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Tony Blair’s Dilemma

Johnathan Boysielal

Like the Sloanie that he is, Kofi Annan SM ’72 knows the value of a good presentation. With the Hague as his backdrop at the opening ceremony of the International Criminal Court on Monday, the U.N. Secretary General reminded his audience of the possibility that war crimes tribunals could be convened should the U.S. and the Britain defy U.N. Security Council warnings and engage in a war against Iraq.

With this pronouncement the opposition to war against Iraq took on a markedly different slant, for this warning had only one real target: British Prime Minister Tony Blair. While officials in the British government are now concerned that engaging in unauthorized war against Iraq will expose them to potential prosecution by the newly established International Criminal Court (with jurisdiction over war crimes), the statement fell on the deaf ears of Bush Administration that had adamantly opposed signing the treaty establishing the tribunal, and now flatly refuses to accept its jurisdiction. Annan’s statement was significant, not because Annan is now raising questions about the legality of engaging in a war without U.N. backing -- these were raised a long time ago -- but because with this warning Annan is signaling that it is time for a shift in tactic for the liberal left: if they are to avert this war, then it’s time to really put the pressure on Britain.

But why now? Because Annan realizes that Bush is not about to budge, whereas Englishman Blair is already showing signs of weakness.

While the U.S. claims that it has all the damning evidence it needs to engage in military action against Iraq is open to speculation, that they have not been able to convince the world of this is obvious. The conclusion to be drawn from this observation is that the U.S. has its own agenda in the Middle East. The air is rife with speculation. Theories are everywhere. Like a gall bladder, everyone has one. It’s a war for oil. No, more than that, it’s a war for control of the Middle East. No, you’re both wrong: W. doesn’t want a war at all. Instead, this is just his attempt at distracting the American public while he desperately tries to fix a broken economy. No, you’re all barking up the wrong Bush: It’s all about the Israelis. They want to divert international focus while they intensify terror against the Palestinians: the U.S. is just doing what any good friend would do. Sorry, none of you seem to know what you’re talking about. It’s all about American Pride. After a long hard day of losing your tallest buildings, man, nothing beats getting rid of some Muslims with guns. Pick your poison.

What is very clear in the minds of most people, however, is that a war against Iraq is unilateral action. It is an American war in which Britain will be content to play second fiddle while Baghdad burns. Annan knows Bush is not about to waver in his anti-humanist stance. He is saying that he doesn’t think the U.S. can be dissuaded from its agenda, and he is reminding those opposed to the war that in the Bush-Blair coalition, there is no doubt about who is the weaker partner.

And Annan is not wrong. Even at his most virulent, Blair seems just a little less bent on war than Bush does. Sure, he goes through the motions of being a champion of democracy and a savior of the Iraqi people, but you get the impression that when he goes home at night, he wonders if he’s actually going about these things the right way.

Perhaps it’s because he’s facing increasingly intense opposition everywhere he turns: within the European community, in the streets of London, even within his own Cabinet. Blair’s alignment with Bush’s Iraq policy has cause a huge rift to form in the Labour party; nothing is worse than when a government of the left lurches to the right. As one Labour member of Parliament has said, “If there is a quick and relatively clean war, the public will probably forgive Tony Blair for being proved right -- but the Labour Party will never forgive him, even if he is proved right.”

But maybe if Blair seems to not be in total control of the situation it is because deep down inside he is a good man who wishes he could just go back to running his country and eating his biscuits. Who knows? It was Blair, after all, who first called for the second U.N. resolution against Iraq. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial last Wednesday argued that “as each day passes, the evidence mounts that the U.N. inspections regime is not about containing Saddam; it is about containing America.” Maybe the British Prime Minister realizes his is the key role in all of this. Some Downing Street officials have even said that it is Blair who has been persuading Bush to go down the U.N. path rather than the unilateralist one.

Blair is also more willing to engage his opponents than Bush is, and he is already showing the signs of one who has been waging a losing battle. While Bush tries as hard as possible to stay in the warm company of those who support his Iraq policy, Blair doesn’t insulate himself from those who might hurt his feelings. Facing a hostile panel of 20 women opposed to the war on prime time television last Monday, Blair painted the picture of a pale and overworked prime minister. As The Washington Post described him, “his tailored suit coats seem to hang from a trim frame turned gaunt.” On the program, Blair was hammered with questions and heckled to no end; even the program’s host asked him how it felt to be George Bush’s poodle. Even Maggie Thatcher must have flinched at that one.

Tony Blair looks haggard, and deservingly so. He is committed to eradicating child poverty by 2020 and cleansing the world of evil tyrants. In general, things haven’t been going nearly as well as he would like. Along the good news that the poorest two-fifths of the British population are growing faster than the national average for the first time in a generation comes the resignation of one his high-profile ministers opposed to the war effort. Now less than 19 percent of British people support going to war without a U.N. resolution. And, as if all of this were not enough, W. Bush is his only friend.

These things have got to be hard on anyone.

Sitting at home, listening to Annan talk about the consequences of unauthorized war, Blair must have been fighting a panic attack as he had visions of himself sitting before the tribunal in the Hague, enormous death tolls being read out as he sat on a bench still left warm by one Slobodan Milosevic. “Go on,” Annan seemed to be saying in his speech, “you and your buddy wage your war. But afterwards, Tony, you’ll cry me a river.” These things have got to be hard on anyone, even if he’s English. What’s a simple man to do? Well, one wouldn’t be surprised if in the near future Blair were to relax his stance on Iraq. Kofi Annan knew exactly what he was doing when he delivered that speech last Monday. He’s a smart man; he went to MIT.

Johnathan Boysielal is a member of the class of 2005.