LONDON -- Politics is all local, especially at election time. But the "Little Britain" manner in which Tony Blair's enemies have exploited Iraq before today's election is a real disgrace.
In their extreme zeal to try and prove that "Blair lied," his critics amongst the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats -- and all the left-of-center, fashionable bien-pensant writers, actors and intellectuals of London -- resolutely turn their face against the realities of Iraq and of the Middle East itself. Listening to the tone of the debate, you would think that there were no Iraqis out there and that "Iraq" was merely a code word for some appalling new kind of politically incorrect abuse. You would think that George Bush and Mr. Blair invented the threat from Saddam.
Entirely missing from the debate is the fact that Saddam had used WMD against his own people as far back as 1988, had tried to expunge another member of the United Nations from the map, had murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people, and had consistently refused to cooperate with U.N. disarmament inspectors throughout the 1990s.
In 1998, President Clinton, the darling of many of those who loathe Mr. Bush (and now Mr. Blair), warned that "If we fail to act [Saddam] will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, some way, I guarantee you he'll use the arsenal." None of Bill Clinton's admirers in Britain quote that today.
Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, shows in his devastating final report that since 1996 Saddam had successfully subverted both international sanctions and the U.N.'s Oil for Food program to build up his regime again. Charles Kennedy, the leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats, says that we should have put our faith in the Security Council. He cannot have looked at the extensive covert transactions, detailed in Mr. Duelfer's report, undertaken by sitting members of the Council in direct violation of the resolutions they themselves had passed.
Of course it would have been better if we could have got a second Security Council resolution. But President Jacques Chirac, Saddam's closest ally in the West, decided to stop that. Mr. Duelfer uncovered one Iraqi intelligence report which said that French politicians had assured Saddam in writing that France would use its U.N. veto against any U.S. effort to attack Iraq. In March 2003, France threatened to do just that.
Anyone who pretends -- as many of Mr. Blair's opponents do -- that Saddam could have been controlled by the principled resilience of the Security Council in 2003, is deliberately ignoring history. Moreover, the sanctions which contained Saddam -- and indeed, also profited him -- had devastated Iraq's people. Opponents of Western policy toward Iraq used to emphasize that before March 2003. Now they never mention it.
Mr. Blair's position in March 2003 was not dishonest, it was just unenviable -- stuck between the rock of his own party's intransigent leftwingers, and the hard place of U.S. determination. When they attack him, Mr. Blair's enemies ignore all the benefits that have flowed -- with pain and blood -- from the decision to invade. Quite apart from not lauding the removal of one of the worst and most destabilizing of modern tyrants, Mr. Blair's critics rarely acknowledge that eight million Iraqis voted in January in the freest election that ever took place in the Arab world -- thanks to Mr. Blair, Mr. Bush, Australia's John Howard, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, and others. Why are British leftists so silent about the horrors of the terrorists in Iraq, who torture union leaders and murder democrats?
Are they not pleased that for the first time in any Middle Eastern country (or indeed almost anywhere) almost a third of elected MPs are women? Why do they not place themselves squarely on the same side as Sheikha Lameah Khaddouri, the Iraqi woman MP who was shot repeatedly in the face last week, becoming the first of the 89 new women MPs to be murdered? Why do they ignore the fact that another of Saddam's magraves was found last week?
Why do they not listen to Iraq's new president, the Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani? He says that Iraqis "wonder in amazement" at the debate over Iraq in Britain today. "Britain should be proud that the liberation of Iraq has, in our eyes, been one of your finest hours. History will judge Prime Minister Blair as a champion against tyranny. Of that I have no doubt."
I can think of many, many reasons to vote against Mr. Blair's New Labour party today. But it is really depressing that his role in liberating Iraq (and previously Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Afghanistan) is just the subject of vulgar abuse by Little Englanders. To them anti-Americanism is far more important than solidarity with Iraqis trying to build a new society.
Martin Gilbert, Winston Churchill's official biographer, has written that Messrs. Bush and Blair may be remembered as the new Roosevelt and Churchill for their courage in facing down one of the great international threats of our time. Many of Mr. Blair's opponents, on the other hand, will be quickly forgotten.