Blair defends decision to back war in Iraq
“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.”
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.”