One of my friends in the UK send along this link to the BBC’s interview with Tony Blair about the upcoming war with Iraq. (click on the phrase “Tony Blair’s Newsnight interview point by point” for video).
It was interesting for an American viewer who does not watch TV at all to see this. The interviewer was actually openly rude and interrupted constantly. Really boorish. I don’t think anybody should have to put up with that, let alone a democratically elected leader. But my wife, a veteran BBC viewer, tells me that is the done thing over there – harsh, cross-examination-style interviews of politicians. I also noted that the interviewer baldly misstated various facts, apparently to get a rise out of Blair, as well as taking a really insulting tone. The hand-picked audience consisted only of opponents of the war. The ideological lefties were pretty easy for him to deal with. But the “regular guy” types of questioners were much tougher.
Blair probably lost ten pounds doing this interview. What a workout. But, God bless him, he had his facts and arguments under control and put in a terrific performance. No wonder he is PM. I wonder if he changed anyone’s mind with it?
I have a lot respect for the British system, and the toughness and verbal facility and quick-wittedness of the British politicians who can handle this type of thing. Whenever I watch the questions in parliament, I think that most of our stuffed-shirts couldn’t handle it. Of the Presidents we’ve had in my lifetime, I think only Clinton (whom I detest) could probably have done OK, and also maybe Nixon. Those were both extremely smart and Clinton was good on the fly, and Nixon was always well-prepared. Either of the George Bushes, Reagan, Carter — no way.
The basic tone of the show and the questioners highlights the extent to which the USA is out of step with other countries, even the relatively friendly British. One guy actually said Powell’s presentation was “laughable”, and he was serious. Another guy asked Blair if the United States was going to be subject to disarmament by the U.N., and while he was being flip, he genuinely believed the U.S. is a more dangerous country than Iraq. The crowd seemed in basic agreement with these sentiments. The contempt for America and in particular for Bush is noteworthy, and jumps out at the American viewer. It is just assumed, obvious, a given, that the United States is a moronic country led by a moronic president. It is a good thing more Americans don’t realize how despised we are even in Merrie Olde England. The response would be to reciprocate, and that would not be productive. It’s a pity these people feel as they do, but ultimately not worth worrying about when our security is at stake. If a bunch of people in the North of England don’t like us, they’ll just have to lump us. And if they don’t want to go to war with Saddam, they are out of luck with Blair at the helm.
Blair has political courage to stick with the US on this. It would have been easier for him to bail out earlier, or never go down this road at all. Then the USA would have gone in alone, anyway, but Blair would probably have been more popular at home. He must actually believe it’s the right thing to do. He certainly projected that in the interview. He is a remarkable guy. He has an enormous amount of good will here in the U.S., whatever happens to him politically in Britain. Maybe Clinton can move to Britain and Blair can move to the U.S. Bottom line, if the war goes well, Blair will benefit politically, though to what degree I’m not sure. I think people may be resentful even if we win handily. Less uncertain is that if the war goes badly, Blair is finished. It’s a bet the ranch approach he’s taken. I suppose Gordon Brown would take over then. The Tories are a nullity at the moment.
Besides an apparent sincere belief in the rightness of this course, there is clearly another factor at work. Blair has extraordinary access to Bush and has been privy to the war planning at the highest levels from the beginning. No doubt he has been shown in complete detail what the war plans are, since Britain is making a very major contribution. I, like many people, am hoping the war will be a swift, crushing blitzkrieg. I have lots of reason to think this will be the way the war will actually go. That Blair is so confident gives me confidence.
We shall all know soon how well- or ill-founded Blair’s confidence is.