There are many things that Tony Blair and I would certainly disagree on, but his stance on the war has made him a true friend to the United States and one of the gutsiest British leaders since Sir Winston Churchill. It is in that Churchillian spirit that Prime Minister Blair gave this wonderfully impassioned speech on the war in Iraq yesterday. It is a masterful piece of oratory given by a great orator, and it makes clear the wisdom and the necessity of deposing the vile Hussein regime. A sample (and finding one small section in a speech of this brilliance was difficult):
Suppose at that point we had backed away. Inspectors would have stayed but only the utterly naive would believe that following such a public climb-down by the U.S. and its partners, Saddam would have cooperated more. He would have strung the inspectors out and returned emboldened to his plans. The will to act on the issue of rogue states and WMD would have been shown to be hollow. The terrorists, watching and analyzing every move in our psychology as they do, would have taken heart. All this without counting the fact that the appalling brutalization of the Iraqi people would have continued unabated and reinforced.
Here is the crux. It is possible that even with all of this, nothing would have happened. Possible that Saddam would change his ambitions; possible he would develop the WMD but never use it; possible that the terrorists would never get their hands on WMD, whether from Iraq or elsewhere. We cannot be certain. Perhaps we would have found different ways of reducing it. Perhaps this Islamic terrorism would ebb of its own accord.
But do we want to take the risk? That is the judgment. And my judgment then and now is that the risk of this new global terrorism and its interaction with states or organizations or individuals proliferating WMD, is one I simply am not prepared to run.
This is not a time to err on the side of caution; not a time to weigh the risks to an infinite balance; not a time for the cynicism of the worldly wise who favor playing it long. Their worldly wise cynicism is actually at best naiveté and at worst dereliction. When they talk, as they do now, of diplomacy coming back into fashion in respect of Iran or North Korea or Libya, do they seriously think that diplomacy alone has brought about this change? Since the war in Iraq, Libya has taken the courageous step of owning up not just to a nuclear weapons program but to having chemical weapons, which are now being destroyed. Iran is back in the reach of the IAEA. North Korea in talks with China over its WMD. The A.Q. Khan network is being shut down, its trade slowly but surely being eliminated.
Yet it is monstrously premature to think the threat has passed. The risk remains in the balance here and abroad.
Blair is correct – the events of September 11 were greater than even the most horrible loss of over 3,000 innocents. Along with the World Trade Center our entire conception of the international world came crashing down. The old doctrines of pre-emption, containment, and detente do not apply to those who have no concern for the lives of others, including their own people.
The threat of Islamic fascism is real, and it dare not be downplayed. Another attack even of the scale of September 11 would not only kill thousands, it could plunge the world into economic unrest. Terrorism is the single most important issue of our age, and it is beyond sad that so many willingly choose to ignore or downplay it.
This war is not won, not by a long shot, and we dare not rest on our laurels. Should we do so, even if we capture or kill bin Laden, we will face yet another holocaust like that of September 11 – and if that attack involves biological or nuclear weapons the death toll could be orders of magnitude greater. No world leader can dare ignore such a clear and present threat to his or her people, which is why preemption is not only acceptable, it is necessary. We do not live in an age where we will have fair notice of when the next attack will come. We have to actively prevent threats from gathering before they become “imminent”. The only sign of imminence we may recieve is the death of millions.
Nearly six decades before, many world leaders believed that compromise could end war, and that giving tyrants what they wanted would satiate them. They were utterly wrong, and tens of millions paid the price of their ignorance with their lives.
Never again will Saddam Hussein torture someone to death. Never again will the Taliban use the stadiums of Kabul as killing fields. Never again will the Mukhabarat pull out the tongues of political dissenters. Never again will Uday and Qusay Hussein rape another innocent Iraqi woman on the streets of Baghdad.
All of this would not have been possible without the loyalty, the wisdom, and the support of men and women like Prime Minister Blair. His contribution to peace, security, and human rights will be judged far better by posterity than by the narrow-mindedness of his critics.