Towards A Good Samaritan World

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Timothy Garton Ash argues in The Guardian that:

So let's play the guessing game. How will History - that old ventriloquist's dummy - judge Blair's legacy in foreign policy? When he goes, will he and his governments have left Britain with a better name in the world? My preliminary judgment is that he deserves to have and he should have, but I'm not sure that he will have - and this for one reason only: Iraq.

Why would Blair (minus Iraq) deserve this praise?

Take away Iraq, and I submit that the record of the Blair government in foreign policy would be overwhelmingly positive. Take away Iraq, and many of those who are deeply hostile to or cynical about British foreign policy would be more or less favourable to it. This includes many continental Europeans who, until the beginning of the Iraq war, were rather impressed by Blair's Britain...

Iraq overshadows the rest of British foreign policy. From the advocacy of humanitarian intervention to his G8 focus on climate change and Africa, from his support for economic reform in Europe to his broader agenda for responding to the challenge of globalisation, so much of what Blair says and tries to do in foreign policy is right and well said. You may object that, Clinton-style, delivery has limped behind soaring rhetoric, but that is a less fair criticism in foreign than in domestic policy. For to make a major difference abroad you have to move allies and larger international bodies, such as the EU, the G8, the WTO or the UN, and that's slow work.

Without Iraq, what would differentiate Blair from Chirac and Schroeder? Well, a lot, of course. He's more economically liberal. Because he's British. He's more pro-American, but then, pro-American noise is cheap. Without Iraq, his pro-American-ness wouldn't matter a lot.

Or, then again, without Iraq, what would differentiate Blair from Slick Willy? Ash's Clinton reference is revealing: Blair did resemble Clinton, for a while. It was in Iraq that he made his mark as a conviction politician, not just a talented triangulating blatherer. He showed that liberal society wasn't just convenient for him, he believed in it, he would fight to defend it.

Ash writes that Blair lost "hundreds of millions" of fans by going into Iraq. Maybe. But doing the right thing isn't always popular. How will history judge Tony Blair? It depends on whose history, of course. But without Iraq, history would hardly bother to judge Blair at all.


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