Who’s sorry now? Personally, I preferred Connie Francis to Tony Blair. “Blair ‘sorry’ for Iraq war” was the streamer over the Drudge Report for much of last weekend. It linked to the report of Blair’s interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, who put on his longest face when he asked Britain’s ex-prime minister for an apology for going into the Iraq war. At least Connie Francis was actually owed an apology by whatever cad was she was singing about in her mega-hit from the 1950s. Blair would have been wise to have kept his counsel.
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Notwithstanding the fact that his handwringing is making headlines. What Zakaria asked him Sunday was whether, given that Saddam Hussein proved not to have weapons of mass destruction, “the decision to enter Iraq and topple his regime” was “a mistake.” Blair then turned around and answered a different question. “You know,” he said, “whenever I’m asked this I can say that I apologize for the fact that the intelligence I received was wrong.”
“Because,” Blair compounded, “even though [Saddam] had used chemical weapons extensively against his own people, against others, the program in the form we thought it was did not exist in the way that we thought. So I can apologize for that. I can also apologize, by the way, for some of the mistakes in planning and certainly our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you had removed the regime.”
He makes a lousy Brenda Lee, to cite but another famous apologizer. He hasn’t even gone as far as President George W. Bush’s brother Jeb, who famously — or infamously — allowed that if he knew then what he knows today he wouldn’t have gone into Iraq. Neither is he quite with Donald Trump, who actually thinks we’d be better off were Saddam still in power. “I find it hard to apologize for removing Saddam,” Blair told Zakaria. “I think even from today, 2015, it’s better that he is not there than he is there.”
CNN asked the former prime minister whether the invasion of Iraq was the “principle cause” of the emergence of the Islamic State. “I think there are elements of truth in that,” George W. Bush’s partner in the war waffled. “You can’t say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015,” he replied. “But it’s important also to realize – one, that the Arab Spring, which began in 2011, would also have had its impact on Iraq today. And two, ISIS actually came to prominence from a base in Syria and not in Iraq.”
Zakaria failed to ask whether Blair thinks President Obama owes an apology for plunging ahead with the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq even though, by 2011, the year this was completed, the retreat was clearly misguided. Blair pressed what he called “the broader point” — namely, “We have tried intervention and putting down troops in Iraq. We’ve tried intervention without putting down troops in Libya. And we’ve tried no intervention at all but demanding regime change in Syria.”
Said Blair: “It’s not clear to me that even if our policy did not work, subsequent policies have worked better.”
Not clear, indeed. My own view is that, while the costs were enormous in Iraq, the cause was worth it. The principle of regime change in Iraq was enacted by Congress as a matter of law as far back as 1998. The GIs who undertook the expedition weren’t the first in American history to have some setbacks before they secured their objectives (George Washington had a string of defeats — and some trying times — before his victories). But I see the war we entered in Iraq as opening up enormous possibilities.
Remember those inked thumbs of the free Iraqi voters? Even the New York Times, a staunch opponent of liberating Iraq, was kvelling about the prospect of democracy in Iraq, calling the January 2005 election (just to cite one moment) “a remarkably successful election day.” Who’s going to ask for apologies from those who abandoned the fight in Iraq, leading a retreat from the field before it was permanently secured? Whenever this question comes up, I think of Germany and Japan.
I wonder whether even today, were America to pull its GIs from the European theater, a free Europe would survive. The same is true in respect of Japan and Free Korea, where we’ve had troops on the ground for two generations. The logic was for that kind of commitment in Iraq, and had it been kept there would have been no need for apologies. And the thing to mark as we listen to all these regrets is that they are nursed by an anti-war movement that would, if given the chance, abandon Israel.
Seth Lipsky is editor of the New York Sun. He was foreign editor and a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of the Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000.