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Opinion: Tony Blair and the American connection

For half a century, British policy has been based on staying close to the Americans. Blair was no different.

Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair stands with former American President George W. Bush at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in July 2005. (Reuters)

BOSTON — It was painful to watch television images of Tony Blair trying to explain to an official inquiry why he chose to join George W. Bush in invading Iraq nearly seven years ago. If the sobbing mothers of slain British servicemen were looking for some signs of regret from the former prime minister they were to be disappointed.

Blair said that if he had it to do all over again he would still have made the same choice. “This isn’t about a lie or a conspiracy or a deceit or a deception, he said. “It’s a decision.” Given the post 9/11 climate, Blair said: “If there was any possibility that [Saddam Hussein] could develop weapons of mass destruction, we would stop him. It was my view then and that’s my view now.”

Of course we now know that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and we now know that if we had followed French advice we would have redoubled our inspections to find out, keeping our armed might in reserve. But Bush had already made his choice and wasn’t interested in the evidence.

One can put it down to 9/11 fear, but in hindsight invading Iraq was so off-message in combating Al Qaeda terrorism that we have to look for deeper reasons. For Bush it was a matter of national prestige, of correcting his father’s mistakes, of revenge, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. For as Henry Kissinger said, invading Afghanistan was not enough. Arabs had humiliated us, and Arabs should be humiliated in return.

Then there was Iraq’s oil, and neo-con dreams of restructuring the Middle East with democracy. There was even some thought of furthering Israel’s interests, mixed altogether in a stew of motives in an action for which, as Paul Wolfowitz famously said, weapons of mass destruction were just the one thing we could all agree on.

To Blair, I would attribute a much more straight forward and simpler reason. He took Britain to war because the Americans were going to war, and for half a century British policy has been based on staying close to the Americans.

To be sure, Britain has not always followed America over the cliff. Britain was firm about not joining the Vietnam war, but ever since the Suez crisis of 1956 Britain has seen its interests tied to America’s.

Of course Winston Churchill, half American himself, saw the answer to Britain’s declining power as achieving the closest possible union of the English speaking peoples. His successor, Anthony Eden, strayed from that doctrine in his secret alliance with France and Israel to invade Suez, hoping to topple Egypt’s strongman Gamal Abdel Nasser.