplomatic path for addressing issues connected with the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. From their perspective, for the United States or Israel to attack Iran because it is enriching uranium would be profoundly counter-productive, imprudent—and illegal.
That raises a series of questions which, for us, prompt serious doubt about Europe’s capacity to have a genuinely independent foreign policy. (Interestingly, many of our Iranian interlocutors have already given up on this prospect.) What would Europe do if Israel and/or the United States were to initiate military action against Iranian nuclear facilities? Say that the action was illegal? And then? How quickly would Europe seek to “make peace” with America after an attack on Iran?
Perhaps Europe, China and Russia are waiting for the other shoe to fall. They’ve all seen this happen to themselves, and to England and the Soviets.
The address contains the necessary point, that Henry Paulson is warning of our imminent demise. So, we’re all waiting for Godot, like inauthentic cowards. Sartre, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, and Camus would be so disappointed.
Tony Blair’s remarks about Islam and Iran on Charlie Rose, which no doubt will be expounded on his ‘news maker’ interview on PBS’ News Hour, touched on three troubling themes.
Blair suggested that too many Muslims have a blame-the-west ‘narrative’. There is no doubt that muslims’ alleged narrative is Blair’s narrative, which, with enough air time, will become a western narrative justifying suspicions about Islam.
This kind of race baiting must be confronted. Even if people subscribe to certain narratives, it hardly means anything. Capitalism thrives, and government authority endures even though large swaths of the population have huge misgivings about both capitalism, and the integrity/competence of central governments. Blair is using inane truisms to justify a rigidly hostile and unaccommodating posture towards muslims.
2) Risks & Decision making
On Iraq, and Iran Blair says a decision maker cannot take the risk, not after 9/11. The central justification here is that he holds firm to his unsubstantiated conjecture that if perps of 9/11 could have murdered 30,000, or 300,000 they would have. Given that Blair’s choice of responses to 9/11 did include a wide range of options with associated predictable various degrees of collateral damage, and Tony Blair chose a course that has resulted in the death, maiming, and displacement of millions can only be a Freudian ‘projection’ of Blair’s own unchristian capacity onto peoples he hates.
Risk, and how we handle risks is central to what we call rationality. Tony cheerfully admits the risks cannot be quantified, but he takes no option off the table to mitigate that risk. No options are off the table, of course, also means no amount of costs (direct or collateral) will rule out an avenue for him to get satisfaction. Unquatified risks based on unsubstantiated conjectures, and remedies that may include self-ruin leaves too many unknowns to pronounce a judgment on the man’s rationality.
3) Moral equivalency
Blair repeatedly (and respectfully) refers to his detractors’ opinions as “perfectly sound arguments”. He is therefore inviting people to be civil to him.
There is a slight discrepancy here. Saddam-can-be-contained argument would have saved trillions, many lives, and oodles of credibility. If the argument had been wrong, it would have delayed the war option, not eliminated it.
Blair’s side of the argument expended trillions, ravaged countless lives, and sunk Western credibility to rock bottom. By all means lets be respectful to the ‘tough’ challenges a decision maker faces, but lets not forget how much polite hearing general Shiseki-s of this world received.
Clearly Blair is out of step with the European mainstream. What’s more interesting is the possibility of a U.S.-German split over Iran. Germany has important economic interests in Iran, and certainly would not support U.S. or Israeli military action. With Germany increasingly dominant on the continent and feeling less burdened by its past (for those who were alive in the Nazi years are rapidly passing away), it seems possible that she will seek a new course without too much concern for American, British or French opinion. In 10 or 15 years we may find that Germany is the Western power profitably engaged in a Weltpolitik embracing Eastern Europe (including Russia), Turkey and Iran-Iraq, while reaching its hands out to India and China on trade, monetary, and foreign policy issues. The French will have to trail along behind their big German brother, while the Anglo-Saxon countries will be tied up in knots domestically by fiscal problems (not to mention the question of the millions of unemployed who lack the skills needed in the new world economy), and internationally by their support for Israel and the corrupt Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Deutschland ascending? The only real hindrance to the growth of German power is her low birth rate. Watch to see in coming years if German governments try to spur population growth. And watch too how German relations with Brazil, Argentina, and perhaps Chile develop. There is every possibilty that Germany will have an opportunity to recover the position it held (and then threw away) in 1914 and 1939. And there is reason to believe the Germans will seize that opportunity.
I think you guys should write about Aznar too:
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