This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Blair defends decision to back war in Iraq

  • The ultimate showman, P.T. Barnum,
proved to be the inspiration for Cynthia Wu’s current book
project. Photo: DOUGLAS LEVERE

    “I did it because I believed in it, not because I’m a liar or a cheat or a fraud or any of the rest of it.”

    Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
Published: October 8, 2009

The first question of the night for Tony Blair at his Wednesday Distinguished Speakers Series lecture came from a young man who wanted to know: Protestors outside Alumni Arena were accusing the former British prime minister of atrocities, including backing a “war of aggression” against Iraq. How would he respond to those allegations and the people making them?

Blair answered that he believed now, as he did after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, that the “world is better off” with the late president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, out of power.

“I did it because I believed in it, not because I’m a liar or a cheat or a fraud or any of the rest of it,” Blair said of his decisions regarding Iraq.

He emphasized that he respected and honored people who held a different view.

“We actually do better in our politics everywhere,” he added, “if we treated each other as people of good faith that could disagree.”

Blair’s response to the grilling reiterated a point he made many times over the course of the evening during a 45-minute speech and a question-and-answer session of equal length. In global affairs and politics, he said repeatedly, debate must be civil. To find common ground, politicians and other people must learn to appreciate diverse and sometimes opposing perspectives.

Blair, who chose a white dress shirt, red tie and blue jacket for Wednesday’s occasion, said opinions about globalization are as important today as any in politics. People can be open or closed to different viewpoints, tolerant or intolerant of different cultures. Religious faith can be a source of division, or a force that brings people together.

With all the technical and material progress people have made in modern times, Blair said, “Can we actually find within the soul of humankind the ability to live with each other, to exist with each other peacefully? To respect each other, no matter what our faith, our culture, our civilization? That’s the biggest challenge that we have.”

Blair’s talk, the second in this year’s Distinguished Speakers Series, touched on some of the same themes—the importance of globalization and the need to give emerging countries a voice in international organizations—that former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented in his September lecture that kicked off the series.

Many of today’s most pressing problems—and their solutions—are global in nature, Blair said. Fighting climate change requires cooperation between the world’s wealthiest and poorest nations. The meltdown of the U.S. economy and the ensuing financial crisis that reached west to Asia and east to Europe demonstrated how closely economies across oceans are linked. Rich countries that want assistance in fighting terrorism must be ready to extend aid to coalition partners who face different threats.

In this age, Blair said, peace and progress will be rooted in people’s willingness to listen to and respect alternative opinions. An end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with an independent and viable state for Palestinians, will only come on the basis of justice for all parties involved, said Blair, who plays a key role in mediating the peace process as envoy for the Middle East Quartet, comprising the European Union, Russia, the United States and United Nations.

“You cannot in those circumstances have an old-fashioned attitude that says, ‘I pursue my interests as a nation irrespective of yours,’” he said. “The only global alliance that works is an alliance held together by common and shared values and purpose. It’s the same within a country. It’s the same within a community of nations.”

Reader Comments

M Weber says:

Maybe the UB Professor should get his facts straight before calling others hypocrites!!! Maybe he should read the history of attacks against the UNITED STATES... 9/11/01 NYC and the Pentagon 10/12/00 USS Cole Yemen 17 Navy KIA 8/7/98 US Embassies Kenya and Tanzania 6 US WIA 6/21/98 US Embassy Beirut, RPG Attack no casualties 11/13/95 Riyadh Saudi Arabia, 5 KIA 4/5/86 West Berlin Disco Car Bomb 1 KIA 11/85 Hijacked Egypt Air 1 US Navy KIA 8/85 Frankfort Germany car bomb 1 US KIA 6/85 San Salvador El Salvador 4 USMC KIA 10/83 US Barracks Beirut Lebanon 241 USMC/Navy KIA 4/83 US Embassy Beirut Lebanon 17 KIA

You can also add the Iraqi attack on the USS Stark 9 Navy KIA The El Salvador attacks were carried out by left wing death squads.

Posted by M Weber, UB PROFESSOR is wrong...should I continue my list, 10/13/09

Jim Holstun says:

One UB undergraduate was able to get past the censorship of Dennis Black and the UB Distinguished Speakers Series by submitting an anodyne tedious question, which was, of course, instantly approved, then asking a real question. See

Posted by Jim Holstun,, 10/09/09

Jim Holstun says:

Tony's touchy-feely sentiments here almost make you forget about the way he has conducted meaningful conversations with the citizens of Iraq, Serbia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan: by bombing them. But perhaps those munitions were "civil" ones, in a blue jacket with a red tie.

If the UB Distinguished Lecturer Series has to continue bringing in war criminals, please let us have red-fanged and bellowing ones rather than soppy and sanctimonious hypocrites like Blair. And please let us ask them direct questions--you know, the kind people ask in a "university"--rather than the sorts of pre-submitted and screened confections favored by the organizers and by Vice Provost Dennis Black.

Posted by Jim Holstun, Professor of English, 10/08/09