Tony Blair defends the US for what it does best

British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he’s “astonished” by the low quality of public discourse on US plans to wage all out war against Iraq, [1] a war that could leave tens of thousands dead. But what public discourse is being carried on is largely confined to the warmongering of US President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfled. Could Blair have been unwittingly referring to the quality of his Washington masters’ — and his own — “astonishingly low-quality” statements?

Once dubbed “Toady” by his detractors for an unapologetically ingratiating attitude toward Washington — and now Bush’s “poodle” for his unrelieved pro-US sycophancy — the prime minister has dismissed criticism of US bellicosity as “just straightforward anti-Americanism.” This is what the press calls Blair “taking his arguments to the public.” It’s also called name-calling, ad hominem argument, and a sleazy rhetorical trick. Hardly what you’d expect from someone who says he’s concerned about the quality of public discourse.

Blair adds, “You would think from some of the discussion we were dealing with some benign liberal democracy in Iraq.”

Actually, you’d think from the way the media have uncritically accepted the Bush administration’s transparent rationalizations for war that we were dealing with some benign liberal democracy in Washington, rather than a regime that is about to do for the second time since it began its “war on terrorism” what led to Nazi leaders being convicted at Nuremberg: starting a war of aggression.

As John Laughland pointed out in The Guardian in February [2]: “We now think of Nuremberg mainly as the trial of the Holocaust. This is not how the architects of Nuremberg saw matters. Exhausted by up to six years of all-engulfing war, the allies were mainly preoccupied with the fact that Nazi Germany had plunged the whole world into conflict. When Justice Jackson rose to address the tribunal, his very first words were not about crimes against humanity but instead about his ‘privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world’.

For the judges at Nuremberg, the primordial war crime was to start a war in the first place. All other war crimes flowed from this. Although naked aggression has always been illegal under customary international law – as is attested by the numerous and no doubt spurious legal justifications made throughout history by belligerent states for their actions – Nuremberg was innovatory in its clear legal formulation that the planning and execution of a war of aggression constituted a criminal act in international law. It was for this crime, and not for crimes against humanity, that all the Nazis at Nuremberg were judged.”

Or as the authors of a recent open letter to the UN Secretary General note, “When a country simply takes it upon itself to displace a regime of which it disapproves by force of arms, this is aggression, described by the U.S. representative at the Nuremberg trials, Robert Jackson, as ‘the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.'” They add, “The recent U.S. assertion of a right to engage in ‘pre-emptive’ attacks on states, including Iraq, does not obviate these considerations — it is another expression of an intent to violate international law.” [3] Call me dense, but this somehow seems a far more elevated form of public discourse than Blair’s dismissing opposition to US warmongering as “just straightforward anti-Americanism.”

Blair says that, “Weapons inspectors should go back in — unconditionally, any time, any place, anywhere, under a weapons inspection regime that really makes a difference,” an astonishingly ignorant view when you consider the Bush administration has let it be known that whether inspections resume or not is a matter of supreme indifference — Saddam’s out, either way. “Even if Baghdad readmits UN arms inspectors,” US Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters last February, ” the US will still pursue a ‘regime change’ policy, with or without the support of its allies.” [4]

It could hardly be considered nefarious then if Baghdad has so far refused to allow inspections to resume. Especially since, as The Washington Post reported, “United Nations arms inspectors helped collect eavesdropping intelligence used in American efforts to undermine the Iraqi regime,” [5] or that Bush has authorized the CIA to use any means necessary to eliminate the Iraqi leader, including assassination. The inspectors, it will be recalled, were withdrawn by the UN to allow the United States and Britain to run down their cruise missile supply with strikes on Baghdad, at a time the US claimed Iraq needed to be punished for not fully co-operating with its spies, er…weapons inspectors. They weren’t ordered out, as US politicians, and newspapers, are wont to say, in a happy effort to rewrite history.

Of course, such subtleties as there being a good chance that weapons inspectors would seek to undermine (if not assassinate) the Iraqi leader aren’t going to deter Blair, who reminds us that, “This is an appalling, brutal, dictatorial, vicious regime,” (Saddam’s, not Bush’s) and that “The people that would be most delighted if Saddam Hussein went would be the Iraqi people.” Saudi Arabia is also an appalling, brutal, dictatorial, vicious regime, but London isn’t signing on to a plan to oust the Saud family, nor to do anything about Israel, also appalling, brutal, and vicious. And as to the people of Iraq being the most delighted “if Saddam Hussein went,” this could hardly apply to the thousands upon thousands who would die in an all-out US attack, or the immense number who would become blind or paraplegic or otherwise permanently disabled; nor the numberless innocents who would die from cancers and other illnesses years later, the unknown, unseen, and unacknowledged victims of US war-making, with its pervasive and devastating environmental — and relatedly, public health — horrors. One wonders, too, whether Blair thinks the millions who have suffered at the hands of a criminal, genocidal sanctions regime he supports have been delighted by the West’s efforts to force Saddam Hussein out, and whether those who died from cholera, hepatitis, and typhoid, after the United States deliberately bombed water treatment facilities in the Gulf War, [6] were similarly delighted.

As to Saddam Hussein’s viciousness — his use of gas often cited as the definitive mark against him — it would be highly embarrassing to a reflexive pro-American as Blair to be reminded that the Pentagon “wasn’t so horrified by Iraq’s use of gas” (against Iran during the Iraq-Iran war.) Indeed, not only was it not horrified, according to the New York Times, the US drew up the battle plans in which the gas was used. [7]

“It was just another way of killing people – whether with a bullet or with phosgene, it didn’t make any difference,” said a US officer involved in planning the attacks. [8]

In a world where US citizens need to be continually reassured their country is number one, they can rest assured that for some time to come there will be one area in which their country stands head and shoulders above all others: killing people, “whether with a bullet or with phosgene,” with sanctions or nuclear weapons, with the destruction of water treatment facilities or with economic policies — it doesn’t make any difference.

And they can rest assured that they can always count on the unqualified support of Tony Blair. The support of the British public — and the rest of the world — is quite another matter.


[1]  The Ottawa Citizen, Sept. 4, 2002

[2]  The Guardian, Feb. 16, 2002,,3604,651063,00.html

[4], Feb. 8, 2002

[5] The Washington Post, Jan. 8, 1999

[6] Thomas J. Nagy, The Secret Behind the Sanctions, The Progressive,

[7] The New York Times, Aug. 18, 2002

[8] Ibid.

Mr. Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.